Thursday, 6 May 2010

What motivates us?

I came across an interesting discussion about motivation. Daniel Pink suggests that people who are intrinsically motivated are more productive than those who are extrinsically motivated. He argues that "Carrots and sticks work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances. For enduring motivation and high performance, autonomy, mastery, and purpose are much better."

Naturally I pondered this - being a self-congratulatory intrinsically motivated person. And then, because intrinsically I desire to mull over and ponder interesting questions for their own sake, I decided to write a post for my official Followers, my Commenters and my faceless non-official Followers to muse over.

I preface my reflections with an admission that I have only a brief acquaintance with the thesis of Mr Pink and nothing that follows should be construed as derisory of his viewpoint. I also admit freely that I may not yet fully comprehend his arguments or his terminology. I also concede that his expertise may pertain to the world of work and not the real world as it were. Oh, sorry - I think I might have that back to front. I am getting muddled now about intrinsic and extrinsic and which world I am in, virtual, real, work, home... Don't we all say our world is the real world, by definition?

Anyway, before I plummet over what I sense is a looming precipice and crash resoundingly on the rocks of failed-blog-bitter-and-twisted-couldn't-quite-cut-it-in-the-real-world-despite-academic-success lurking terrifyingly below said precipice, I want to thank him and his followers for prompting me to contemplate this question: what drives us?

I can only speak for myself really. Though I will, I know, end up speaking for many people, because that is what I do. I make sweeping statements couched in big words, phrased ever more verbosely, so as to trick you into thinking there is a fresh perspective or even a kernel of wisdom within my generalisations and long winded diatribe.

First, I think we need to break the topic down a bit - as debaters do.

Drive = motivation = that which gets me to do the things I do.
Me = just me, subjectively.

Mmmm. Where to begin?

I didn't want to harp on about Mr Pink, but I find I cannot go anywhere unless I address his opening gambit head on - carrots and sticks work, but only in a surprisingly narrow set of circumstances.

As we are only discussing me, subjectively, then I can accept that I may be the narrow set of circumstances he was catering for when he made that remark. Perhaps I should drop him a line and ask him.

Even so, the bit of me that likes to think I am a girl of the people - well some people, if you know what I mean -wonders whether there might be others out there who think that carrots and sticks are not rarely, not even occasionally, but indeed quite often, very effective motivators. This is not to say that that is an ideal state of affairs. Goodness no. I am very much in favour of the idea that we ought to find intrinsic motivators. I am absolutely supportive of this as a means of achieving greater happiness and better managing our expectations. Much of my book is about just that - as well as the value of a positive mindset and getting out of one's own way. And I do a fair bit of bellyaching about this and that too. In fact, you could do worse than buy a copy and suggest it to you book club...

So, where was I? Yes, that's right, despite all of that, in my world, carrots and sticks work fabulously too. Intrinsic motivators are indeed prolific; but there is also a healthy quantity of guilt, manipulation, charm and fear, not to mention a little chunk of passive aggression. In fact, I would have to say that the whole intrinsic v extrinsic paradigm is not grounded in my reality.

If I turn first to my intrinsic motivators, then I can say that I have had loads of them throughout my life. Keeping fit, for example. That's easy; that's all about the higher purpose of staying healthy and active, of being fit for its own sake and so as to keep up with and set a wonderful example for the off-Spring. It is such a bonus that I fit into my clothes and look fairly slim, because all the magazines tell me to love my body whatever shape I am, and it is easier to love a toned body than a flabby one when all the "best dressed" and even "worst dressed" pictures feature size zero 45 year old actresses telling us how Peelahhhtays saved their asses after the token bubba.

And then at work - I was such a dedicated employee in those heady days of employeedom/hood/ness(?), before I branched into the brave new world of self employed blogging writer and coach. I would get out of bed, nay spring out of bed, some days with an intrinsic fire in my belly (third trimester heartburn), such was my longing to reach my desk and finish that letter of advice so that I could Google boys' names (only when pregnant) and villas in Tuscany. And office drinks? Always happy to attend and share a round with my tireless (tiresome) and dedicated colleagues. I was not there, missing the off-Spring's bedtime or the West Wing, for the sour wine or the fattening beer nuts. No, it was the pure joy of feeling part of the team that lured me to those dank, smoky dens of gossip and sucking up to the partner who had asked his secretary to organise the evening. Thai dinner after - who could refuse? The poor dahling we toiled for insisted on paying for us; we had to go.

Parenting is yet another realm in which the intrinsic desire to be part of a wonderful, enriching and unifying human experience prevails. The added bonus is that one is never alone, one is finally the boss and when one basks in the glow of vicarious achievement it is through the successes of one's flesh and blood, rather than a team or a firm. For me it is central to my life. Do I parent in a mindful and articulate way that instils intrinsic motivators in the off-Spring? You can be damn sure that I do! 

"Well done - you should be proud of yourself. Now, eat your dinner or there is no dessert."
"Let's read. Reading is such a source of pleasure all through your life. You will never be lonely as long as you have a good book. It's like getting along with your brothers. Never lonely. Now play nicely, read your books to each other, let me finish this email and we might go out for dinner." 

And now, running a business, publishing and marketing a book. I am, if nothing else, motivated. And I can honestly say, hand on heart that there is no reward or carrot (apart from the heady rush of hearing someone say they loved the book) and no stick (or it is shtick) at play here, at all.  As to blogging - I would be the first person to say that I blog for the joy of blogging (I actually do, in spite of myself). Indeed blogging is now a motivator to doing things I might otherwise avoid, like commuting on the Underground.

So where does this discussion take us? I am conscious that I have not yet elaborated on the intrinsic and extrinsic importance of guilt, manipulation, charm, fear and passive aggression in this subjective reality.

Indeed, I have not addressed another fundamental point that underpins the whole debate. I know some of you have been waiting for me to get to this. I know, I know. I can delay no longer. The underlying premise of the intrinsic v extrinsic motivator debate is that the motivators have to endure and generate high performance.

Is my house of cards about to tumble?

Enduring motivation - how long does that need to be? Does 20 years brutal gym attendance suffice? Are eight years of bed time stories enough? How many balanced home cooked meals must I prepare? Is there a magic number of books that I must write, print and donate to Oxfam in order to prove I am motivated?

And performance? Is high performance measured intrinsically (subjectively) or extrinsically (objectively)? At the risk of sounding arrogant (don't kid yourself Spinggirl) I think I am a high achiever by my own standards.

In the final analysis then, what drives me is not what drives you, or you, or you. Some days the key motivation is reaching 7.30pm. Other days, knowing my warrior 2 pose will trump the blond chicks's downward dog is enough. And on yet others, a pat on the head from a fully functioning grown up is like manna from Heaven.

It could be that I need to re-enter the world of employed work in order to comment on this debate.

Or perhaps just read the book - I mean Mr Pink's book - not mine.


  1. Wonderful to see you in Moms with Blogs on Modern Mom! Thank you for joining. I hope it brings many new faces to your blog! :) By the way I can feel the heart behind your motivation. Have a great Mother's Day!

  2. Thanks so much for checking this out. I appreciate your comment.