ACO February Research



We know that if we have enough motivation to behave in productive, goal-oriented and valued behaviors, we can act in accordance with our values. Then why don’t we?  Researchers want to know what the “subtle motivational forces” are that cause us to avoid our self-defined attractive outcomes. They want to know why it is that we fail to take actions that are important to our well-being.

We coaches value evidence! The authors of the article below challenged motivation-only explanations of behavior. They designed a meticulous evidence-based multi-part study that proved that if we are not paying attention, we don’t have the opportunity to think about what’s important to us, and it’s not on our radar to motivate ourselves.


The Role of Attention in Motivated Behavior: Gaurav Suri and James J. Gross, Stanford University, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 2015, Vol. 144, No. 4, 864-872

There are several types of attention. This study focuses on “orienting” attention, a “top down” or pre-frontal cortex process. The decision to choose a healthy snack – or not – requires orienting attention to do what we value.  The stimuli at choice points (the “prompts” that help us to do what we want to do) need our orienting attention to be prioritized and visualized in order to help us to meet our valued aspirations.


What increases motived behavior? Orienting attention is necessary to motivate our behavior. Well, that seems obvious, but here’s evidence coming from studies of increased attention in real world choices.

Signs that said “Apples” (not “Sweet Apples,” which would draw attention to the value/benefits of apples) were placed in company cafeterias with several hundred employees. The next study posted signs that read “Stairs?” and “Stairs or Escalator?” in a busy commuter train station. Neither sign referred to the benefits of stair climbing, but 89% of respondents reported that the “sign attracted attention.” The signs in both studies oriented attention, which translated into motivated behavior. Apple sales and stair-climbing increased.


The study bridges the connection between theories of motivation and theories of decision making. Orienting attention facilitates motivated behavior. Increasing prompts of attention leads to increased levels of motivated behavior. Prompts that remind people of the benefits of their values might be irrelevant.


We coach our clients to create awareness of what they VALUE or how they want to be. We coach to discover actions that support their well-being by enabling the creation of strategies to direct attention at choice points – at points of performance.

In The Important Role of Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation in ADHD© an article written on Executive Functions by Russell Barkley, Ph.D., he states: The point of performance is that place and time in the natural setting of the person’s life where they are failing to use what they know – they are failing to engage effectively in EF (self-regulation).

Attention-based strategies could be simple and inexpensive. Examples given in the study were a medicine bottle that beeped varying tones, and attention-grabbing reminders from a cell phone. Other ideas might be to post signs at points of performance, or reminders worn on the wrist to orient attention and provide the opportunity to pay attention to our values and in this way motivate our actions.


daledavison_photographDale Davison MSp.Ed, PCC, BCC
ACO Research Committee.