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What is Motivation?

What is Motivation?
What is Motivation?

What is Motivation?

Table Of Content(toc)

1. Intro


In his book The War of Art: The Power of Habit to Create wealth and Health, author Steven Pressfield asks a question that I’ve grappled with a bit.

He asks, “What is motivation?” And he answers it himself: “Motivation is the ability to make choices that aren’t automatic. What does that mean? It means you have to think about what you want to do. You can’t just pick up something and do it. You have to actually want to do it.”

So what does this mean for startups? This is an important question for founders of startups because most people are motivated to start a startup because they want to be successful and make their owners money (i.e., they have an interest in their own success). They want to start a startup because they don’t know how not to fail, or how not to go broke in the process (i.e., they don’t know how not to worry about money). They are motivated by wanting the satisfaction of having made something happen, even if only partially (i.e., they are motivated by thinking they may find “a home inside their heart where nobody can ever get at us again”).

But these motivations are NOT always right ones! If you think you are motivated by wanting the satisfaction of having made something happen, then your motivation may be simply the pursuit of financial gain or prestige, which is another way of saying money. If you think you will find “a home inside your heart where nobody can ever get at us again,” then that may be driven by insecurity or fear (i.e., insecurity causes fear).

So what exactly is motivation? In our own business we define it as being able to choose things that aren’t automatic (i.e., we have the choice between working on this product or working on our next product), but there are many other definitions and ideas out there as well (I encourage you all to read some other definitions here ). In particular I like this one put forth by Google:

“motivation” is that part of our brain that makes us choose tasks we’d rather avoid.” – Andy Hargreaves & Ryan Hoover “motivation” is choosing a task based on avoiding regret.” – Stephen Porges “motivation” doesn’t refer only to choice-making processes but also includes our desire for status and esteem.” –


2. Motivation Is Overrated


So first off, what exactly is motivation? In a nutshell, motivation is a feeling of happiness or contentment that results from doing something we take to be important. It is the driving force behind our actions and it can be seen in everything from our work to our personal life.

The best way to answer the question “what is motivation” is probably not by drawing diagrams or lists but by looking at how people think about themselves and their world. For example, if you are someone who thinks that typing a certain number of words each day will make you happy, then you might think that typing 10k words each day will make you happy. If instead you think that writing 10k words each day will make you happy, then your thinking about productivity may be different from someone else’s.

Note: This isn’t intended as an attack on people who think that hard work makes them happy; it’s just meant as an observation about different ways of thinking about the effect of effort on happiness/motivation.

So now that we have some idea about what motivates us, what does this have to do with anything? The answer is pretty much everything if we are being honest: we need to motivate ourselves with things outside of work and the workplace in order to create long-term value for ourselves and those around us (and because they involve work).


3. Why Do Writers Procrastinate?


In one of his fascinating interviews with the writer, Michel Thomas, Steven Pressfield shares some interesting thoughts on what motivates people in business.

Stuart Gordon is a Canadian journalist and author who has written for several publications including The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s. His book The Psychology of Why Things Happen: Lessons from the Science of Motivation (2005) is an insightful exploration of why things happen in life. It was published by Penguin Books Canada and was edited by Daniel Gilbert (Harvard University, Boston), Richard Davidson (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Stuart Gordon (University of Waterloo).

Click here to read the interview with Steven Pressfield.

What does it take to get you to do something? Is it solely about having fun, or is there more to it? What do you need to know about motivation that you don’t?


4. How to Overcome Procrastination With Your Writing


This is a post I wrote some time ago, but I thought it’s a good introduction to the subject and might help you, if you are just starting out with writing:

Overcoming procrastination is hard. It’s not that it’s difficult to write. It’s difficult because you do not want to write. You don’t have much of a motivation for it. The problem is that procrastination goes more deep than mere reluctance to write (by itself). Procrastination involves an intrinsic

motivation for writing — a desire for the work that needs to be done. The potential rewards in writing can be great, and the risks can be painful (in this case, the risk may even be largely imaginary). When you are motivated for reasons other than writing, procrastination becomes more about avoidance than about doing something worthwhile. But when there is an intrinsic motive for doing the work — when there is no danger of failure or embarrassment or loss of self-esteem — then procrastination becomes simply not doing something that needs doing.

