There’s something inherently motivating about a new year. Whether we’re setting resolutions in January or planning out a new Toastmasters year in July, a fresh beginning can fill us with energy. The whole calendar stretches open before us, there’s room for endless possibility, and every single goal we can think of seems within our grasp.
But motivation can be slippery, and sometimes the ambition we feel when standing at the starting point can wane as we make our way toward the finish.
The psychology of motivation has been heavily studied, and researchers have identified basic psychological needs that serve as the foundation. Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan call them competence, autonomy, and relatedness. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink calls them mastery, autonomy, and purpose.
The names may change from framework to framework, but the bottom line is the same: We feel motivated when we feel confident, in control, and connected. Luckily, Toastmasters provides a basis for all three factors so we can persist with pursuing our goals—both in the club environment and beyond.
In order to feel motivated to achieve a goal, we have to feel confident in our ability to do so. Psychologists calls this competence or mastery; almost every goal requires skill, and we need to feel that we have—or can acquire—those skills. Toastmasters is, at its core, a place to learn; for goals related to communication and leadership, it’s the perfect place to gain confidence.
Stephanie Roy of Talk It Up Toastmasters in Windsor, Connecticut, has taught martial arts for more than 25 years and knows a thing or two about mastery. The best way to build competence, she says, is to practice. “Just like any physical activity, you’ve got to put in the reps.”
“Every Thursday morning, there’s a group of tremendously positive and excited people who come out of a Toastmasters meeting and go into the rest of their day ready to uplift, encourage, and inspire others.”—Tammy Nischuk
Use your club as a place to take risks, improve, and learn from your mistakes. Roy says, “We always say this with the martial arts, too: You make as many mistakes as you can, as quickly as you can, until you reach your inner genius.” Toastmasters provides the perfect environment to reach that genius and to carry forth that confidence.
Competence within the club can motivate you outside of your meetings, as well. Alexander Kuch, a former member of Rhetorik-Club Heilbronn Toastmasters in Heilbronn, Germany, credits the skills that he polished in Toastmasters for helping him in his professional life. “I’ve always been a confident person, but without Toastmasters, I wouldn’t be able to articulate myself confidently in a diplomatic way.”
Diplomatic communication was essential during his recent fellowship with the German government, as was the ability to think on his feet. “We would get a visitor at 12 o’clock,” he recalls. “I would be told at 11 o’clock to come up with a political summary of an entire country in one hour.” Luckily, he had experience to draw on. “Table Topics [teaches you] how to come up with something on the spot. Of course, in politics, you can’t just make things up,” he adds, but the confidence he gained, and the practice under pressure, served him well.
Feeling in Control
In addition to feeling confident in our ability to achieve a goal, we also need to feel like we’re in charge of how we get there. Autonomy is the idea that we have control over our outcomes. If every step is dictated to us exactly, we feel like we’re being ordered around instead of forging our own path; too much structure can make us feel caged in. On the other hand, too much freedom can be just as paralyzing, leaving you wondering where to begin. Finding the right balance between structure and flexibility is essential to maintaining motivation.
Tammy Nischuk, a member of Dynamically Speaking Club in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, finds that Toastmasters blends the two beautifully. “There’s just so much to appreciate in the structure, which [provides] predictability across the world,” she says. “There’s a degree of psychological safety. … You can walk into the room and know that you’re going to be welcome there, but there’s also a degree of adventure because each club takes things in a slightly different way. There’s always a little element of surprise and delight, no matter where you go.”
That balance is built in to every element of Toastmasters, including the approach to learning. Nischuk credits her mentor with introducing her to the idea of flexibility within Pathways. “She said, ‘It’s a lesson in creativity. Make it work for you.’” Nischuk did, and now encourages new Toastmasters to make it work for them, as well.
“If somebody’s coming into Toastmasters from purely a professional development mindset, it’s okay to say, ‘Look, you may not want to go in order. Let’s get your Ice Breaker knocked out and then let’s look at what’s coming up in your professional life and start matching some of the Pathways projects to those professional goals.’”
Roy agrees. “It’s all about integration.” When she’s developing an idea or building a habit that will move her toward a goal, “I find the Pathways project that fits it best and I use Toastmasters as the platform to reinforce it for myself.”
Finding the right blend between structure and flexibility helps her to stay motivated. “I like it when there’s a little bit of controlled chaos,” Roy laughs. No matter what your preferred balance may be, maintaining some control over the chaos will help you keep momentum toward fulfilling your goals.
Not only do we want to feel confident and in control as we work toward our goals, but we also want to see how achieving them will link us to the world—and to the people—around us. This sense of relatedness or purpose is powerful.
“We’re all motivated by different things,” says Nischuk, “but the one thing the world needs now more than ever is connection and a sense of community.”
Her online Toastmasters club practices “intentional inclusivity” to foster that connection among its members, and the effects are contagious. “Every Thursday morning, there’s a group of tremendously positive and excited people who come out of a Toastmasters meeting and go into the rest of their day ready to uplift, encourage, and inspire others.”
Kuch found inspiring others and helping them succeed to be very motivating during his government fellowship. “I used my Toastmasters skills to coach other people,” he says. “It was a great opportunity to see not just the speaking [skills] coming out but the leadership [skills] as well.”
Roy also values the opportunity to connect with and support her fellow members. “I like helping people. I enjoy teaching. I enjoy sharing things that I find interesting with other people who also find them interesting.” The knowledge that her efforts contribute to her fellow members’ success keeps her coming back. “Every meeting, there are people I’m showing up for. I want to do a good job for people. I want to contribute and to help their journey. That motivates me.”
As you go into the new Toastmasters year, use these concepts from the psychology of motivation to build the foundation for success. Take advantage of Toastmasters to build skills, supply structure, and foster relationships, and then take these advantages out into the world with you. When you feel confident, in control, and connected, you’ll have the momentum to stay motivated throughout the new year—and beyond.
Megan Preston Meyer is the author of the Supply Jane and Fifo Adventures, as well as Firebrand: A Corporate Elements Mystery and ’Twas the Month Before Christmas: A Supply Chain Carol. She lives in Switzerland and is a regular contributor to the Toastmaster magazine. Learn more at supply-jane.com.