Need Motivation at Work? Try Giving Advice

Research shows that giving advice, rather than receiving it, is key for motivation.

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At companies such as IBM and Motorola, mentorship and executive coaching are now standard parts of leadership development programs. People seeking wisdom from mentors is common not only in business, but in all facets of life.

But what if advice seekers are overlooking what they truly need? Psychologists have long known that people stumble on one particular class of problems, self-control problems, because they lack the motivation to transform knowledge into action.

Realizing this, we decided to turn the standard solution to self-control on its head: What if instead of seeking advice, we asked struggling people to give it? Across a series of experiments, we appointed populations struggling with self-control — everything from academic problems to money problems to health problems — to advise others on the very problems they were encountering. Although giving advice confers no new information to the advice giver, we thought it would increase the advice giver’s confidence. Confidence in one’s ability can galvanize motivation and achievement even more than actual ability.

In one study, we recruited a sample of unemployed individuals struggling to find a job. We asked these individuals to give job search advice to their equally deflated peers. Next, all participants read job search tips from The Muse, a professional career advice platform. After giving and receiving advice, 68% of unemployed individuals reported that giving advice made them feel more motivated to search for jobs than receiving advice.

This method proved a powerful motivator in the financial domain as well. Approximately 72% of people struggling to save money found giving advice more motivating than receiving tips from experts at America Saves. Likewise, 77% of adults struggling with anger management found giving anger management advice more motivating than receiving advice from professional psychologists at the American Psychological Association. Finally, 72% of adults struggling to lose weight found giving weight loss advice more motivating than receiving advice from a seasoned nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic.

Repeatedly failing to achieve one’s goals saps confidence. For a number of reasons, giving advice may restore it. For example, simply being asked to provide advice implies to those advice-givers that they possess, as opposed to lack, the ability in question. Giving advice prompts one to conduct a biased memory search by considering past successful behaviors in order to generate advice for others.

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