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…
Take Charge of Your Habits
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.
Motivational Psychology 101
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?
Flow and Intrinsic Motivation
Well Flow is often seen as the pinnacle of intrinsic motivation. Classified as an autotelic experience (derived from the Greek words auto (meaning ‘self ’) and telos (meaning ‘goal’)), one of the main outcomes of Flow is that the experience is intrinsically rewarding and people return to the activity for the sheer pleasure of participation. The painter paints, not to have multiple paintings, but because painting is immersive and fun. The climber climbs the mountain, not to get to the top, but because of the climbing. Thus, Flow research became a phenomenon in academia in regard to understanding intrinsic motivation. And it is why finding Flow in our lives is so important. Flow is central to our performances and finding a sense of well-being in our lives.
So how can we build a strong sense of intrinsic motivationin our lives? How can we become so inspired that we don’t even have to thinkabout our motivations?
Learning to be inspired may be the key to gaining controlover your motivational habits, yet for many, being inspired is not a habit weproactively foster. Being inspired brings out the best in someone. At the polaropposite of being depressed, inspiration lifts us out of our day-to-day habits.It lightens our mood and invites us to engage without the inner critic playinghavoc. For those precious inspired moments, we let go of the normal stress thatgrips our lives and have the opportunity to act with focus and commitment – andfind Flow.
Although there is no magic pill we can pop to sustain our inspiration, we can create positive habits that give us the best chance of finding our true inspirations. So that you don’t go away empty handed we have created a list of practices for you to integrate into your life. Practice these positive habits and allow yourself to become inspired.
Meet new people
Always be learning
Follow what you believe
Find solitude and silence
Integrate the self -belief that ‘Anything is possible’
Assume the position that ‘There is no failure only feedback’
Manage your state before starting an activity - Always
Use images over words to explain your goals and dreams
Follow your curiosity
The next time you find yourself questioning what you aredoing. Check-in. Are you being driven by extrinsic rewards or reasons? If so,find some inherently satisfying aspects to the task and focus your attention onit.