How to Motivate Your Man – From a Man’s POV


By McCall Jones – Founder & CEO, Institute for Adult Communication

Recently, I’ve been coming  across a growing number of articles delivering tips to women on “How to Motivate Your Man” and “5 Ways to Supercharge Your Man’s Motivation”.  I have also been asked to provide coaching to women on how they can motivate their talented, creative, complex but nonetheless lackluster men when it comes to the motivation/ambition department.

If it weren’t for the sheer number of these articles and the volume of requests from frazzled women wanting to know what they could do to help, I would have glossed over this topic without so much as a second thought. Why? Because my short answer is: some guys just aren’t ambitious. Oh well. Move on.

But the urgency that was ringing in the articles and the look of desperation on women’s faces really had me stop and think about what may be going on.

My short answer is:  well, let’s save that for later. But first…

I have been studying and coaching men and women about how men and women interact with each other for 11 years. I am comfortable saying that most men and women are profoundly ignorant of how the other operates. While I have observed that the reasons for this are different for women than they are for men, we can all look around us to see that the misunderstandings can be readily accepted as universal.

With these misunderstandings in mind, it is not terribly difficult to trace why the advice contained in these articles is so far off base – and see what can be done about it.

As I began to look at these articles on how women can motivate men, I began to notice, one after another, that they are all, without exception (among the ones I have found so far), written by well meaning women.  Why does this matter? Well, its not because I think that women are less competent writers than men. Its because most women, when it comes to men, are unaware of the default they posses to think of men (all men) as hairy versions of women – as described at length by celebrated relationship coach and gender educator Alison Armstrong. It is more likely, for example, that a woman reading these articles would herself resonate with the suggestions and take the suggested actions. This phenomenon would go a long way to explaining why this advice would “make sense” to most women. But there is a catch… Men are an entirely different species with an entirely different way we experience, interact with and navigate the world. In fact, according to Dr. Louann Brizendine author of The Male Brain and The Female Brain,  the way men and women perceive the world is so profoundly different that it could indeed be said that men and women see and experience life as if we are living on different planets.

Consider that a man (and more specifically “masculine nature”) is a 100% internally motivated creature. As such, consider that there are two additional factors to consider: 1) Men always work inside a plan. Even if you are in disagreement with his plan, he has one and nothing will steer him from it: whether he is planning to build a skyscraper or planning to sit on the couch and scratch, rest assured he has a plan to do it. 2) Consider that you are collapsing motivation with inspiration; which are very different: Motivation can be defined as internal drive and Inspiration can be an external person, thing or situation that triggers his internal motivation to take action. Consider also that sources of inspiration do not act on him directly by asking or demanding that he do anything. Their mere presence is enough. Injustice, beauty, money, et al. make no attempt to woo him into action. Their mere presence or potential presence is enough. He will either be moved to action….or not.

Motivation strikes when his internal formula and the external inspiration coincide at just the right time. This may explain why different men exposed to the same experiences will “pop” at slightly or sometimes vastly different times in their lives.

As psychologist Dr. Helen Smith writes in her book Men on Strike, “Men are not defective girls”. But this is precisely the conclusion of each of these articles.

An even bigger red flag for me was that not a single article cited any case studies (a.k.a. tried it out) or featured testimonials from other women who had tried this advice and reported back what they experienced.  None of the articles cited that they had consulted with men to gain direct insight on what motivates them. Which is to say, if I wanted to learn about fish, why would I avoid going to, at least,  an aquarium?

The advice presented ran along these lines:

1) Be kind to him

2) Drop hints that maybe he should look for more demanding or challenging work than he currently has (or find a job at all).

3) Regularly provide helpful support in the form of articles, want ads or opportunities you heard about from colleagues or in your daily travels.

4) Let him know that you want him to succeed “for himself” (Author’s note: HaHa!).

5) Find ways to cheer him up when he is down.

If you want, you can check out some of these articles for yourself:

This was the first wave of the breakdown I saw in the articles. Each of these rubbed me the wrong way for different reasons.

