Speaking to people’s highest aspirations can inspire them to join your cause.
What are your goals in life?
Think about what motivates you to get up in the morning. Is it providing for your loved ones? Advancing in your career? Making a difference in the world? All of the above?
Motivations like these drive us. They shape our decision-making and behavior. They animate our lives with purpose and meaning.
Communications that connect your cause to people’s aspirations for their lives make your cause more meaningful to them. “Aspirational communications” can help you create messages, images and strategies with maximum motivating power.
In a national survey, more than 2,000 people rated a list of personal goals and values based on how important each was to their lives. The chart below shows the percentages of Americans who rated each goal as “extremely important” to the way they want to live.
Motivational psychology research shows that people are motivated to take actions that help them live up to their ideals. For example, a study on voting behavior examined messages designed to motivate people to vote. The messages most likely to result in voting were those that spoke to people’s aspiration to “be a voter,” rather than those that simply urged them to “vote.” People’s desire to be a socially responsible person motivated them to behave in accordance with that identity.
Of course, people also have aspirations about the kind of life they want to live. Most want financial security, of course; but higher on the list are aspirations like “respecting people who are different,” “having a purpose in life,” and “enjoying life every day.”
Motivational psychology sheds light on these aspirations. Maslow’s widely recognized model for understanding human motivation says that our aspirations tend to fall on a “hierarchy of needs.” At the bottom are the basics of life, such as food and shelter. When those needs are met, people are motivated to achieve higher aspirations—love and belonging; self-esteem and the respect of others; and a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.
Through interviews and focus groups, the American Aspirations team collected more than 200,000 words spoken by people from all walks of life about their hopes for their lives and the country. This linguistic database provides insights into creating meaningful messaging.
When Americans talk about work, for instance, many told us they aspire to an occupation that not only offers a sense of security, but also a sense of purpose. At a focus group in Columbia, South Carolina, a woman named Tammy envisioned her ideal job as not only paying the bills, but also bringing enjoyment. “It wouldn’t seem like a job; it would seem like a passion,” she said. “Not just getting by day to day. You’re excited to go, because it’s what you want to do.”
Our conversation with Millennials in Denver, Colorado found that many aspired to live a life of purpose, defined as using their talents to give back to the community. Evan, a 25-year-old from a low-income family, saw his college education as the key to a better life. He now works in higher education so he can make a difference in the lives of others: “I dream very big about helping students that come from similar backgrounds from myself,” he said. “I’m constantly trying to tie it back to: How does this relate to the bigger mission?”
Can your cause help people find their purpose in life? You can find out by talking to people about their aspirations. Explore how they see your issues in the context of their hopes and values—not only for their own lives, but also for their communities, their country and the world.