Thursday, August 20, 2015

internal vs external sources of motivation

Many years ago, I used to watch "In the Actors Studio". I was fascinated by the interviews of the famous actors I knew and loved then. They would all talk about that moment when they caught the bug. They were in an improv class, or they took an acting class in college, it was always some pivotal moment that they knew they could not do anything else for a living. I remember one actor who said that when he discovered acting, he had a firehose and he couldn't turn it off.

In reviewing the fields of study and performance, in almost every case, where we see excellence, we see people who are internally motivated. The greatest scientific minds were internally motivated. From Einstein to Darwin to Salk, the greatest scientists of history were all motivated by their own desire to know, to excel, to discover, to share.

In a similar vein, all of the greatest athletes were and are internally motivated. They practice, they compete, they study their craft. And with actors, they study, they compete (in the auditions), and they act. It is hard to find an example of excellence that is not internally motivated.

A simple cautionary sentence comes to mind. "If you're doing it for the money, you're doing it for the wrong reasons". I was a sheet metal worker for ten years. I did it for the money and I just could not keep doing it. My mind would not let me. So I got into IT. Then I got into writing and found my passion. I love IT, so don't get me wrong. I'm very good at it, but that work takes real effort. Writing is a talent. IT is a skill. Some people have a talent for IT. I'm not one of them. I have a skill for IT, but it's not my talent.

Skills and talents both require practice, but both come from internal motivation to perform. There is a song called "I Hate Mondays". It's about work and as a part of our culture, shows us how many people hate their jobs. I don't wake up on Monday and say that I hate that day. I wake up for work, even IT work and I never say that I hate my job. I enjoy my job because I find something to enjoy about it. I like to get to work early so that I'm prepared for the day. I enjoy solving technical problems. I enjoy helping other people. I enjoy the satisfaction of work well done.

There is another phrase that comes to mind: "You can't change people". This is the clincher. I have beat my head on this one many times to no avail. I've got enough bumps now and can move on. Now I just pray because the reality is, that's about all I can do now that I know that motivation to change must come from the inside.

When I see people suffer, or adapt to people that cause suffering in my life, I remind myself that I can't change them. I simply cannot provide motivation for others to change. I can only change myself and redirect my motivation somewhere else. But I can pray for them. Take note here, I'm not religious. I don't subscribe to any religion. But I have noticed the power of prayer and have faith in the existence of a power greater than myself, like the sun or the Universe. My tiny little brain is simply no match for the universe, so I pray to get along with it.

When I interact with children, particularly my own, I have no illusion that I can motivate them to do anything. I simply don't the power to be their motivation to do anything or all things. Whatever children want to do, that comes from inside, not from me. If it turns out that they're intelligent, charming, or nice, that's all them, not me. I just provide the environment for them to be that way. I can't change them.

When dealing with misbehavior, I remind myself that my goal is to find the problem they're trying to solve with their behavior and help them to solve it. Kids act out when they cannot find the skills they need to respond to the demands of their environment. It is up to us to teach them the skills they need to respond. No amount of punishment or threat of punishment can change them. That can repress the behavior, but punishment doesn't solve the underlying problem which is the lack of skills to respond to the demands of the environment.

I assume that kids would do better if they could, if they had the skills to respond to their environment, they would. I assume that the motivation is there inside to do better. Now because of my own upbringing, I may forget that from time to time, but the vast majority of the time, I'm on track. I want my kids to find their own motivation in life.

The reason for this is simple. I can't be there for them all the time, 24x7. So I do my best to live the example. I do my best to be the person I would like them to be. I use my own motivation to do that, and to let them use their own motivation to do what they do.

I have since learned to apply this to adults. Adults would do better if they would. I learned this rather late in life having taken some rather deep detours as a result of my upbringing. Everyone is pretty much the same. When people do not have the skills to respond to the demands of their environment they act out. People commit crimes because they lack the skills to adapt or respond to their surroundings. If they had the skills to respond, they would.

Living in peace is a skill. This is all that I want to teach. We can learn this skill together.
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