What drives you?

I’ve been thinking lately about motivation.  Motivation consists of the factors that direct and energize behavior. Parts of it are biological in nature, parts cognitive, and parts social.

I think about the athlete who works for years, tirelessly, in order to compete in the Olympics.  There is nothing in the world that could motivate me to take part in the Olympics, but for some people it’s different.  What motivates one to have the determination and resolve to train like that? Is it the potential, tangible reward?  The excitement of participation?  The satisfaction of achieving a long-term goal?

Whatever it is, it is important to know what motivates oneself.  While we all are, in some aspects, motivated instinctly to survive, and we all are motivated to reduce or eliminate a lack of basic biological requirements (such as quenching a thirst or satisfying hunger), we may vary when it comes to the other three approaches to motivation.

We are all motivated on some level by physiological (not necessarily sexual) arousal.  Those motivated by arousal are people who often seek out thrills, some as normal as riding a roller coaster or competing in a championship.   Others who are more motivated through arousal may go as far as sexual addictions, high-stakes gambling, daredevil sports, dangerous drugs, and even criminal activity.

Another approach to motivation is one we are all familiar with: the incentive approach.  Why do we go to work? While there may be many motivations for some, the primary reason is usually the paycheck incentive. The incentive approach works in our schools and in our homes. An anticipated reward can motivate many people.

A third approach is the cognitive approach.  This type of motivation comes from people’s thoughts, expectations and goals.  Such motivation is intrinsic in nature; we do it for our own enjoyment rather than for a concrete, tangible reward.  One such example may be the individual who paints to relax, or the student who desires an internal sense of achievement, and thus studies hard throughout their schooling in order to meet that goal.

While we all have experienced each of these approaches, we differ in which ones affect us the most.  However, if we find ourselves desiring to change, looking for what motivates us is a key step in making that change and ensuring that it sticks.  A common example is a dieter who is hoping to lose 20 pounds.  She may promise herself a new dress in a smaller size if she achieves her goal, and would use that as an incentive. For addicts who are looking to quit, they should look at the motivating factors behind their addiction.  Are they trying to reduce a drive, fulfill a need, or are they perhaps feeding a need for arousal in their lives?  If it is one of the first two, a key component in their success will be to find a healthier way to meet the need or reduce the drive that motivates them.  If it is arousal, the key will be to find activities that also meet their needs for excitement but are not so dangerous or bad for the health.

Whatever it may be that motivates us, learning to apply multiple approaches to our specific situation will give us a deeper understanding of ourselves and why we behave as we do.  So, the next time we feel the urge to choose the cookie over the carrot stick, perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Why?”

— Michelle

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