Are You Feeling Motivated This Year?Jan 24, 2023
I have a controversial opinion about the word motivation. It is not necessarily about the word itself but the weight we give to it. Most people use the term to refer to enthusiasm or ambition, but the primary definition of motivation boils down to "the reasons we do the things we do." There is no need to hack or grow motivation. You are motivated. The question is, by what and to what extent?
There are two kinds of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Internal rewards like self-esteem, happiness, and gratification drive intrinsic motivation, and extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards like money, praise, or meeting a goal. None of us is entirely intrinsically motivated. Some days I'm motivated to work because it makes me feel good and gives me self-esteem. Lots of other days, I work because it earns me grocery money.
Motivation ebbs and flows. It isn't a constant state of being. It's a wave we can ride to help us move farther down the beach. But eventually, the tide recedes, and you find yourself sitting on the sand with no desire to be productive. When motivation wanes, and it always does, we lean on our habits to help us stay on track. When we build healthy habits in our lives, the unpredictability of motivation won't rule supreme.
If we agree on this definition of motivation, it's fair to say that everything we do is motivated by something we want. If we didn't benefit from scrolling on our phones, gossiping, or putting unhealthy things in our bodies, we wouldn't do it. Even our bad habits give us something that we want. Eating a greasy cheeseburger and fries makes you feel some satisfaction, even just at the moment, or you wouldn't be motivated to do it.
This is interesting knowledge to have, but how can we use it to our benefit?
Well, if you can understand your motivation, you can use that information to give yourself better choices. For example, if seeking pleasure motivates you to watch Netflix until 3 in the morning, can you find pleasure in other, more beneficial ways?
A year and a half ago, I quit drinking. I was a red wine-at-night kind of gal. I was motivated to drink at night because I believed it was providing me with benefits like stress reduction and relaxation, which I now know is inaccurate. More on that in the future. When I quit drinking, I lost that coping mechanism, and in the search for a replacement, I found sweets. I was never a dessert person before, but it gave me the pleasure I sacrificed when I quit drinking.
I still eat more Oreos than are beneficial for me, and I'd love to see that habit swapped out for the pleasure of a tall glass of water. But thankfully, I've learned enough about myself and my motivation to know how to find my own solution. I'm not perfect. We are not perfect, and that's ok. Perfection isn't the goal. But I believe the more we work to understand what motivates us, the closer we'll come to being the fullest, truest versions of ourselves.
List three things you currently do that you like and three that you don't like. Now take a few moments to consider what underlying desire motivates each of those things. How can you harness that motivation for your benefit?