The New York Times published an article recently about a study two college professors did on motivation. They studied extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and found that intrinsic motivation is the most effective. They also found that a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation was not as effective as intrinsic motivation alone. This is essentially what we discovered in the last lesson. By developing the third freedom, the freedom to be our authentic self, we connect with intrinsic motivation.
Motivation is defined as a need, desire, or condition of being eager to act or work. “Work” is an important part of this definition because work is stressful. Motivation needs to move us willingly in the direction of work and stress. We must be eager to be in stress, not at a comfortable end result. We climb because we’re eager to be in the stressful climbing experience, not at the top where the climbing experience is finished. When we’re motivated intrinsically, the hard work of stressful climbing takes on a nature of play.
There are three parts of intrinsic motivation manifesting itself: a force, energy, and a channel through which the force directs the energy to flow. The metaphor of a river can help us understand this relationship. When we think of a river we may think of water flowing. Actually, a river consists of a river bed (channel), water (energy), and gravity moving the water (force). The river bed directs the water’s flow, water is the energy flowing through the river bed, and gravity is the force causing the water to flow.
There’s a symbiotic relationship between the river bed and the water. The river bed adapts to how the water flows through it and the water flows how it’s being directed by the river bed. The river bed has a certain structure that directs the water’s flow, but it also allows itself to be moved as the water does work, eroding its edges and depth. Likewise, the water allows itself to flow through the structure of the river bed, but also does subtle work to modify the river bed.
The water doesn’t have a goal of reaching the ocean; it surrenders and allows gravity to pull it through the river bed, along the path of least resistance. The river bed doesn’t resist how or where it’s being eroded. It surrenders and allows the water to flow and do work. The work that the water does is not seen as something to be avoided. Rather, it’s the opposite. Work is seen as easy because water is going the easiest way, through the channel, along the path of least resistance. If we build a dam on the river we limit the flow of water and make the river weak. Remove the dam and the flow of water is restored, making the river strong again. Water is aligned with the universal law of energy, following the path of least resistance through the work of eroding the river bed.
Now let’s use this metaphor to understand intrinsic motivation. We consist of our body/mind (river bed), our life purpose (water), and the force of intent (force of gravity). Our body/mind is the channel through which we live our lives. Our life purpose is the energy that wants to flow through us, and intent is the force causing our energy to flow. The universe has an overall intent to grow and expand, of which we are a part. That intent manifests itself within each of us as a unique life purpose, which provides us with a vehicle for us to grow and expand.
There’s a symbiotic relationship between our body/mind and our life purpose. Our body/mind adapts to how our life purpose wants to flow and our life purpose flows how it is being directed by our body/mind. Our body/mind has a certain structure (our physical body and our mental mind) that directs (or impedes) our life purpose, but our body/mind also allows itself to learn as our life purpose does work, changing us. Likewise, our life purpose allows itself to flow through the structure of the channel, our body/mind, but also does subtle work to change us based on being moved by the force of intent.
Let’s say our life purpose is “climbing.” If we’ve lost an arm due to an accident, then our physical body will impede our “climbing” life purpose. If we’ve been conditioned by society to believe that climbing is dangerous, then our mental mind will impede our “climbing” life purpose. These physical and mental limitations are obstacles, like dams on our river, that impede universal intent, and our life purpose, from manifesting itself through us.
If we surrender, by letting go of externally imposed goals, and accept the situation as it is, we allow universal intent to flow through us. We don’t resist how we’re being directed by intent. We accept and allow our life purpose to flow so our body/mind can do the required work. Recall that “accepting” and “allowing” were two important aspects we found in our last lesson for creating the freedom to be our authentic self.
When we’ve clarified our life purpose and eliminated our social conditioning, then intent can flow through our body/mind unimpeded. Intrinsic motivation, in essence, is having this alignment. It begins internally, with the universal intent to expand and grow. Intent manifests itself as our unique life purpose, which is expressed externally through the body/mind. Extrinsic motivation is the reverse. It uses end results in the external world to influence our life purpose and intent.
We can’t push the river to motivate it. If we build a dam to push against the water, the flow will diminish. Yet, the force of gravity is still there. If we remove the dam we allow gravity to move the water again, along the path of least resistance. Likewise, we can’t push ourselves to be motivated. If we don’t feel like climbing, then goals like climbing 8a will have limited effect to motivate us. If we create external goals to push us, we diminish our connection with our life purpose and the flow of intent. We must remove the external goals (dams) to allow intent to move our life purpose again.
Any life purpose is stressful because it requires us to grow and expand, to work. Remember, motivation needs to move us willingly in the direction of work and stress. We must be eager to do work. If we’re doing something that interests us and grabs our attention then we’re moving in the direction of our life purpose. Being aligned with our life purpose helps us deal with the pleasure/pain motivation issue, moving toward pleasure and away from pain. Our attention is easily focused on the stressful work because we equate it with pleasure. Work has taken on a sense of play. Stressful work is being done in a non-stressful way. We’re pulled into work because we want to be there. Then, once there, we follow the path of least resistance to do the work. We’re aligned with the universal law of energy, following the path of least resistance through the stress to grow and expand.
Intrinsic motivation is powerful because it flows freely like water in a river. The flow originates from a universal force, the force of intent. We’re aligned. Then, we live our life purpose and take action to manifest it in the external world. Extrinsic motivation simply puts dams on that river and impedes its flow. All we need to do is remove the obstacles, the dams, and let it flow.
Practice Tip: Feeling Alive
Don’t do anything because it’s good for you; do it because it gives you a feeling of being alive. Doing something that is “good” for you is an end result motivation. You dislike doing it now, in the present, for a “good” reward in the future. Doing something because it gives you a feeling of being alive puts you in contact with intrinsic motivation. You feel alive when your attention is engaged fully in the present moment.
What makes you feel alive? Chances are it’s anything that captures your interest and attention. Identify one or two interests and then do them today. If you practice doing what makes you feel alive, then you’ll connect with your life purpose. This will take time, so be patient.