The Secret of What Really Motivates You

There are truly some people out there doing some amazing work. Dan Pink used to be Al Gore’s speechwriter, but now he is a career analyst helping companies redefine what motivates their executives and employees. If you haven’t ever checked out TED talks, they’re worth getting into. Not all of them will “roll your socks up and down” as my wife says, but you may find many of them really illuminating.

In this talk, Dan Pink discusses the secret behind what motivates us. In my past career I was in sales and management and the companies always provided heavy financial incentives and trips for doing well. Dan Pink says this is a less effective way of helping you approach your life to get the job done.

Research has found that this approach works for getting easy tasks done that require a narrow focus. Dan says that focusing on external rewards (e.g., money, trips, cars, etc…) actually kills the ability to think out of the box and be creative which is required for more difficult, conceptual and right brain tasks.

He suggests that what we need for motivation is a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

In this talk he focuses mostly on autonomy. This is the idea that gives us a sense of self reliance which is actually a core focus and outcome of doing mindfulness practice (just a side note).

He gives the examples of Google having a 20% rule where 20% of the time employees work on whatever they want. This apparently has produced 50% of Google’s products.

I think what Dan is talking about has tremendous applications for our mental health. What motivational theory has found for years is that it is intrinsic factors that are the best predictors of someone doing well. Even in working with children, many experts are now suggesting to not focus on allowance or prizes for doing well (extrinsic), but instead to help children engage in activities they are interested in, not only because they think they’ll get adult praise or some reward.

When considering the work you do in daily life or even the way you relate to people or yourself, what is motivating you? Is it something outside of yourself (e.g., wanting to please others) or is it that you’re engaging in this because you’re truly interested in it?

One of the key factors in working with depression is cultivating a sense of self reliance (autonomy), mastery (e.g., accomplishment), and purpose (e.g., meaning).  I know that these are 3 factors that my own research has found to correlate with mindfulness practice.

Why? Because at its core, mindfulness is about learning how to be present to the experience of the moment for its own sake. So we develop this intrinsic motivation of being very interested in the experience of the here and now. Also, in working with mindfulness practices, you begin to recognize that you can actually be with your experience moment to moment (autonomy), doing these practices gives you a sense of accomplishment (mastery), and you also develop an appreciation for being more present to your life (meaning). To learn more about this, you can read over many of my past blog posts.

This isn’t news to the mental health field, but it is a good reminder that we can look to these 3 elements to help us with stress, anxiety, depression, and even addiction. This helps build that intrinsic motivation that is far more self sustaining and ultimately creates energy to do the things that are going to be most helpful to us in the long run.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

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