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Why we do what we do
Motivation. It seems like something so very simple and yet it proves to be something so very complex. In simple terms motivation just seems to be the fuel that propels us forward to achieve our goals, or perhaps a wonderful reward for achieving those goals. Motivation pushes us forward and gives us a head-start. But what really is it?
Well one thing's for sure, it plays a major role in developmental psychology- the study of how and why humans change over the course of their lifetime. Motivation shapes our lives and without it we would be wandering with no purpose, no aims no desires and no ambition to do anything, to achieve anything or to be anything. It is because we are motivated to do something that we do it, otherwise there would be no point to any human activity regardless of whether the said motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic.
Yet that doesn't answer the question of whether it is a physical force or is a mental one.Does it relate to the body or to the mind? What really does motivation do? How does motivation even work? When being motivated is something that people feel how can we know what it truly is if we can't really see it? Similar questions have been plaguing scientists, researchers, and psychologists since ages. In fact the concept of motivation has been around since the ages of ancient Greeks, the ages of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
There are 4 main theories about motivation.
In essence, this is what they mean.
Evolutionary perspective- we are monkey men. We are driven by our primal instincts and our need to survive. This is what motivates us, our desire to live. Eg- For our survival we need food and so we are motivated to eat foods rich in sugar and fats. So yes, blame that McDonalds binging on this one.
Drive Reduction- just make it stop. A need such as that for glucose gives rise to a drive such as that of hunger and so we do something to reduce that drive such as eating an unusual amount of chocolate pudding when you are known for not liking chocolate.
Optimal arousal- I'm happy now I think. We like to maintain a level of optimal alertness in a situation where things aren't too easy nor too hard. We increase our alertness when bored by engaging in some activity whereas we decrease our alertness when anxious by engaging in relaxing activities such as scrolling through your instagram feed mindlessly and watching a couple hours of cat videos.
Incentive theory- What's in it for me? We do something in hopes of a reward. We study for a good grade. We go to the gym for a good body. We want that reward so we do the work.
Honestly, I've been lacking the motivation to write and keep up with the challenge that I decided to take. This took me three days to write split up with a lot of reading long articles that bored me to death. But the amazing part was that when I wasn't motivated to write, I now understand why. Learning about motivation is amazing because fundamentally we are learning about us.
So next time you don't feel like doing something, stop and think for a minute. (Since I'm a student, most of this is written with relevance to studying. But this can be applied to whatever you want, to get that amazing gym body or to stay on your diet. You've got what it takes.)How about setting up a reward system? I did that for my mid term exams and it worked pretty well. I would reward my long study sessions by letting myself take my phone off of airplane mode for a fifteen minute break. At the end of the exam, I'd assess my performance and if I was proud of myself I'd treat myself to a cookie. (I'm secretly the cookie monster from sesame street) That made we want to do better on the next test so that I could have another amazing cookie. And that meant studying. The mid terms went good if you're curious but I didn't need to use this system for the final exams because I wanted to do well on the finals to make my mom proud so that was a different kind of reward.
Or how about creating a system where you are optimally alert? Find a chapter that you find interesting and start studying there. There has to be some part that you find genuinely fun to learn, start there. Find exercises that aren't too easy for you to skim through nor too hard that it discourages you. For my science exam, I started with physics (because I'm partial to physics, sorry biology). I'd start with the easy and short questions first and then work my way up to the harder and longer numericals involving more complex calculations. Once you're in the flow anyways, it's comparatively easy to go from there.
So when you're not motivated, think of what the outcome would be if you actually did the work. You'd be more successful if you did better on that test. You'd be happier with how you look when you're done with that cardio. You have what it takes. You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it. So find something that works for you. Would I recommend setting up a reward system? Yes, but be sure to have a lot of cookies in store.