What is a Catalyst

It’s a common human condition to struggle with motivation. We generally know what we’re supposed to do but drag our feet to actually do it. We know that we’re supposed to go to the dentist, but we procrastinate because someone poking and scraping at our teeth is uncomfortable. We know that we should get the oil changed in our car, but it takes time and it’s expensive, and the car is running fine without it! 

Even if we manage to get it done once, how do we motivate ourselves to do it again? So many of the things that are good for us have to be done consistently to have the desired effect. 

At our office, we’ve been thinking about the concept of catalysts. By basic definition, a catalyst is something that makes an event happen quickly. In science, it’s a chemical that speeds up a reaction. In history, it’s an action that spurs on a movement. 

So, we’ve been thinking: what is a catalyst for human motivation? What events or realities spur us to action? 

Sometimes, knowing what the consequences are, good or bad, simply isn’t enough to motivate us to take action. It takes something immediate and particular to push us. 

We’ve previously discussed the concept of procrastination and tricks to get past it. But every person is different, and some things won’t work every time.  

What Makes a Catalyst

Every person’s motivators are different. Some people can make things happen on willpower alone, some need outside encouragement or the help of a reward system. We’ve been asking ourselves what makes a person make the change they know they need to make? 

Neil had a recent catalyst experience with his health. He knew that he had a pre-condition for sugar diabetes, but avoided getting any medical treatment for it. When he did get tests done, he claimed the numbers were wrong and continued doing what he was doing. His sister finally purchased a blood sugar monitor for him. Being able to watch what his sugar levels were doing was a catalyst for him. He suddenly understood that if he didn’t watch what he ate, very soon he was going to lose his health. 

Since then, he has been very conscious about his diet and has been successful in bringing his levels down. 

A lot of people have had similar experiences. When the dire consequences stare us in the face, we find ourselves intensely motivated to fix what we knew needed attention a long time ago. 

Different kinds of people are motivated more or less by different things. Some of us find that the pressure of dire straits situations prompts us to get moving. Some of us find competition motivating. Others are driven by novelty and a sense of adventure. Some of us may even be driven by guilt! We all know what we should do. The difficult part is actually doing it. This is known as the say-do gap. 

How Information Helps Catalysts

We are very familiar with all of our “shoulds”. I should see the dentist every year. I should drink more water. I should go outside more. I should save more. 

But we don’t tend to act on every single should that pops into our head. Mostly because there are a lot of them and they’re largely unpleasant things to do. The dentist scraping at our teeth is uncomfortable. It’s cold outside.  

Or there are things we would rather do instead. Water is fine and all, but other drinks taste better. Saving money is good, but spending it is more fun. 

Getting over that hump from “should” to action is where catalysts come into play. As we’ve been discussing, we don’t always know what that catalyst will be. It’s hard to plan for because we don’t know when the motivation will hit. 

It’s an imperfect system. Mainly because humans aren’t perfect. It would be great if we just did what we are supposed to do when we are supposed to do it. The fact that this doesn’t happen often makes us avoid thinking about the “shoulds” altogether because it just makes us feel bad. 

However, even though action generally doesn’t happen until that catalyst hits, knowing what we should do in advance allows us to take immediate action when the catalyst does happen. 

As Alexander Graham Bell once said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

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