One of the core ideas behind the Heureka Labs project is learning. Perhaps the most critical factor to affect a learner's input into the learning process that impacts their time spent learning is motivation. So despite the occasional lack of motivation, I continue to write. But write about motivation? Not so motivating. Everything has been written about motivation, except, perhaps, the quotes in the gallery below. But what makes motivation a perennial muse? The mystique surrounding our shared experience: doing things we want to do can be hard. How can we become more motivated?
We all know motivation comes in two flavors: intrinsic and extrinsic, referring to an internal desire to do something versus external pressure to do it. External motivation, proverbial sticks and carrots, drives us forward. Daily we are lured by the possibility of punishment or the chance of reward. Deep evolutionary factors are at play here.
But still, the question remains, how can we become more motivated? One idea in behavioral psychology is to try to convert sticks into carrots. Having 'skin in the game' means to incur risk (monetary or otherwise) by being involved in achieving a goal. Often, this means finding ways of becoming the donkey. Sitting on the sideline means that you are not invested in the outcome, and therefore will not be motivated. No risk means no possible future sticks or carrots.
But viewed another way, skin in the game is just another type of Ulysses pact. Recall in Homer's Odyssey, Ulysses wanted to hear the Siren's song. He made a pact with his crew that as they sailed by the Siren's island, they would tie him to the bow and leave him there no matter what he said to them at the moment. They would not set him free or let him take control of the ship, as they sailed by safely with wax in their ears. Ulysses wanted to avoid certain future regret of that decision. Establishing skin in the game is a way to make a contract with your future self; you hold yourself accountable to ensure your future self will be motivated for what you want today. How do you futureproof motivation? Put some skin in the game.
Although extrinsic rewards and punishment affect behavior (carrots and sticks), people are hard-wired to develop competence and solve problems (something else entirely). So forget about turning sticks into carrots. How can we become more intrinsically motivated to do something?
Gamification is trying to leverage the power of intrinsic motivation. Industries as wide-ranging as education, finance, and health, have introduced rewards such as leaderboards and badges. Sure, enjoying something makes it easier to do. However, relying on extrinsic rewards like these means at best, you haven't spent enough time clarifying your 'why', and at worst, you don't have one.
Finding your 'why' can be a strong motivator. Indeed, the entire self-help get-motivated literary genre is predicated on the notion that being aware of why you're motivated makes it more likely to be motivated, moving from inaction to action.
Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your identity. This is why habits are crucial. They cast repeated votes for being a type of person. — James Clear, author of Atomic Habits
In Atomic Habits, Clear argues that identity is a powerful motivator. For example, do you want to start running, or do you want to become a runner? Do you want to write a novel, or become a writer? Do you want to go on a diet or be the type of person who eats healthy food? Do you want to be more motivated or be the type of person who does things? Clearly articulating why you want to do something and how it is part of your identity is a powerful motivating force.
But even sometimes, internal motivation isn't enough. Often, there are real barriers to doing something — like time. We all need more time. I've said before that "I'm too busy" is a thinly veiled way of saying "that's not important". But it also doesn't relieve the real-world constraints on our time. One possible solution can be building systems to be more efficient and gain time for the things that are important, that we're motivated to do.
Over 60,000 results are returned from Amazon when searching for motivation. But perhaps this isn't the place to find it. Instead, motivation is found in your identity, either maintaining who you are or making a choice on who you want to become. I am a life-long learner, so I continue to write and explore and experiment. And if you made it this far, I suspect you are too.