First, every guy, even the least ambitious among us, will tell you that dropping hints to us is a worthless effort. Sorry ladies,  guys do not get hints. We don’t.  We have no “hint receptors” in our brains. Nope. Nuh uh. Nada. Zippo. Fuggedabowdit. This is one of those “we-know-you don’t-believe-it-but-just-accept-it” items. Yeah, that’s best. Another route? Be direct. We like that. Mostly because we can actually hear direct statements and requests. We have plenty of “direct statement”, “direct request” and “direct demand” aka the “Hunter Receptors” in our brains.

If you think about it, men are well known for going hunting, less well known for going hinting. I am sure there were both hunting and hinting expeditions…at first.  Clearly, not much meat was coming back from Hinting Expeditions. Fast forward 10,000 years or so and “hunting receptors”  have squeezed out the “hinting receptors” when it comes to brain space. So don’t take it personally when your guy gives you the puppy face-tilt when you ask him “Do you know what today is?”, after dropping hints for the previous three months. So it’s better to just be direct. Plus most of the time, you will be handsomely rewarded for just the “being direct” part of what you had to say.

Next, ambition is a result, not a cause. Ambition, in kind of an ironic way, sets the wheels in motion that will then cause other things to happen. What you are observing in an ambitious man is not the ambition part but the “being in action” part that was set in motion by his ambition to do so.

Further, ambition can only be internally sparked or triggered. Ambition being triggered is a bit like a nuclear reaction or a soufflé: it REQUIRES and is the result of a perfect combination of right ingredients put in place under the conditions that all converge at just the right time and viola!! The element “Am” (Ambition) is produced in a powerful chemical reaction. And I am not entirely kidding. It really IS a chemical reaction triggered in the brain.

Which brings up my next point: Men (and referring here to masculine energy) are exclusively internally motivated. Yes, it’s worth mentioning again.  “Yeah, but…” I know what you are thinking. What you are likely thinking of is inspiration: seeing or experiencing something external that moves him to action. That’s different. You’ll note that things or people that inspire him have no intention of doing so. They just do. Notice how your trying to inspire or motivate him has never worked? Ever? Evvvvveeeeerrrrrrrrr???????

Put simply,  A man can be defined by his having a mission in life. Men have ‘A’ mission. Boys have ‘dreams’.

So, if you are trying to motivate a “man”, consider that you are actually with a “boy”.  And before you go there…him having a mission that is temporarily thwarted for some reason is not the same as him being a boy. This is a facet of the reality from the fallout of this recent economic meltdown; the overwhelming majority (75%) of its direct casualties were men and is popularly referred to as the “mancession”. A true boy has yet to find his mission. A true boy is whom you are likely with if you are wrestling with this question.

So what, then, is the real challenge facing the women who seek to motivate boys? Consider that it’s the core of feminine instinct to connect, nurture and improve. Place this lens over the lens that “men are defective girls” and viola! (again): the perfect storm of the female instincts that often lead to the mis-understanding of men combined with pouring on what would motivate a woman to change or take other action.

This is the advice in these articles and ultimately why there is no need to demonstrate that the advice could or would be effective: it makes perfect sense to women; most of whom completely misunderstand men.

When the advice fails to work, the conclusion of most women I have spoken with is “Wow! He’s just WAY more defective/broken/wounded than I thought! I must find some STRONGER advice!”. Never is the advice itself questioned. The default conclusion is: he is the broken “thing” and by golly, I WILL FIX HIM!!” And off they go!

When I am first presented with a new idea, I am often among the first to try it out. But before I do, I will have a peek at the technique or rationale behind the idea.  That peek starts with “Does the idea make sense?”. If it does not make sense, does the author account for this by citing, for example, that the idea may be counter intuitive or requires a new way of looking at things. This was my experience, for example,  when I was first introduced to Marshall Rosenberg’s principles of Non-Violent Communication. It did not make sense to me at first that Non-Violent Communication was even possible but he presented what was needed to produce that understanding and before I knew it, I had a whole new way of thinking about and using language that I never had before. Plus he cited plenty of case studies and presented testimonials from people and organization who had actually put it into use and had produced extraordinary results.

