Tapping into the Science of Motivation
Over the past decade or so, there has been a lot of focus on performance and motivation. Entrepreneurs, athletes, and creatives alike have been trying to trigger their “flow states,” or a period of intense creativity and production. While powerful, flow state is fleeting or even rare. Psychology has entered these creative fields to discover how to generate motivation or flow state.
Yet on Season 6, Episode 9 of the Making Bank podcast, guest Steven Kotler takes a different approach. He brings neuroscience to the table to talk about the different motivations you need at different times.
Why Motivation is Imperative
Motivation may seem simple—you need it to get stuff done. But motivation goes beyond just that. Motivation helps you organize your career, pave your path in life, and even help keep you out of depths of depression and anxiety.
We can see this on small scale, as well as large. Have you ever had a weekend where you stay in sweats and watch TV for two days straight? After a long, hard week, nothing sounds better. Yet by the end of the weekend, you may find yourself sluggish, bored and maybe even a little depressed. Now imagine that feeling amplified and applied to all areas of your life: your work, activities and even friendships. While there’s nothing wrong with decompressing, too much unproductive downtime and we can slip into a rut.
In other words, when we are motivated, we tend to have happier and healthier.
More to Motivation
Best-selling author and award-winning journalist Steven Kotler breaks down motivation on a neurological level. Through his research, practice, and writing, he has found that motivation is more complicated than just telling yourself: “get up and do something!” He outlines how to find that inspiration that gets you started, keeps you going, and avoids burn out whenever trying something new.
When starting a new job, activity or habit, you’ll first need to focus on extrinsic motivation. The best way to jumpstart something is to find motivation through external means. This can be focusing on the reward you will receive when you’ve completed the task—whether that’s money, praise, food or something else. Your brain will first gravitate towards these exterior rewards and find them the most useful to propel yourself forward.
Steven found in his research that it doesn’t take much, either. For example, having it a little bit of money left over at the end of the day to do something fun goes a long way. Perhaps you meet up with a friend for coffee or drinks once your work is completed. If you stick to that reward system, you’ll find yourself completing the tasks you need to in order to see that friend.
While extrinsic motivation gets you started, intrinsic motivation keeps you going. Simply put, intrinsic motivation is identifying something within yourself that makes you want to keep up an activity, work or hobby.
Finding your intrinsic motivation doesn’t discredit your extrinsic—it merely adds to it. Instead of swapping out the two, you allow them to amplify each other.
But what does intrinsic motivation look like? It comes in three steps that build upon each other. The first and most step is curiosity. Maybe you’re starting this new habit because you’ve always wanted to incorporate it in your life. Maybe you’ve heard about it recently and it’s intrigued you. Either way, find and cultivate your curiosity.
The next step is building your passion for what you’re doing. Sometimes passion comes immediately—other times it comes later. One of the best ways to build your passion is simply time and investment. The more time you spend doing something, the more you look forward to it and feel something about it. Perhaps you’ve recently started volunteering at a local charity. At first, you may feel overwhelmed with the mission, but over time, you grow attached to the organization and the people it’s helping. As your involvement grows, so will your passion.
That example connects well with the final step in intrinsic motivation: purpose. When you find something that is larger than yourself, whether that’s through charity, a mission or connecting to others, you will find your sense of purpose.
While purpose may come to you last, it is essential. Finding that purpose is identifying why you do what you do. It brings fulfillment to your work and with that fulfillment, you can keep up your initial work.
Lastly, in order for something to stick during hard times, you need to build your grit. Grit seems to have become a buzzword, but for good reason. Studies have found that grit is one of the major factors that leads to success. Yet grit feels so abstract. How do you know if you have grit? How can you cultivate it?
Grit allows you to keep going through hardship, but it is not a thing on its own. In those difficult moments, you can return to your intrinsic motivation, or even extrinsic, and remind yourself why you do what you do. Perhaps one time, you will need to revisit your sense of purpose. Other times, you may just need a small external reward. By seeking out what you need, you will keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll build a certainty inside yourself, so that the next time a challenge arises, it won’t scare you off. That is grit.