the jungle of motivation

No one wants to be Sisyphus.

He’s the guy In Greek mythology who, because of his hubris, was condemned by Zeus to endlessly roll a boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down because of an enchantment placed upon it.

Here is the “Sisyphic” condition: being caught in an endeavour without meaning or purpose.  None of us want to find ourselves or to condemn others to live in this place devoid of motivation.

The following words from Dan Ariely, Duke University’s Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics, describes motivation as a jungle.  My interest and curiosity were piqued as soon as I read them:

‘Motivation is a forest full of twisting trees, unexplored rivers, threatening insects, weird plants, and colourful birds.’*

Motivation’s complexity – because not everything is equally important in the jungle and we can end up placing greater value on the wrong things – means we can be tempted to overlook the source of our own motivation in favour of something more predictable or measurable, such as the product.  Yet, whilst others will be able to copy our super-widget, they will not be able to copy our story.

‘We are the CEOs of our own lives.’*

Here are three invaluable things when it comes to motivation, what it is to be human:

Autonomy: no one is completely free but we can each embrace how more or less free we are – when we face our experiences, our character, our story, our choices – and then we can grow them.

Mastery: we have each developed skills into talents into strengths over many thousands of hours; the ways we think, relate, communicate, and execute are unique and are full of the kinds of detail that not only can be repeated but also developed and innovated.

Purpose: the purpose bigger than ourselves that we want to contribute to, moving us towards investing in the lives of others – perhaps the greatest of all contributions: ‘the place where [our] deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,’ as Frederick Buechner put it.

All of these can be turned into the kinds of habit and practice that make it possible for us to turn up to our days with meaning and purpose.  Motivation may be a jungle but we can know our jungles.

(*From Dan Ariely’s Payoff.)



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