How to motivate people

From what I can tell, there is one extremely ineffective & damaging way to try and motivate people, and four very effective ways to try and motivate people.



This is by far the most common form of motivation. Churches & Christian Leaders are especially good at this. But we see it in all parts of society. Many workplaces create a culture of fear to ensure that their workers do what they are paid to do.

Guilt, Criticism & Fear do actually work. They produce short-term, external results. Because people are afraid of getting in trouble, they will often be willing to modify their behaviour, even when their hearts and minds have not been changed.

But if someone continues to experience guilt & criticism over a significant period of time, they will eventually get to a point where they feel like they can’t win. And they develop a sense of hopelessness. As a result, they give up.

In the book How full is your bucket?, author Tom Rath cites a study that was conducted to determine how effective criticism would be at motivating students to solve problems in the classroom. The results are below…

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Initially the criticism worked. There was a sudden improvement in performance. But eventually the performance began to drop off. The students got tired of being criticized and it lost its effect.



For those of us who are Christians, this is the key to understanding the Christian life. We forgive because Jesus has forgiven us. We love because God loves us. We serve because Jesus came to serve us. We give because God gives to us.

When a Christian truly get’s hold of God’s grace, they realize that they are completely free to do whatever they want. Their place in heaven, their adoption into the family of God, their freedom from condemnation… all of this rests on the finished work of Jesus. They don’t need to look over their shoulder wondering if God still loves them. They don’t need to worry that God will kick them out of heaven.

But because they are unconditionally loved, because they are freely forgiven, because they are assured of a place in heaven, they become the most grateful people in the world. And grateful people are motivated people. They love because they cannot help but love. They serve because they cannot help but serve. They give because they cannot help but give.

If you really want to motivate anyone to do anything, you need to get them to a place where they do it because they want to, and not because they have to.


Everybody wants to change. They want to become a better version of themselves. And if you can find a way to give people hope that transformation is possible, they are often willing to do just about anything.

From a practical point of view, the most effective way to help someone change is to help them develop life-changing habits. Nearly everything we do in a day is done on automatic. We have literally developed hundreds of thousands of habits that we are not even aware of. Change someone’s habits, and you change their life.

In his book ‘The Life You’ve Always Wanted’, John Ortberg explains the difference between ‘training’ vs ‘trying’… “Respecting the distinction between training and merely trying is the key to transformation in every aspect of life. People sometimes think that learning how to play Bach at the keyboard by spending years practicing scales and chord progressions is the ‘hard’ way. The truth is the other way around. Spending years practicing scales is the easy way to learn to play Bach. Imagine sitting down at a grand piano in front of a packed concert hall and having never practiced a moment in your life. That’s the hard way”.

The best book I’ve read on this is calledThe Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It is worth reading over and over again!!!

From a spiritual point of view, the most effective way to help someone change is to help them be empowered by the Spirit. Bill Bright said: “The Christian life is not difficult – it is impossible… Only one person has ever lived the Christian life, and that was Jesus Christ. Today He desires to go on living His life through Christians whom He indwells”. If we want to give people the hope of transformation, we need to point them to Jesus. He wants to transform us. He has the power to transform us.

Bill Bright has written extensively on this here: ‘The Spirit-Filled Life’


Everybody wants to know that their life counts for something. They want the privilege of being part of something bigger than themselves.

If we really want to motivate someone, then we need to show them how what they are doing is somehow contributing to the bigger picture. We need to show them why what they do matters.

It might be that their efforts allow for many people to find work. It could be that what they do has a social justice component to it. Perhaps if they are a Christian, we can show them how what they are doing is making an eternally significant difference in the lives of people who desperately need Jesus.

Whatever it is, people want to know that their life counts. And if what we’re asking them to do doesn’t really count for anything, then perhaps it’s not worth asking them in the first place.


The same study which was cited earlier to show the negative impact of criticism also went on to demonstrate the positive impact of affirmation…

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When people feel believed in, when they know what they are doing is getting results, they are much more likely to stay motivated.

Tom Rath when onto cite further research which highlights the importance of affirmation. According to the Gallup, people who receive regular affirmation in the workplace…
> increase their individual productivity
> increase engagement among their colleagues
> are more likely to stay with their organization
> receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers

Rath went onto to say that the magic ratio of affirmation to criticism needs to be 5:1. In other words, we need to become affirmation machines.

If we really want to motivate people, we need to constantly remind them how much we believe in them, take every opportunity to celebrate their success, find ways to praise improvement and progress, and even create ways to affirm them in the midst of delivering negative feedback.

People will be willing to do almost anything for the cause if they know you believe in them.