Three Things that Drive Us

The subject of motivation is a long, complex and incredibly interesting one. Even defining what motivation is can be tricky.  As the word’s meaning is  derived from the verb,  “to move” it suggests that it is all about action and drive.  Yet, at its purest form, we can also relate it to what gives life meaning, or what we strive for.  Current literature contains some great ideas on what people, in general, really desire.  

There are three elements that keep cropping under different names that seem to be very important. One of them is, the need/drive for:

Control of our own life.  
Sometimes, called self determination, sometimes, autonomy the sense behind is that we really want to be in charge of our own destiny – in the future and on a day to day basis.  When this control is taken away from us, and things go wrong, the “victim mentality” can easily set in.  At least if we make a bad decision, it was our own responsibility.  Self responsibility is what is needed for people to make choices that create good lives for themselves – or ones they have chosen.  

Control is taken away when we are not consulted on important decisions – at work or at home.  We feel we have no say.  When experts keep telling us what to do without taking into account our personal feelings.  When rules are made that we don’t understand.  There are lots of times we feel bypassed and this create despondency and a lack of, well, motivation!

How can we regain this feeling of self determination?
By making our own decisions instead of looking to someone else to choose for us. In the area of health and wellness this happens constantly.  We know what we should eat, what we should (or shouldn’t) drink, what’s good for us, what’s bad for us, what to avoid, what rules we should live by in we want to live long and well.  Yet, many people feel dis empowered by this constant stream of advice.  Time spent working out what we want and why we want it will assist us in making choices based on current knowledge, but that work for us.. And if they don’t work, then we can can try something else but we are continually taking responsibility for our own lives.  Responsibility simply means, “the ability to respond” and that suggests we have a choice. And that choice gives us what we truly need – a feeling of control.

The second element that really gives us that push to move forward is the need/drive for is Mastery or Competence.

Not only do we like to be self determining creatures but we also like to good at things! If we are not given the opportunity to expand our knowledge and abilities we will often stagnate, become demotivated and at times cease to grow.  This is an inherent characteristic in the human psyche and it is a shame that more employers didn’t realise it!  Essentially it means we seek to improve ourselves all the time – Maslow called it “self actualisation”. So what does this mean in our quest for better health and wellness?

Two things:
If you are someone who is working towards an outcome, it is important to find something in the plan you have made that gives you that chance to become proficient at at least one of the changes. So say, for example, you have decided to cut out meat for a while; enrolling in a vegetarian cooking class could not only help you stick to the non meat diet, but give you a sense of accomplishment as your cooking skills improve.  This will be more satisfying and help you stick to your plan than if you were simply say, cutting out meat!

As a client or a trainer, we need to have goals to work towards.  Not only do we get a feeling of having done what we said we’d do, we also can get a sense of competence if that goal has some element of challenge in it.  So when we do decide to set a plan for the week, or quarter, try and include something in it that you have to either learn something new or overcome some resistance or fear.  Playing a sport, doing a new class, running a certain distance are all good examples but you can be as creative as you like.

Fact remains –  we like to do things well and be good at something.  We don’t have to be the best but we do like to have a degree of proficiency that will feed our sense of self worth and accomplishment.

The Third and biggest drive we have as human beings is the desire to “belong” 

This is also referred to as having a sense of connectedness or, its most basic form – to be loved.  They may seem like very different things but the reality is the underlying emotional need that is being filled is pretty much the same – just diluted a bit.  So what is a sense of connection or connectedness?  Well if we look at the opposite – a sense of isolation – it becomes clear.  We want to feel that we have bonds with people around us.  That someone cares about us;  that we “belong” to a community of some sort.  Whether this is at work, at home, in our neighbourhood, in our gym, or even online (think Facebook), this need is evident.  All our theorists in the area of motivation agree on this important element that drives us and gives us a feeling of life satisfaction and wellbeing.  Without it, we exist alone and it is easy to succumb to depression and sense of lack of meaning.  There may be the rare individual who simply loves his or her own company 24 hours a day,  but they are few and far between.  People require love  and approval to bloom.  

What does this information tell us about our lives?  Do we have groups that we belong to and where we feel accepted and appreciated?  Do we feel part of something bigger than just ourselves?  Do we have people to share our experiences, to support us when we are down and to celebrate with us when we succeed?  If we look closely at our lives, we find that these groups are incredibly important to us.  So as we work towards greater health, is it surprising that support groups, team sports, health club timetables draw us in and often keep us going when times get tough.  We do not exist in a bubble and we derive meaning from our relationship with others.  

Let’s keep those groups alive by recognising their importance and connecting with the people in them.