Like clockwork every morning our son, Clark, wakes up and yells, "daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy" then pulls my fingers and demands, "play?". Our two-year-old doesn't seem to care about the rewards or time of day (collective parental sigh). He wants to play. He is motivated to play with a consistent enthusiasm every day. As a parent I realize that our son's motivation for exploratory play is part of childhood mental development connected with attachment theory. Yet, I am continually impressed with how he plays with his school bus every morning with an amnesia like sense of genuine new discovery.
The academic study of motivation has cast a more than 30 year shadow of research. Generations of scientists and regular folk alike continue to be intrigued with the factors that lead each of us to be our 'best selves'. How do social settings engender effort, commitment and growth? How does one avoid their 'worst selves', something like a listless passivity that pleads for next Saturday when Monday arrives. During my college days our beloved strength coach would often raise the question, "are you going to get better or just get through?" A simple, yet pointed question wrapped in layer upon layer of biological and social factors.
The academically validated response to these questions is Self - Determination Theory (STD). In broad generalizations, STD argues that three categories are critically correlated with increased intrinsic motivation; competence, relatedness, and autonomy. In other words, the 'good', child like motivation that leads to increased feelings of well being will involve a sense that we know what we are doing usually coupled with some form of positive feedback, that our work matters to our larger social context, and that we have a feeling of self-determined volition about completing the tasks at hand. We aren't being coerced to do our work, but rather have some level of choice in the matter.
Extrinsic motivation, although not diabolically opposed, tends to be more intimidating in nature. Unlike intrinsic motivation that values completing an activity for the joy of the activity itself, extrinsic motivation focuses on completing an activity for a separable outcome. The pressures of extrinsic motivation are usually placed by outside parties, like managers and teachers. While some extrinsic motivating factors may integrate with our intrinsic drivers, extrinsic motivation often exist in social environments that preclude flourishing where outcomes are driven by outside fear and anxiety. For example, the narrative of complete this project or you're fired would be a unhealthy form of extrinsic motivation.
As in most cases you may ask yourself, 'why does it matter'. From an emotional self awareness perspective it matters what lies at our core. How we approach problems, tasks, and daily activities are informed by what motivates us. The only way to illicit continued growth is to understand where we are.
Each time a new shift of firefighters comes on duty they check their apparatus to make sure everything is running properly. Raising the ladder, turning on the lights, and starting the pump all ensure that that team's equipment is fully functioning when they receive the next emergency call.
Consider performing your own quick and simple diagnostic daily assessment (or as I like to say, 'motivation equipment checklist'):
- Are you motivated today?
- If yes, what tasks are you motivated to complete and why?
- If no, what is the most obvious barrier that comes to mind inhibiting your motivation?
- If there anyway to more fully integrate your eternal pressures and intrinsic drive?
This simple, literally 4 minute exercise, will serve to make you more fully aware of where you're going and how that movement aligns with your internal motivation. Of the course of several weeks track what motivates you. Is it consistent? Is it ever changing? Strive to integrate and align. Even situations that appear completely full of extrinsic pressures may have opportunities that serve your intrinsic motivations and goals.