What’s My Motivation?

Last week, community member Jocelyn sent me a New York Times article by Cameron Walker entitled, “How to Get Things Done When You Don’t Want to Do Anything.”

I clicked on the link and got a friendly notification that  I had reached my limit of articles for the month and could continue reading by subscribing for $1 per week.

I didn’t expect that a general publication article with  such a catchy algorithm approved title would introduce me to anything  new about motivation. I found myself in a situation where I didn’t want  to do anything, especially involving creating another username and  password and getting out my credit card.

But I mustered the motivation to access the article through my library’s ProQuest account. Here’s why.

Excerpts from Cameron Walker’s article are in italics.

Two Categories of Motivation

Motivation falls into two categories, said Stefano Di  Domenico, a motivation researcher who teaches at the University of  Toronto Scarborough.

First, there’s controlled motivation, when you feel  you’re being ruled by outside forces like end-of-year bonuses and  deadlines — or inner carrots and sticks, like guilt or people-pleasing.

The second kind, autonomous motivation, is what we’re  seeking. This is when you feel like you’re self-directed, whether you  have a natural affinity for the task at hand, or you’re doing something  because you understand why it’s worthwhile.

Gretchen Rubin’s fun book The Four Tendencies is a magic sorting hat that helped me understand whether controlled or autonomous motivation worked best for me.

Upholder: No trouble with controlled motivation or autonomous motivation. (Possible downside, can be rigid or perfectionist.)

Obliger: No trouble with controlled motivation, but poor  at autonomous motivation. (Puts others needs ahead of their own and may  be susceptible to burnout.)

Rebel: Excels at autonomous motivation. (They pursue what interests them with passion, but their interests can turn on a dime.)

Questioner (that’s me): No trouble with autonomous  motivation, can respond to controlled motivation reframing it as  autonomous. (Can drive others crazy by asking too many questions in the  process of reframing a controlled motivation as autonomous.)

Tiny, Well-Timed Treats

Lora Park, an associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, pairs using a treadmill with watching Netflix.

My favorite quote by Nir Eyal, author of Indistractible is,”Time management is pain management. Everything we do is about a desire to escape discomfort.”

If Lora Park is an obliger, she might find the autonomous  motivation to take good care of herself through exercise uncomfortable.  Netflix serves as a discomfort reducer.

When writing these posts, I have a specific instrumental  playlist that I listen to on shuffle. This keeps me just comfortable  enough to keep from searching for more pleasant distractions.

A Friendly Game of Motivation

People also motivate each other through competition, said Damon Centola a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

People around us influence us more than we might like  to believe — so harness that influence by seeking out a dose of  competition when you need motivation to exercise.

This one might work best for rebels.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing  Month three times. It takes place every November. The objective is to  write a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in 30 days.

The website offers tools to track daily word count  progress (1667 words a day is somewhat challenging but doable). It’s  vital that the last two words are The End. Local NaNoWriMo chapters have  celebrations during the first week of December.

I’ve successfully created first drafts of novels each time.

I will note here that I’m competing with myself in the  company of others, not trying to write the most words or to write the  fastest, so autonomous motivation is still in effect.

There is a potential downside to the controlled motivation of winning.

Have Some Self-Compassion

Treating ourselves with compassion works much more  effectively than beating ourselves up, said Kristin Neff, an associate  professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at  Austin. “People think they’re going to shame themselves into action,”  yet self-compassion helps people stay focused on their goals, reduces  fear of failure and improves self-confidence, which can also improve  motivation, she said.

A couple nights ago I turned on The Olympics and watched a  few minutes of an interview with a swimmer who had just won a gold  medal and set a world record for something or other. The athlete was  both humbled and basking in his moment of glory when the interviewer  said three words, “Thoughts about Paris.”

The light went out of his eyes.

I recognized in that moment one aspect of our common humanity.

If someone motivated enough to become the world record  holder at anything can, at times, find the mere idea of three more years  of training to defend the record to be daunting, the rest of us are in good company.

Find Your Why

Dr. Richard M. Ryan, a professor at Australian Catholic  University in North Sydney, said that when you connect the things that  are important to you to the things you need to do — even the drudgeries —  you can feel more in control of your actions. What do you love about  your work? What core value does it meet?

This is the motivator that got me past the paywall hurdle  and over the ProQuest hurdle to read the motivation article. I practice  well-being habits because it contributes to a better me and a better  world to the extent that my actions impact the world.

Go Far, Together

Tanaya Winder, an Albuquerque-based motivational  speaker and poet said she draws her sense of purpose from her community —  she is Duckwater Shoshone, Pyramid Lake Paiute and Southern Ute — and  suggested considering how your motivation is tied to the people around  you, whether that’s your family or your basketball team.

This is a community to explore the habits of lasting  well-being. Understanding what motivates us is key to working  productively and beneficially. When a member of my community shares an  exploration with me by texting me an article, we’re strengthening  community.

As I’m writing these words, coming off a poor night’s  sleep, 10 minutes before a Zoom call on delegating marketing tasks, I  have attained the perfect state to complete my first draft on this post.  I legitimately don’t want to do anything right now.

But, I know that contributing to my community is a way to contribute to my own well-being, and, that’s enough to keep me going…for now.

What’s Your Motivation? Take the Quiz

Author: Bruce Cantwell

Writer, journalist and long-time mindfulness practitioner.