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Work more, Earn more, Buy more, Show more… Sound familiar?
Why is society stuck in a cycle of more, more, more? Does keeping up with the Jones’ actually lead to fulfillment? Does ruthlessly driving to achieve each tick box every day actually make us feel more content? If we know the answer is no, then why do we continue to behave this way?
Why do so many of us continue to work until we are ill or spend money we don’t have to keep up with the status quo, when it doesn’t seem to make us happy.
The majority of us are stuck reacting to our stressors and ‘doing what needs to be done’ to pay the bills. Indeed surviving, rather than thriving, has become normalised whilst we continuously miss out on feeling fulfilled and performing to our best. Yet with a simple paradigm shift we can change these habits.
Well, if we want to break this cycle all it takes is a little introspection to understand our motivation…
Taking charge of our habits is critical to a happy and meaningful life. Managing our states, or ‘HOW’ we act, determines not only what we do and how well we do it, but how we feel whilst doing it. So often we look to external things or people to feel better; we will even change our job, friends, or where we live in the hope of feeling better. We take our attention externally, when the answer lies on internally managing our motivational habits.
Before learning about managing our motivational habits, it helps to first explore the psychology of motivation. It can help to explain why we think the way we think and why we do what we do. Let’s start at the beginning.
Early understandings of motivation were dominated by mechanistic theories, such as psychoanalysis and behaviourism (i.e. Pinder, 1984). Freud (1915/1927) believed that humans are driven to engage in behaviours from our basic instincts and the interaction of these instincts with the environmental constraints. For example, humans are driven to reproduce, and therefore may communicate with certain people over others because it is perceived as being their best chance of reproducing.
Behavioural approaches went on to emphasise the associationsbetween stimuli, responses, and reinforcements (Skinner, 1953, 1971).Essentially behaviour was explained by our desire to seek out pleasant outcomesor/and avoid punishing and unpleasant consequences. It was thought that withoutextrinsic drivers’ humans would become quiescent. This approach explained a lotbut largely excluded our internal processes as reasons for driving behaviour.
Later animal studies contributed towards an incline ofresearch surrounding internal drivers for motivation. For example, White (1959)looked at how certain animals had a desire to explore and effectively interactwith the environment. In line with this thinking Woodworth (1918, 1958), in his‘behaviour-primacy theory’, and then Allport (1937) with his notion of ‘functionalautonomy’ posited that humans can engage in certain activities for intrinsicreasons only. This train of thought led to Maslow (1954) distinguishing betweenan individual’s hierarchy of needs. From the basic motivational drivers of sex,food, and safety, to the higher-order drivers such as competency andself-actualisation, an individual was deemed to have a multitude of driversthat were both extrinsic and intrinsic. Fast forward fifty years and the mostwidely accepted theory of motivation, ‘Self-Determination Theory’, stillfocuses on an individuals’ intrinsic and extrinsic motives that are engineeredto facilitate our basic needs of (a) competence (i.e., to control one’senvironment and experience mastery); (b) relatedness (i.e., to interact andconnect with others); and (c) autonomy (i.e., to be self-determining and thecausal agent of one’s life).
Still with me?
Intrinsic motivation is defined as engagement in theactivity for inherent satisfaction (Ryan & Deci, 2000), whereas extrinsicmotivation is apparent when motives or goals outside the activity exist. Likemany deCharms (1968) proposed that engagement in extrinsic rewards or motives diminishone’s intrinsic motivation because it shifts the locus of causality away fromthe individual to the extrinsic reward. In short, although certain kinds ofexternal regulation, such as affirmation or feedback can help to facilitateintrinsic motivation if fulfilling deeper needs of perceived competence or asense of autonomy, both performance and well-being increase when intrinsicmotives are high.
Practically speaking, motivational psychology 101 helps usto understand that if we can proactively assess why we are doing what we aredoing and find an intrinsic motive for engaging in the activity, then we canamplify our performance and enrich our experience.
So how does Flow fit into all of this?