Great stories and motivational speeches give us a nice feeling. But they are temporary and fail to keep us motivated to work harder and give our best over an extended period of time. The secret sauce of motivation boils down to the alignment between a person’s sense of purpose—including what they value and deem meaningful—and the team or organization’s mission. This process can only be accomplished when the Purpose Drive is activated.
Neuroscience studies have found that when a person behaves in a purpose-oriented way, the brain stimulates the release of oxytocin—a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter and is involved in social recognition and bonding. Oxytocin increases feelings of trust and generosity while supporting emotional stability. When people find a sense of meaningfulness in their work, they are also more likely to display higher levels of emotional intelligence, social awareness, and cooperation— facilitating engagement and performance.
Something similar happens with purpose-oriented goals. Several years ago, researchers Edward Deci, Richard Ryan, and Christopher Niemiec from the University of Rochester set out to study how goals impact young adults. They gathered college students who were about to graduate and had them answer questionnaires that documented their career goals. Nearly two years after the students started their jobs, they were asked to answer more questions for the study. The data revealed that students who had started their careers with “purpose goals”— goals that were focused on life improvement, learning, and growth—reported higher levels of satisfaction and well-being. They also had low levels of anxiety and depression.
By contrast, those students who had “profit goals”—goals that were geared towards money and status—reported no increase in levels of satisfaction or well-being since leaving college. Interestingly, these participants were also found to have higher levels of anxiety and depression, even if they had reached their profit goals. This evidence supports the positive impact of goals that are connected to a sense of purpose compared to ones that are extrinsically driven. Purpose-oriented goals can guide us toward deeper meaning in any activity we focus on, including our work.
Our sense of purpose is answered by a question we all ask either consciously or unconsciously–Why? We want to understand why we choose to do something. Purpose drives passion. Our passions aren’t derived from incentives; they come from our belief that what we do has a valuable impact. If this connection isn’t made, it is just work. Simon Sinek explored this idea in his book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. He sums it by saying, “Working hard for something we do not care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.”
Purpose in the workplace is more than an abstract concepts, like “making a difference” or “changing the world.” It isn’t even about leaving a legacy, although when you live and work according to your unique purpose you will likely behave in ways that will make a significant impact on others.
“The Neuroscience of Purpose: How Contributing Makes Us Better.” Zach Mercurio. May 29, 2019. https://www.zachmercurio.com/2018/07/neuroscience-of- purpose/.
“How Our Brains Decide When to Trust.” Harvard Business Review. August 16, 2019. https://hbr.org/2019/07/how-our- brains-decide-when-to-trust.
Deci, Edward L., and Richard M. Ryan. “The “What” and “Why” of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self- Determination of Behavior.” Psychological Inquiry 11, no. 4 (2000): 227-68. Accessed August 24, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1449618.
Sinek, Simon.Start with Why How Great Leaders Get Everyone to Take Action. Portfolio, 2009.