This past Christmas my mom gave me a journal. This particular journal is called “The 52 Lists Project” and has a list for every week of the year-examples “Your Goals and Dreams for the Year,” “The Happiest Moments of Your Life So Far,” etc. While I have a pretty spotty history with journaling, I’ve actually been really good about filling this one out. However an upcoming question (for next week) is leaving me slightly flummoxed.
List the Things that Motivate You.
This list/question which on it’s surface seems fairly simple has been challenging for me. In part because the past few weeks/months it seems all I can do to get through my day to day tasks before I come home and collapse on my couch. There are certainly some physical causes I can point to (allergy season in particular has exacerbated my fatigue) but what I found more distressing was a fatigue of the mind. A seeming lack of desire to perform and create. Furthermore, while I could remember certain things that had motivated me in the past, they weren’t cutting it in my current day situation.
I decided to go back to basics. The definition of motivation from Wikipedia is, “a theoretical construct used to explain behavior…can also be defined as one’s direction to behavior or what causes a person to want to repeat a behavior and vice versa.” However a motivation can be defined even more simply from it’s root word, motive which “prompts a person to act in a certain way or…develop an inclination for a specific behavior” (Wikipedia).
Going deeper into the definition you can also find several theories to explain motivation; including Instinct, Incentive, Drive, Arousal, Humanistic, and Expectancy (Cherry). However in the interest of simplicity I’m not going to go to deeply into all of these here (though I will post a link at the end of the article and I highly encourage anyone interested to check it out).
There are of course several lists/theories on the internet about how to find motivation from necessity, personal pride, support groups/peer pressure, etc. It was in looking at these theories and thinking about how certain one’s applied or didn’t apply or used to apply but don’t anymore that I began to see more clearly.
In the past my motivation came from pride or an “I’ll show them” mentality. As a child I was bullied quite a bit and with the pain of that personal experience as well as being a part of American Culture which is built on the mythos of rags to riches and tales of the underdog who rises above the expectations of others, I was determined to show the bullies, the adults who doubted me, etc. that I WAS worthwhile and they would be sorry.
This is where I want to get into a theory of my own that I’m developing which is that there are different types of motivation; positive, neutral and negative and that the type of motivation we draw from deserves consideration since it can lead us down a path to greater enlightenment and enrichment, into a whirlpool of destruction, or simply just plodding along the same old road day after day.
The baseline is neutral motivation. I would define this as necessity (i.e. you have bills to pay, a family to take care of). This kind of motivation isn’t particularly harmful and can even be helpful on the days that you absolutely can’t think of any other reason to get out of bed. However it’s not likely to lead to any great insights or creative progress. Still it’s important to have that baseline to define the extremes.
The idea of negative motivation might seem strange to some. However, I think it’s useful to talk about because I think many of us respond to it more when we realize and in many ways it traps us. It’s the overweight person losing weight after insensitivity and rejection, it was my desire to show those who doubted me that I was worthwhile by achieving fame or something similar. It is (at least I would argue) the “I’ll show them” mentality and comes from a place of pride/fear. Negative motivation might lead to some positive changes and it might work for awhile. However the problem is twofold. First, it largely comes from without and not within (i.e. the goal is not to improve, perform, or create for yourself but for others). The second issue is that if the goal fails or if you come up against hardships (i.e. when the overweight person has trouble losing weight or when you find yourself without the fame/notoriety/riches you seek by a certain point in life) then you can easily become discouraged and lose that motivation and thus find yourself adrift once again in a sea of uncertainty.
This brings us to the question of what leads to true positive motivation. One thing that certainly seems clear is that positive motivation must come from within and not from a desire to please others but from a larger sense of purpose. That purpose will be different to everyone for some it will be creating music or poetry, for some it might simply be making delicious chocolate chip cookies or strawberry scones. Ultimately though it must come from a place of love; what you love to do and what you share with others out of love.
While I’m still not totally certain about my motivations I think I’m beginning to get a much better idea. Among these are the desire to create, the desire for learning and new experiences, and perhaps most of all to connect with something much larger then myself.
At least it’s a start.
Bibliography and Works Cited
Cherry, Kendra. “6 Key Theories of Motivation.” Verywell. N.p., 14 June 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2017. <https://www.verywell.com/theories-of-motivation-2795720>.
“Motivation.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 06 Apr. 2017. Web. 10 Apr. 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivation>.