Weekly 3: The value of intrinsic motivation

Idea Journal Weekly 3


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Idea Journal Weekly 3

August 29 · Issue #206 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Extrinsic motivators like money have limited value over time. This issue explores three ideas to help you identify and develop more sustainable intrinsic motivation.
(~5 min read)

#1. Does your life have a purpose?
In his book Drive, author Dan Pink writes: “we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we’re clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice – doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.”
But in the rush of daily life, it can be hard to zoom out and gain such a broad perspective about what truly motivates you.
Pink offers 2 exercises to help:
1. Ask a big question 
He tells a story about Clare Boothe Luce, one of the first women to serve in the U.S. Congress. In 1962, she gave President John F. Kennedy the following advice: “A great man is a sentence.”
Abraham Lincoln’s sentence was: “He preserved the union and freed the slaves.” Franklin D. Roosevelt’s was: He lifted us out of the Great Depression and helped us win a world war.”
Luce worried that Kennedy’s attention was too scattered, and that he risked not having a clear purpose. 
As Pink points out, you don’t have to be a political leader to learn from this story. Here are some other possible purposes:
  • “She taught two generations of children how to read.”
  • “He cared for every person who walked into his office, regardless of whether that person could pay.”
  • “She invented a device that made people’s lives easier.”
  • “He raised four kids who became happy and healthy adults.”
What’s your sentence?
2. Ask a small question 
Pink acknowledges that the big question referenced above is necessary, but not sufficient. That’s because real achievement is gradual: “you spend a lot more time grinding through tough tasks than you do basking in applause.”
To help ensure that your motivation will endure, he recommends that before you go to sleep each night, you ask: Was I little better today than yesterday?
Did you do more? Did you learn something new?
You don’t have to be flawless each day. Instead, you’re looking for small measures of improvement: “Reminding yourself that you don’t need to be a master by day three is the best way of ensuring that you will be one by day three thousand.”
#2. Uncover your emotional drivers
Author and corporate sales coach Steve Siebold writes in his book 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class that while most people are motivated by extrinsic factors like money and material possessions, world-class performers are motivated intrinsically – by their dreams, desires, and passions. 
Siebold argues that the problem with external motivation is that it’s short-lived. Motivational pep talks may be fun and temporarily motivating, “yet lack the real fire emotional motivators generate.”
Great leaders and coaches know that the secret to motivating themselves and others is to move from logic-based motivators to ones that are emotion-based.
Siebold recommends asking yourself the following 5 questions to uncover your emotional hot buttons:
  1. What am I willing to fight for?
  2. What values do I hold dearest to my heart?
  3. What values would I be willing to die for?
  4. If I could achieve a single thing, what would make all my hard work worth the struggle?
  5. If I had 30 seconds left to live, what would I tell my children are the 3 most important things I learned about how to live a happy live?
#3. Avoid the pull of prestige
On the path to creating quality work in your field, you’ll likely end up imitating the work of those who are more experienced and whose work you admire.
The trick is to avoid copying the wrong things.
Entrepreneur and writer Paul Graham writes in his essay Copy What You Like that he himself fell into the trap of copying influential short stories and philosophy papers while in school – not because he was genuinely interested in them, but because they were admired by others.
Graham admits that “It can be hard to separate the things you like from the things you’re impressed with,” but he offers 2 recommendations to help: 
1. Ignore presentation
For example, next time you see a painting “impressively hung in a museum,” Graham suggests asking yourself: How much would I pay for this if I found it at a garage sale, dirty and frameless, and with no idea who painted it?
2. Pay attention to your “guilty pleasures”
For many of the things we’re attracted to, there’s a feeling of virtue associated with liking them: “99% of people reading Ulysses are thinking ‘I’m reading Ulysses’ as they do it.”
But what do you read when you don’t feel like being virtuous?
What kind of book do you read and feel sad when only half of it is left, instead of being impressed that you’re halfway through?
At the root of all this is a concept that Graham writes about in another essay: “Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.”
Quote of the week
“You’ve got to want to act more than you want to be an actor. You’ve got to want to do whatever you want to do more than you want to be whatever you want to be, want to write more than you want to be a writer, want to heal more than you want to be a doctor, want to teach more than you want to be a teacher, want to serve more than you want to be a politician. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us.”
- Actor and political activist Bradley Whitford in his commencement speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
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