Original Link : https://medium.com/the-ascent/remember-your-motives-5574a68c02a0

They are what drive you.

Motivation is a “part of popular culture as few other psychological concepts are.” Those are the words of Martin Maehr and Heather Meyer, spoken almost two decades ago. Since then, the enthusiasm to understand motivation has only increased. But for some reason, we still discuss motivation and our motives as though we know nothing about it.

I can’t go more than a few days without hearing someone say, “I’m just not motivated” as an excuse for inaction. They believe that motivation is a limited source of energy. But, this isn’t how motivation works. It comes from our motives, the fundamental reasons we decide to change.

Everything we do has a motive behind it, but we forget the importance when we aren’t focused. Even lounging around the house comes from our motivation to relaxation. When we need to get work done but procrastinate we don’t need divine intervention; we need a better understanding of our goals.

Breaking down motivation

Our focus on motivation as an external source impinges its effectiveness. This external view is called extrinsic motivation, and it’s only a fraction of what motivates us.

Extrinsic motivators, like money and recognition, are dangled in front of us. They aren’t ours, they come and go at others discretion. Intrinsic motivation stems from the delight and fascination with the activity itself. Almost all the work you do involves a mix of each. But, unless you’re entirely aware of the “why” behind your actions, you might end up assuming things about yourself that aren’t true.

Intrinsic motivation is internal, long-lasting, and self-sustaining, but slow to develop. It’s also far more subjective. Depending on the context, this can be positive or negative. These characteristics support positive habits but mean quitting negative habits is a pain.

Extrinsic motivators are short-term, restricted, quick fixes with broad impact. They may undermine intrinsic motivation and often require rewards to increase over time.

When we discuss motivation, we typically focus on positive incentives. We want to know what’s in it for us. In psychology, this is called incentive salience or approach behavior. Two factors compose incentive salience; wanting, and liking. The wanting factor determines our desire to consume or attain. It shifts our focus from simple objects or outcomes to one that occupies our full attention. The liking portion is the immediate pleasure we get after acting.

Influenced by perceived value and required effort, both factors can vary over short periods. As we work through each decision, our motivation rapidly fluctuates, entirely in our unconscious mind.

Other times we use our conscious mind to figure out the best possible outcome. Like, how we want to unwind for the weekend.

You’re stressed, you decide your best option for Friday night is to kick back with a bottle of wine. Your first glass is fantastic. A preferred brand, you’ve been looking forward to all week, and the taste is exceptional. You may be even more eager for the second glass than the first. But, once your second is empty, you must decide just how deep into the bottle you want to go.

You’ve got a hike in the morning, and it’s been a while since you drank. After a quick appraisal, the third glass seems less appealing. Its incentive salience has decreased, and your aversion to another glass has increased. You decide to cork the bottle. Better safe than sorry.

It’s aversive salience or the impact of alcohol in our example that caused avoidant behavior. We weren’t demotivated to drink another glass; there were legitimate reasons not to. The effects were associated with an undesirable outcome.

It’s challenging to account for all the factors that drive us towards action or inaction. That’s what makes motivation tricky. Of course, it’s hard to get up and go to the gym; your home is comfortable, you want to relax, and the gym doesn’t seem fun. Each of these is a powerful motivator because they are averse. You need to recognize them as such to overcome them.

We’re easily swayed when we fail to understand our reasons to act. Our attention shifts from one salient distraction to the next until we’re finally reminded of our goals. At that point, it’s impossible to tell if we’ll get back on track.

The Impact of Meaning

Psychologist Dan Ariely wanted to learn about motivations impact on behavior. So, he designed an experiment focused on the importance of meaning.

In his experiment, participants continually built simple Lego sets. Regardless of the trial, each model was eventually deconstructed. For each Bionicle built, participants earned a small amount. Completing the first net 3 dollars, the second $2.70, the third $2.40, and so on until they gave up or the amount paid reached zero. Ariely dubbed this the “meaningful experiment.”

In the second condition, participants built the same models, but with a subtle twist. If they agreed to make another, they received a new set, but a third meant recreating the original model.

This trial was called the sisyphic condition after the Greek myth of Sisyphus. An ordinary man punished for his hubris. He was forced to push a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down as he neared the peak. This condition was meant to emulate Sisyphus and his eternal, meaningless work.

In the meaningful condition, individuals built 50 percent more models than the sisyphic. A staggering amount of effort for a minor difference. These individuals weren’t changing the world or helping the impoverished. They played with toys for pocket-change. There was no opportunity to ascribe personal meaning to their work. The difference in experiments mattered substantially to each participant.

In another version of the experiment, nothing was built or paid for; participants only heard the description of each condition. They understood meaning is essential. But, they underestimated the magnitude. They expected the meaningful condition to build 15 percent more, less than a third of the actual amount.

Ariely didn’t stop with the first few experiments. He knew some participants were fond of Legos and wanted to understand how that changes behavior upon reviewing the results attachment to Legos correlated with effort. However, in the sisyphic trial, their attachment was meaningless.

In Ariely’s own words, “this manipulation of breaking things in front of people we basically crushed any joy they could get out of this activity.”

Managing Incentives

Throughout his experiments, participants had intrinsic and extrinsic incentives. Simple changes completely sapped their motivation. What we perceive as motivating; joy, effort, or money, lose potency without meaning. We can persist on them alone, but only for a limited time.

To supersede these effects, you must understand what your goals and actions mean to you before you blindly chase after them.

Your motives decide the intensity and fervency of your actions. If you want to “stay motivated,” you need to understand what’s motivating you and what holds you back. Leverage this knowledge and change your life.