By Paul Negrete
What is motivation? According to my Mac dictionary motivation is, “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way; the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.” A more technical definition of motivation found in Psychology Today is, “the desire to act in service of a goal. It's the crucial element in setting and attaining one's objectives.” Motivation is the drive or desire we have for completing our targeted objectives
Everyone has a certain level of motivation capacity. It is true that some people have more motivation than others. Research shows that differences in motivational capacity are significant, apparent even at age four and reliably correlate with motivational behavior during adolescence and adulthood. The human COMT gene has two alleles, MET and VAL. An allele is a molecule that exists in two forms, both having an identical chemical composition, but differing in how the atoms are bound together. These phenotypes are equally represented in the human population. Humans with MET allele respond more quickly to changes in their environment, are more efficient in processing information, and have far higher levels of dopamine neurotransmitters in their frontal cortex. (Martin, 2016)
According to Martin (2016), “The dopamine neurotransmitter is critical to our reward system, which is a driver of motivation-related decision-making.” Dopamine’s presence in the brain’s frontal lobe has an effect upon the brain’s executive functions, including self-awareness, self-regulation, planning, concept formulation, goal setting, and mental flexibility. In short, half of the human population is born with significantly greater motivational capacity. However, rarely and if ever do people use their entire motivation capacity. In other words, you can probably push all of your life and never exhaust your motivational threshold.
Understanding the originating factor of our motivation is important. There are external as well as internal factors that can motivate. There is extensive research that has been done in the social sciences related to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. To summarize the research, incentivization works when a task is simple and clearly defined. Providing incentives tends to hyper-focus, or create tunnel vision, in the person being incentivized. This is considering extrinsic motivation in terms of financial incentivization. There may be other types of negative, extrinsic motivators, such as corporal punishment or penalties, but the result is the same. Extrinsic motivation is not generally conducive to helping individuals or groups complete a task in a more timely manner, unless under narrowly defined parameters. In short, extrinsic motivation is not conducive to solving long-term problems, complex problems, or problems that require creative solutions. Overall performance in the workplace is not meaningfully improved through external drivers. (Pink, 2009)
The level of personal engagement is a key factor in increasing motivation. Highly-engaged people are motivated to accomplish the task. Productivity, whether in the workplace, classroom or in the home, is increased when individuals are intrinsically motivated. The idea is to create an environment that emphasizes intrinsic motivation to promote individual engagement based on intrinsic values. (Ferlazzo, 2015, p. 3)
According to Ryan & Deci (2000), leaders in Self-Determination Theory (“SDT”), “Because intrinsic motivation results in high-quality learning and creativity, it is especially important to detail the factors and forces that engender versus undermine it.” (p. 55) Ryan & Deci (2002) go on to state that the key ingredients that give life to intrinsic motivation are “autonomy, competence, and relatedness.” Autonomy is the ability to choose for one’s self, “free choice.” Competence is related to mastery, or the ability to know how to perform a task successfully. Relatedness deals with relationships. How connected a student is to a teacher will help to determine the work a student produces. Relevance points to the ability to find purpose in a task, or value in the mission of the work, which may have direct perceived meaning to an individual’s personal life or to a greater group of people. (Ferlazzo, 2015)(Pink, 2009)(Ryan & Deci, 2000) The more these factors are utilized in a work environment, the more intrinsic motivation, and thereby personal engagement will be experienced by the participants of that environment.
So what’s the good news about motivation? The good news is the Gospel! Christ’s victory is our victory. Because He lives, we are guaranteed victory over the temptations, struggles, and obstacles we are facing today. Furthermore, God is willing to grant us the greatest repository of power through His Holy Spirit if we would simply ask. (Luke 11:13) We are not alone in the challenges we face from day-to-day. (Joshua 1:9) We are not alone in having to rely on our own strength and motivation to achieve success. (2 Corinthians 12:9) We can be confident that God can give us everything we need to fulfill His will in our lives. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Here are some practical tips to help you improve your motivation.
Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D. M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(5), 1252-1265. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1992
Ferlazzo, L. (2015). Building a community of self-motivated learners: Strategies to help students thrive in school and beyond. New York, NY: Routldege.
Martin, M. (2016, January 19). How do people make decisions? [Personal interview].
Martin wrote the winning proposal to build the brain for Star Wars, President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Along with three AI specialists, Martin did extensive research on the brain in order to complete the project. Later, Martin was contracted to design a brain for an autonomously operating drone aircraft. Part of the challenge in these projects was to understand brain function as it relates to decision-making. Marvin Martin later used his research and understanding of the brain when working with special needs students in LAUSD, teaching science to young people who were no longer allowed to continue with their usual school group. Martin received a commendation from the Mayor of Los Angeles for distinguished contribution to the students and the LAUSD.
Pink, D. (2009, July) Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation.[Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation/transcript?language=en
Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/motivation
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54-67. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020
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