The Business Of Motivation

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Motivation is a strange beast.

In April 2007, I was asked to be a speaker in a full-day conference that was billed as a day of “motivation and leadership.” The event featured speakers like former President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, Ben & Jerry‘s co-founder, Jerry Greenfield and motivational speaker, Anthony Robbins. Over 6000 people attended the event that was headlined by Anthony Robbins – who delivered over two hours of high-energy insights about what it takes to move your life to the next level. There were moments in his presentation that elevated the day to levels of rock concert mayhem. This included people jumping up and down, standing on their chairs, cheering at the top of their lungs and hugging complete strangers. If you weren’t motivated to change, if you didn’t take two extra minutes to think about how your inner voice dictates almost everything about you, all was lost. Thankfully, nothing was lost on this crowd that gave Robbins a standing ovation. As someone who speaks publicly, this was a master class in the art of presentation, beyond the practical and honest insights that Robbins offers up. How could people not have been moved to change? And, by the looks of the line-up at the merchandise table, where Robbins was selling his motivational programs, people were desperate for more… and to change their set ways.

Fast-forward thirty minutes post presentation.

I’m now in my car maneuvering through the underground maze that is the parking complex attached to the convention center. It has been a long day of presentations and learning. I’m both mentally drained and physically ready for a shower and some loafing on the couch (don’t tell Tony Robbins!)… then mayhem breaks loose. With only two stalls to pay for parking, the thousands of born-again humans trying to be better suddenly regressed to the white-knuckled, road raged, people that we were thirty minutes before coming down to the event earlier that morning. Suddenly, people are honking horns, arms are flailing and the language of love for our fellow humans has turned into sewage of four-letter diatribes. As I took a deep breathe, I remember saying to myself, “well, that didn’t take long!” 

I am both cynical and sarcastic, at times. 

Just like New Years resolutions or starting your diet on Monday, all of the motivation in the world means nothing without the determination to see it through to the bitter end. People often marvel at others who have lost a significant amount of weight or have completely rehabilitated from a drug addiction, but we see efforts towards our own psychological motivation or personal development in relationship to our brain as “weird.” Think about it this way: how do you feel when someone says that they have a personal trainer at the gym versus how you feel when someone says that they have a life coach? What needs to be in better shape for you to be successful in business: your body or your mind? The answer is that they’re both equally important. In that case, why is it that so few executives spend the time to train their brains as much (or more) than they’re doing to make sure that their blood pressure or waistlines are in check?

Who’s fault is this?

The problem is partially Anthony Robbins’ fault. He spent years making promises about life-changing moments if you would order his program on late-night infomercials. It became the type of stuff that made for hilarious parody on Saturday Night Live. It’s too bad, because Robbins’ content works. In fact, most of the content that motivational speakers and life coaches put out into the market works – whether the coach is an original or derivative of someone that walked before them. The challenge is that the majority of people either think that the content can’t work (the skeptics) or those that buy it never actually get around to taking the time to study, apply and implement the content – much in the same way that the majority of people buy an annual membership to their local gym only to drop out after a few sessions (or never go in the first place).

It’s tragic when you consider that the Internet makes it even easier to get a hold of this type of information and training (on-demand and fairly cheap too!).

The truth is that you don’t need a motivational program or life coach to improve your business, but you might. Some people do great by just hitting the gym on their own, but the truth is that those people (and everyone else) would probably have a more effective workout and better long-term results if they did the occasional session with a personal trainer. All of the reading, conferences and post-university courses will make you a better (and smarter) businessperson, but why not make the effort to get some additional coaching for that critical part of your life as well?

Who knows what new, unchartered business success might be right there for your taking with the proper motivation and the determination to see it through?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:


  1. This is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE SNL skits…and you’re so right about the coaching and personal training aspect. It’s all right there and more times than not, incumbent upon us, not the coach, to make it work. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It would be interesting to find out how many of the trapped attendees never listened to the tapes they just bought because of the parking bottleneck. Did it move that needle dramaticaly the wrong way? Being motivated is truly important to get to the next level. I attend courses and conferences (SES San Francisco this week) as much to be motivated as to learn. Experience has taught me that I only need one nugget to hit worthwhile pay dirt and the doors to the mine are opening in an hour!

  3. “Attending a motivational conference without follow-up coaching is simply entertainment” Jack Canfield. It is the same for anything new. Some people can change their life/business from learning and then applying the learning; for most people there is better success through coaching or using an accountability partner.
    While there seems to be a slow trend to acceptance of personal coaching, I have found that businesses are still resistant to the concept of a business coach. Strangely, it is the small business owner who seems to be most resistant. I think that trend will change though – five years ago, few people had heard of coaching in any context. As people understand the role, and hear of success; using a coach will become another tool people can use in their personal and business lives.

