There’s only one reason you are going to read the next line:
See? You did it! I piqued your natural curiosity to motivate you to read further, you trusted me to deliver, and here we are. Way to go, us!
But what truly motivates you?
I’m internally (sometimes eternally) motivated by a sense of accomplishment. I love crossing off TO DO list tasks. I use paper because it’s so much more satisfying to kill those things with a pen rather than deleting off a device. In fact, I have been known to get most of the way through a day, notice I’ve marked nothing off, then write down a few things I did do so that I can scratch them out of existence.
I don’t get paid for this, but let’s say I did. That would be an external motivator. You’d think that having internal and external motivators would make me doubly productive, right?
Nope. The external motivation has the opposite effect.
Science has been telling us for 50 years that people aren’t primarily motivated by external factors but by internal factors, including trust. Unfortunately, the business world has largely ignored this truth.
Daniel Pink, in his bestselling book DRiVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, explains it.
The external motivation many businesses have and still use is what he calls Carrots and Sticks. It’s your basic reward and punishment scenario. Do well, get a bonus. Do poorly, get fired. Little if any thought is paid to true motivation. It’s same old same old.
Pink says the driving force for self-motivation is internal satisfaction. There are three components to this – Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
Autonomy is the freedom to decide what you work on, when you work on it, with whom, and how.
Mastery is getting better at something that matters to you. The key is it matters, to you. No one wants to get better at pushing paper. The power of small wins fits this category.
Purpose is contributing to and belonging to a cause greater and longer lasting than yourself. Fill those three elements and you’ve got some motivation going.
But why this is true for human beings? I discovered that those three principles are foundational to the systems of nature. Since humans are part of nature, what works for nature works for us.
An example is photosynthesis.
As a quick refresher to your grade school science class, all of life on earth requires oxygen. Animals and bacteria take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, and plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. The cycle has worked really well since life began on this planet. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be here.
How does photosynthesis relate to Pink’s findings? Each part of the cycle has a purpose. It’s necessary. If we lose either plants, bacteria, or animals, the entire system falls apart. And we won’t be here.
For autonomy, each part is free to live and thrive in its own way, own place, own time.
As for mastery? This one absolutely flabbergasts me. With no overarching structure or control, the various parts manage to keep the oxygen level in the world-wide atmosphere consistently at just under 21%. How that is possible with each part simply doing its thing, living its life, inhaling and exhaling, and it just works…I can’t even. Truly astonishing.
That’s a lot of information. Are you on left brain overload? Let’s engage our right brains with a story.
In the beginning, God created the heavens, the earth, the universe, and all we see. He thought it was all great but something was missing. He needed someone to take care of things. Thus the idea to create humans was born, and so they were (I wish creating things was that easy for me).
He set those two humans in a beautiful garden, then told them to work well, make babies, move everyone around the planet, and keep going. And eat whatever they wanted in the garden but not from that one tree. He said he’d be back to check on them and help out where they wanted.
How does this illustrate what Pink says? According to the story, people were made for a purpose. Everything in nature has a place and purpose, so it only makes sense that people do, too.
As far as mastery, with an entire planet of firsts, experiences, and challenges, they could do nothing but tackle them and improve.
Autonomy? God gave them four Do’s and one Don’t. That’s it. Not ten commandments, not a bunch of laws. They had complete freedom over what to do, when to do it, and how. They did have a limitation on who they could do it with since there were only two of them, but I don’t imagine they minded.
Of course, there was that one Don’t, and you know how that turned out.
Which brings us to the foundational principle that underlies all motivations, systems, and stories: Trust.
Trust is the foundation for any kind of workable relationship, whether it’s Creator and Created trusting each other in figuring out how to take care of the earth, animals trusting plants to make oxygen and plants trusting animals to make carbon dioxide, or bosses and employees trusting each other to work hard without external motivators like carrots and sticks.
If I know you trust me with something, I’m going to work a lot harder to be sure I do it well. That’s just the way people work.
Trust is built over time, with experience, and must be earned. To build it, tell the truth. Do what you say you’ll do. Follow up. Be kind. Admit when you’re wrong or don’t know something. Explain gently.
The more we build trust, trust ourselves, and find our own motivation, the more efficient, effective, and fulfilled we will be in work and life. And when you have those three things, you will change, your world will change, and the world will change, for the better.
.My coffee was getting cold and the waiter was giving me furtive glances. Where was my new friend? It was our first lunch together and we were supposed to meet 20 minutes ago.
I checked my texts again. Nothing.
Maybe she’s stuck in traffic. But she could still text me. Maybe she’s talking on the phone and can’t text.
I looked out at the parking lot again. Maybe she’s been in an accident.
I furrowed my eyebrow. Maybe she forgot. But we confirmed yesterday….
Maybe she didn’t really want to come!
I could feel my breath quicken. I even felt a little burning in my chest.
That’s it! She stood me up and is too chicken to call me! Well, fine! I’m not going to play games like this! If I’m not important enough to let me know she doesn’t want to see me then why am I even here?!
And then…she blew in. The seating hostess pointed in my direction and she hurried over. I was surprised to see her hair and makeup were disheveled.
“Hey! What happened?” I asked.
“I’ve spent 20 minutes looking for my phone! I never did find it!” she said. During the next 10 minutes I heard about the past 40, with her apologizing profusely several times.
The more I listened, the worse I felt.
I had gathered my “evidence,” put her on trial, and convicted her all before I laid eyes on her. There hadn’t been anything in our, albeit, short history to indicate she would stand me up, yet I had had followed my own baseless thoughts clear through to the worst possible conclusion.
I also now had heartburn, a slight headache, and higher blood pressure.
It would have been better to have given her the benefit of the doubt.
According to dictionary.cambridge.org,, to give the benefit of the doubt is “to decide that you will believe someone, even though you are not sure that what the person is saying is true.”
Another word: Trust.
Like Love always trusts. (1 Corinthians 13:7)
Rather than let my emotions run my mind, it would have been better to step back, look at the situation objectively, and trust that her heart toward me was good.
Skepticism is fine, if there is a previous history. But can we not at least begin any interaction by assuming truth and goodwill? If we’re unsure, choose to trust.
After all, it’s highly unlikely that the person who cut you off in traffic actually meant to harm you. It is quite likely the clerk was in a bad mood before you got there. Even your boss’s motives probably aren’t all bad toward you.
Choosing to trust, giving the benefit of the doubt, empowers the other person to rise into trustworthiness. Choosing mistrust encourages denigration and deceit.
Any time we empower another person, THAT’S LOVE.
My friend did eventually find her phone, and I found a new perspective on love. I even gave the waiter the benefit of the doubt about my cold coffee.
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Applying nature's principles and systems to personal and cultural development.
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