If you resent Valentine’s Day, you might appreciate Mark’s story. It began over a decade ago…
I described the Spectrum of Motivation model* in a training session, when Mark raised this question: “My wife loves Valentine’s Day and wants to celebrate it with the romantic dinner, a gift, flowers, chocolates—the whole thing. I love my wife all year long, so what makes this one day special? I hate it. Retailers created February 14 to sell stuff during a slow month. Is this a good example of the imposed motivational outlook?”
Heads (mostly men’s) nodded in agreement. Before answering Mark’s question, though, we needed more information: “So, how do you handle February 14?” Mark replied with resignation, “Oh, I go along with it.”
I followed up with the most powerful question for understanding your motivation: “Why?” We laughed at Mark’s answer, but it was a telling comment: “I go along with it because I’m afraid of what might happen the rest of the year if I don’t.”
Mark celebrated the holiday out of fear—fear of what might happen if he didn’t—and to avoid feelings of guilt from disappointing someone he cares about. Mark was motivated to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but in the Spectrum of Motivation, his imposed motivational outlook was suboptimal. When it comes to motivation, what matters most is the reason for his motivation. The type of motivation you have determines the quality of your experience.
I asked Mark another question designed to potentially help him shift from a suboptimal to an optimal motivational outlook, if he was so inclined: “Do you love your wife enough to love her the way she wants to be loved on February 14?”
Getting Mark to love Valentine’s Day was not the key to shifting his motivational outlook. Helping Mark acknowledge his love for his wife and linking this to celebrating Valentine’s Day was the key. That’s when he “got it.” He announced to the group he was choosing to celebrate the upcoming Valentine’s Day—not because he felt obligated, but as a way of honoring his wife. The key to shifting comes through aligning core values to whatever you are doing.
Jump-forward ten years. I find myself at a conference, sitting next to Mark at breakfast. “Oh, Mark! I am speaking on motivation later this morning and planned to tell your Valentine’s Day story. I have used it for years as a great example of shifting from the imposed to the aligned motivational outlook, but never with you in the room. Are you comfortable with me sharing it today?” Mark looked at me dumbfounded. “I have no idea what you are talking about, Susan.”
I reminded him of that session ten years ago, about his resentment of Valentine’s Day, and his commitment to love his wife enough to go through with the celebration. He had no recollection of the incident at all. I was devastated. Integrity is one of my core values and I refuse to tell “made up” stories in my work. Mark understood my regret and assured me that he had a poor memory. Since it was a good story, he gave me permission to tell it. I was hesitant, but decided to take him up on the offer.
A couple of hours later, I was telling Mark’s story. I acknowledged to the group that Mark was in the room. I got to the part where Mark made the shift to focus on his love of his wife rather than his disdain of Valentine’s Day, when all of a sudden Mark yells out loud, “Susan! I remember!”
The whole room turned to Mark as he explained what had transpired at breakfast and that he had given me permission to use the story even though he couldn’t recall the event. Then he said, “I remember now that Susan guided me to a different mindset about Valentine’s Day. I made it a big deal that year—and it was actually fun. In fact, my wife and I enjoyed it so much that we decided to make it a yearly ritual. Over the years, we have expanded it to a Valentine’s Weekend—we get the grandparents to take care of the kids, and my wife and I go away to a romantic place and have a wonderful weekend together. It’s become such a part of who we are as a couple that I forgot I ever hated Valentine’s Day! Susan, does that mean that now I am in the integrated motivational outlook?”
It was one of those remarkable moments when what you had planned falls apart and something better than you could imagine takes its place. Mark was right. With his initial shift from the imposed to the aligned motivational outlook, Mark’s effort to celebrate Valentine’s Day was conscious and conscientious, based on his developed values. Years later, celebrating Valentine’s Weekend was woven into the fabric of Mark’s married life—he was experiencing an integrated motivational outlook.
Valentine’s Day became a shared passion for Mark and his wife, but for different reasons. Mark’s wife always enjoyed celebrating Valentine’s Day (an inherent motivational outlook). Mark never had—or would have—a pure intrinsic love of the holiday. But, through the skill of motivation, Mark discovered the magic of shifting to an aligned motivational outlook that evolved over the years into an integrated motivational outlook that helped define his relationship and the quality of his marriage.
*Learn more about the Spectrum of Motivation model and take a free Motivational Outlook Assessment at www.susanfowler.com