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May 2021

Expectation and Motivation


In this series of 4 articles, we’ve studied what the three elements of motivation are. In Part 2, we reviewed the element of personality. We established that it was relatively fixed, but since it only contributed somewhere between 20-30% of the motivational mix, then motivation itself was more fluid, more changeable than personality alone could account for. Also, we said that because personality was more or less innate, it had a ‘past’ perspective: it was a component of our motivation which came from our origins as a person as it were.

Then we looked at the second element of motivation, the self-concept, and we established that it was quite unlike our personality in that the latter tended to be fixed and stable over time, whereas our self-concept was more fluid and variable; indeed, we observed that our view of our Self depended on our beliefs, and these could change. Which meant our self-concept changed over time. The self-concept acted in the present tense, and was essentially determined by our beliefs about our Self.

Finally, then, we reach the third and final element of the motivation mix. And this is what we call our expectations. What are these? Our expectations are our beliefs about future outcomes – what we ‘expect’ to happen in fact. We base much of our life on expectations, though we don’t always think about it. But, for example, if we take a job we expect – our expectation is – to be paid in a timely and pre-agreed way. And if we think about it, if were not paid, we would find that extremely de-motivating. Equally, then, we are motivated to do things – more motivated to do things – when our expectation is that good outcomes will occur, for these are pleasing and satisfying to us. And it should be obvious that if personality has a ‘past’ dimension, the self-concept a ‘present’ orientation, then expectations most definitely relate to the future tense.

Before exploring this further, let us contrast our two variable elements of self-concept and expectations to get a sense of the difference and the similarity. If the expectations are our beliefs about future outcomes, then the self-concept, especially the self-image combined with the self-esteem, is our belief about our Self. Expectations, then, are beliefs mainly about results in the external world, whereas the self-image/esteem is a belief about our internal world, our Self. In essence, respectively, expectations and the self-image/esteem are beliefs directed outwardly and inwardly; beliefs affect our ‘given’ personality, and the beliefs determine all the outcomes of our life.

I think it is probably true that more people are inclined to develop (or not) their motivation via expectations rather than through developing their self-concept, although neither is a water-tight compartment. The reason for this is obvious: once our attention is drawn to it our beliefs about future outcomes seem much more clearly linked to our energy than what we may believe about our 'self', which might be considered wishy-washy or somewhat nebulous. (Of course nothing could actually be further from the truth).

So, for example, if we had the opportunity to apply for a very prestigious and well paid job, or to go on a date with an extremely attractive person, or to embark upon training for a major qualification, and we believed that the outcome of the job application, the date request, the likelihood of gaining the qualification was zero, how motivated would we be to start moving towards those desirable end results? Hardly at all for most people, and there would be every probability that we wouldn't even try.

At its extreme this opposite of positive expectation is called 'learned helplessness’ whereby the person expects nothing to turn out well, has no inclination to take control of their own life or to initiate action, and finally becomes co-dependent on others and/or entities (e.g. the State) in order to 'get by'. For these reasons even marketing clichés now advise: 'just do it', or 'can do', as a corrective to the lack of 'success' expectations.

As we have said, by its very nature expectation has a future orientation: in essence expectations are beliefs about the future. So, the dynamics of motivation in the psyche are past-present-future orientated. The native root or base is our personality, but how we see our Self, or what we believe about our Self interacts with the first root, as does our belief about future happenings and events. This, then, is a very dynamic model – any tool that could describe and measure motivation could only do so for an instant in time, because beliefs and so motivations will change over time. That said, of course, our core beliefs can be deeply entrenched and it is also possible for our motivational profile to stay stable over long periods.

To make this practical, consider this: We all have expectations for the future, negative or positive. What are your expectations for your future? Do you expect things to turn out well or badly for you? Consider your expectations in the three main areas of




Over the next three months or three years or thirty years ask yourself –

How will my relationships (R) turn out? Think family and friends and others

How will my career (A or Achievement) turn out? Think work and income and success

How will my personal development (G for Growth) progress? Think learning and qualifications and expertise

How do you think things will turn out for you? What beliefs do you think might cause you problems? What are you going to do about them?

Thus, the importance of expectations should be clear from this brief examination of what it really means. For more on unblocking false beliefs I strongly recommend you read chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Mapping Motivation for Coaching (James Sale and Bevis Moynan).

And also Mapping Motivation, chapter 2 (Mapping Motivation: Routledge 2016) provides much more on all three elements of motivation.

Finally, for more on success with teams, also see the latest booking the series, Mapping Motivation for Top Performing Teams.