I understand that the most effective thing to do at his point is also the last thing you want to do. If your instinct is screaming “remain connected, nurture and improve” you don’t in any way want to “disconnect, be direct and do nothing”. And it is certainly the last thing you want to hear. But, unfortunately, the time has come to deliver to you the brass tacks of motivating your man: there is, unfortunately, nothing you can do to motivate your man.  “But why not???”, you ask. Because, while ambition in a man may come and go, ebb and flow, it is driven solely by the wax and wane of his internal fires and his ability to harness his focus. As long as his focus is anything less than laser sharp, it’s unlikely he will have ambition. Developing that level of focus takes time for most men. There is usually a definable period of time in a man’s life when he goes on a heroic journey to develop that focus; a journey Alison Armstrong calls “The Tunnel”. And she makes clear that if you are a woman wanting a man to commit to or move forward in a relationship with you while he is in “The Tunnel”, there is absolutely nothing you can do to get him to move in any direction other than the one in which he is moving . Similarly, this gets to your ability to motivate him in other areas as well. Men work from their internal plan. Whether their plan is to build a multi-national corporation or catch the game at 7pm, their actions come exclusively from that internal plan. There is nothing else.

For some women, being with their boy is exciting and worth the pang of disappointment over his lack of ambition. Plus his sensitivity is off the charts! For other women who have been there and done that,  they have seen that being with the boy is a slow (but often exciting) road to nowhere and they know they are ready for more. They need a MAN with A Mission.

The closest you can come to “motivating” your partner, no matter who you are with, is to be supportive by not complaining, emasculating or being impatient. Your kindness, love, presence and being honoring go much further than most women realize toward helping your man stay HIS course. Providing these things will energize him instead of drain him. His course, by the way, if he is a man, inherently INCLUDES YOU. Another reason to be with a man and not a boy.

In the end, it’s exclusively your choice: stick with your boy (and continue getting what you have been getting) or dump him and move on. In the end, its completely about clarifying and then satisfying what you need for yourself and your life. Sadly, sometimes that may mean letting go of your dreaming boy and preparing yourself to meet and be with a man.

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3 comments for “How to Motivate Your Man – From a Man’s POV

  1. Chris L.
    February 17, 2014 at 2:18 am

    I agree with the author. Only a man can motivate himself. This is something I learned through trial, error and two marriages. What I learned is basically this – I’m NOT God – and it is not my place to attempt to fix/motivate any other human other than myself. I realize that others can be motivated through my own personal actions that are meant for myself – but that would be maybe “collateral motivation” – unintentional.

  2. Sylvia T.
    February 20, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Wow! I so wish I had read this 20 years ago!!!

    This completely explains why I was so frustrated in my early relationships. I’ve always been attracted to men who were self-motivated but the problem arose when I perceived that he didn’t need me. I wanted to make a difference in his life (because, after all, we all want to make a difference) and how could I do that if he didn’t need me? I have always wanted to inspire a man…to be his muse…to be the person he would die for. History is filled with women who inspired men, whether it be Joan of Arc’s vision and courage leading a country to revolt or Helen of Troy’s face that launched a thousand ships. What I failed to see was that those women didn’t set out to inspire men…they were simply being themselves and men, with their own mission to fulfill, were inspired by THAT! Lesson learned, thank you!

    As an aside, I am struck by how blatant the articles you referenced are…encouraging women to manipulate and infantilize in order to try to fix the man? How about just letting him be a man? One site even uses the word “training” as if he’s a puppy. My bet is the only suggestion that would truly be welcomed by a guy is the one about initiating great sex…what’s not to love about that?

  3. J. Thurston
    March 5, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    YES! This man knows exactly what he’s talking about. Excellent article with great explanations and examples. I hope lots of women realize this deep wisdom that “kindness, love, presence and being honoring” is pretty much all they need to do :)

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