A couple of days ago I wrote an article on productivity: How to Cut Your Time in Half Without Losing Productivity . Here we will take a look at some different types of motivation and how they can help you overcome procrastination.

I am not going to provide all motivations here — if you have your own ideas on what motivates people, I encourage you to share them in the comments section below! In general, though, there are four main types of motivation:


1)  Active vs Passive Motivation – This type is mainly focused on active involvement with your product/job/life-work (e.g., working on your novel at night or playing guitar till dawn). 

2)  Autonomy vs Authority – This type is focused almost exclusively on autonomy from others (e.g., building one’s own business). Autonomy will always trump approval from others (except in cases where approval would make sense — e.g., selling organs on eBay).

3)  Intrinsic vs Extrinsic – This type focuses more on excellence versus efficiency (e.g., Tiger Woods versus Michael Jordan). Extrinsic motives are better at getting things done than intrinsic motives because they often involve excessive amounts of effort aimed at short term results rather than long term ones (i.e., less sustainable);


5. How to Motivate Yourself to Write Even When You Don’t Feel Like It


If you are a manager, you know what it feels like to not feel motivated. It’s not easy, but it is a reality. For some people, it is a personal issue; they simply don’t have the “drive” to do something. It’s not a failure or lack of ability or anything else that stops them.

For others, motivation is an issue caused by the job itself — and any questions about motivation in this context can be answered simply: if it’s working for you, it must be working for the company too. If your team isn’t happy and productive, then it must be because they aren’t happy and productive at your job.

For me in particular I think that there are three elements that contribute to motivation when I don’t feel like writing:

1) The team environment (what we mean by “team environment” here is broadly defined as “a group of people who work together frequently over time with shared goals and tasks on an ongoing basis)

2) Productivity — which we define as “being able to focus on tasks without having to think about other things (e.g., family or friends)

3) People — the people with whom you share your task/project/product (if any). If you only share one person with your team, then there will be a connection (and therefore a motivation). If you share yourself with your team, then how do they connect? And how do they get motivated?


6. Conclusion


I’m not a psychologist, but I think this is the best summary of motivation I have ever read. It’s also a perfect example of the “What is it?” questions. Do you know the difference between “hard work” and “work that requires effort?” You can, but not if you don’t know what exactly it is you’re working on.

I see two kinds of motivation: intrinsic (or “internal,” ie., self-motivated) motivation and extrinsic (or “external,” ie., work-motivated). For an intrinsic motivator, what’s important to you matters. For an extrinsic motivator, the goal or outcome matters more than your personal well-being.

There are four types of motivation:

1. Motivation in sport: competition versus winning; training versus resting; team versus individual; danger versus safety; etc.. The more of these elements there are in a given situation, the more resistance there will be to doing something different for its own sake — even if it is intrinsically rewarding.

2. Motivation in business: growth versus loss; stability versus change; raising capital versus reducing risk; competing against others vs cooperating with others; market share vs collaboration with others vs internal teamwork vs external teamwork (eg., becoming better at something that people care about); etc.. The importance of each one varies with your business context and situation (eg., 4) differs from 4a in 4b… for example… 4a means ‘the pursuit of happiness’ – humans may look to this goal when they want to feel good about themselves as an end in itself – eg., seeking pleasure or an escape from pain – while 4b means ‘seeking happiness through others’ – eg., seeking pleasure through helping other people achieve their goals or act out their fantasies…

3. Motivation in sports: competition vs winning; training vs rest; team vs individual; danger vs safety; etc.. This one is very similar to 2 above with some notable exceptions like 5b below… When there is no inherent reward at stake (eg., whether winning or losing), then motivation becomes purely self-generated and does not involve any external factors like pressure from others or external rewards for one’s performance… whereas when there is some external pressure involved on an athlete which depends on his performance (as opposed to his own performance), then motivation usually involves a lot more than just performing

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