The Problem with Motivation

Hewnri Bergson was an influential philosopher of the late 19th century. He coined a phrase “élan vital” It is the so called life energy or force that moves us forward. Shaw was a great proponent of this idea, though others rejected it.

More recently, one uses the word “motivation” to describe the force that drives us all forward. “What motivates us?” is a question that many obsess over.  Dan Pink’s book “Drive” talks about this in terms of things that promote creativity.  here is a  description of the core idea.

Most of us believe that the best way to motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, Daniel H. Pink says in, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, his provocative and persuasive new book. The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

Dan’s thought follows up the path breaking work of Csikszentmihalyi who argues that we need to actively create meaning in our lives through optimal experiences.

Of course, there is a problem with all of this. We are not motivated all day long. Motivation comes in waves and it evaporates.  In other words, the things that motivate us get the game started. But they do not necessarily see us through the entire game. We need something else to help us maintain focus. Systems do that.

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