When someone is driven to do something, they usually find a way to make that something happen. That drive is also called motivation.
Internal motivation can be understood by thinking about our basic needs to survive. For example, hunger is an internal motivator. Hunger drives us to get off the couch, no matter how comfy or tired we may be, and go into the kitchen to cook the food we need. Humans are motivated by an internal need to eat, so we search for food.
External motivation can be understood by thinking about our desires. If a person desires to avoid a speeding ticket, she does not speed on the road. The external threat motivates in this situation – the threat of having to pay a ticket – so the person drives the speed limit.
There are positive forms of motivation and negative forms of motivation. Dr. Jim Taylor, sports and parenting psychology professor at the University of San Francisco, wrote about a motivation matrix that people fall into in a 2010 article titled, “Business: The Drive to Succeed: Are you motivated to succeed in your work life?”
The matrix consists of four quadrants: internal-positive, external-positive, internal-negative, and external negative. The best place to be would be internal-positive, which includes being motivated by a challenge or desire, passion, satisfaction, or self-validation – all positive motivators that come from inside one’s own psyche.
The external-negative, which is motivation that comes from “fear of loss of job, insufficient respect from boss and co-workers, financial pressure, pressure from significant others, unstable life,” may not be the best quadrant to fall into, because once the external motivators are gone, there is a chance that the person will stop making any effort and those external motivators are all attached to suffering.
People use external motivators all of the time. Teachers, parents, employers set up consequences to actions, and many times those consequences, good or bad, are external motivators designed to inspire certain kinds of behavior.
Our laws are external motivators because they are attached to consequences, but when people think no one is watching, many ignore the law. Imagine a stop sign on a lone road with no other traffic. Do you stop?
Many would say no, justifying the stop-sign violation by saying that the reason for the law is to avoid accidents with other vehicles, but when there are no other vehicles, then there is no danger of a collision and no reason to stop.
When no one is watching, the threat or the reward removed, people are left with their own internal compass.
At our base, we are driven by physiological and emotional survival needs. When these survival needs are met, barring external forces, our emotions and desires at any given moment drive our actions.
Henry David Thoreau wrote in his essay Civil Disobedience, “I heartily accept the motto, ‘That government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe- ‘That government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” In these lines, Thoreau maps out an ideal form a living in this world that involves no need for a governing body to protect people from each other and keep the peace.
While that would be a wonderful world, I honestly think it will never happen, because it would require all people to be internally motivated to achieve the same principals in similar ways, and we can see from one generation to the next that no matter how attentive the parents may be, their training and influence will not guarantee that the next generation will learn to behave any better than the previous generation because we are imbued with negative internal motivators like jealousy, feelings of injustice and guilt – all of which can lead us to make decisions detrimental to ourselves and each other.
All that said, hope for a better future, either for ourselves, our children or our communities, often act as a positive internal motivator. From that hope, stems the ability to pursue goals and outcomes that while difficult to achieve, are still tenaciously sought.
Hope is the spark that gets the plan in motion. Effort and stamina are the skills needed to keep going in spite of any obstacles.
To complicate matters, there needs to be a level of decision making and problem-solving skills that allow someone to judge when to make adjustments in the effort that will lead to success.
Writers who get published may be rejected 100 times before being accepted. Rejections sometimes come with reasons for the rejections.
A savvy writer will head those reasons, make changes or adjustment to improve the chances for publication, and then will resubmit to that publication or others until someone publishes the work.
While this explanation and these examples may oversimplify the complexities of motivation, they still reach the heart of my point: internal motivation is more difficult, but far more satisfying and enduring than external motivation.
To act through internal motivation requires people to work whether they like it or not, to make sacrifices and tough choices, and to suffer without losing hope, so that the goal can be achieved.
Too often, people create lofty goals with no plan of action or an unwillingness to follow a difficult path to achieve that goal. In these cases, the goal is never achieved.
Others make a strategic plan to achieve the goal, take advantage of opportunities, take calculated risks (as opposed to reckless risks), and are willing to accept failure and try again. These people, for their efforts reap not only the reward of achieving the goal, but the satisfaction of knowing it was well earned.
As I move to achieve my goals this year, I will consistently remind myself of what it takes to make progress toward desired outcomes: hope for a better tomorrow, endurance, tenacity, dedication, and flexibility.
Honing these skills will lead to success. For me to believe otherwise is not an option.