  4. This is really a work of art… Farley was one of those guys who “found” his calling. As for Tony Robbins and motivational speakers in general, you’re right Mitch about the “follow-through”. In my own limited experience, the key is to get things to be a habit. Do it for 30 days and you’re golden. Thanks for the great article!

  5. A similar occurrence happened in a church parking lot of all places. It is why somewhere they have stats that can tell us how many treadmills are keeping clothes off the floor. And it is why we know we should eat more veggies while we are the drive-thru at a local burger joint.
    Motivation in business is difficult sport in a world where instant results – though never achieved in history – are the goal. One workout is easy to skip. Twenty and another hit of the snooze button is habit.
    The essence of building a strong business offering is ensuring internal customer service is world-class. Yet the temptation and execution of pushing people to make more sales calls seems easier than moving the clothes and seeing if the treadmill still works.

  6. Mitch, I believe this is the single most impactful post you have created. After reading this, I remembered a comment I sometimes hear at work…”how bad do you want it?”
    No matter what it is, seeing it though is the key. Doing the work is easy when you feel good. It’s just as easy when you have a coach to encourage you. But at the end of a day, alone, going over a string of losses, making efforts with no results (yet), and exhaustion taking on an actual sound, that’s when the real work begins.
    I’m sending this one off to a friend. Thanks for the insight.

  7. Love this post! I have been thinking for a while now that I would like to find a business coach, but not sure where to look/who to trust. Anyone have any recommendations?

  8. I totally agree with your post
    I guess lack of humility is a common feature
    but if you want to be better at basket ball, getting advice from Michaël Jordan would help
    but life improvement is less measurable than basket ball i guess ^^

  9. Mitch, I think a lot of it stems from get motivated without having a worthy pursuit to apply it to. I heard the saying one time you get motivation/knowledge constipation from all the “good news” without having somewhere to act.

  10. Mitch, thank you for this post. As always, I love your content.
    Coaching is greatly misunderstood. I should know: I am an Executive Coach and I have to do a lot of explaining of what it is that I really do.
    The problem with coaching is that long-lasting results are achieved over time, in a conversation. It is not straightforward to understand and explain how the change actually happens: the process is unique to every individual. The fact that a large number of people who are actually not trained as such call themselves coaches does not help the matter. Those individuals are often mentors and advisers, while trained coaches don’t really provide any solutions and advice. We merely listen and help our clients to tap into their internal resources by asking appropriate questions. This widespread confusion makes some suspicious of both coaching and coaches. But I have to say that there is a noticeable increase in the number of executives who show interest in the services of coaches. It is no longer something reserved only for underperformers. In fact, it is the high potentials, the learning oriented individuals that turn to me most often.
    When Tony Robbins talks to the crowd, he inspires them to change, but he does not wear his coaching hat right there. He is a coach when one-on-one with his clients, in conversation. I recently wrote in my own blog about how Seth Godin has coached me through his writing. Your post makes me see that I was not completely clear on this. Seth in his writing, similarly to Tony in most of his stage presentations, inspires people to change, but it is, as you and the authors of Rework mention, up to them to grab that inspiration and put it to work. And in order to do that properly and most efficiently, it would help greatly to have an on-going relationship with a dedicated coach. Among other things, that coaching relationships would create space for reflection and learning which we otherwise lack in our fast-paced, busy lives.
    Thank you again Mitch, I really appreciate your thought provoking posts. I also enjoyed seeing both Seth and you at the Art of Marketing in Toronto last year. After the event I had plenty to talk about with my own coach.

  11. Mitch, your comments about follow through are true. For years I was the skeptic that put Tony Robbins down as a scam artist who got rich off of other people’s depencies. Over the years I’ve been told too many times, by too many smart people that you have to have a plan, a vision, and the motivation to stick to it for me not to take notice. When Seth Godin re-issued Zig Ziglar’s performance planner, I decided it was time to finally listen. I bought the books, got Zig’s tapes and away we go.
    Wish me luck and (more importantly) persistence.
    Great post, thanks.

  12. Mitch, I was there at the conference, as I was really excited to see Bill Cllinton, who was amazing (1 hour solid intelligent talk without script) but came away totally enthralled with Anthony Robbins energy, passion and message.
    I wish I was following you back then as I would have taken the opportunity to convey my appreciation for your work, or at least be in a better pre-framed state to absorb your message that day.
    I work in the health and fitness field, and our facility has both fitness trainers and life coaches, and I can say there is a benefit for both, but how and to what degree depends on the person. Just the purpose of holding us accountable to our goals, whether fitness or business, is worth checking into.
    Thanks for the great posts and podcasts, I aways look forward to checking them out.

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