Friday, May 27, 2011

The transforming power of inner motivation

In his recent bestselling book, Drive, Daniel Pink discusses how
incentives can actually block the results they are designed to achieve.
Studies show that the more we are motivated from outside forces, the
more we act in unethical and addictive ways. On the other hand, the
more our motivation comes from within, the happier and more honest
we become.

The last time that I was a guest lecturer in Professor Lhotka’s AWC
Comparative Religion class, we explored the question of motivation.

During the discussion, one student expressed a philosophy that gives
her a strong sense of purpose. I asked the class, “Can we adopt her
statement for ourselves?” There was lively dissent, focusing on the
students’ widely differing perspectives on life.

I suggested that as a group they try to develop a common purpose. In
two minutes there was consensus - “Life’s purpose is to help others
without hurting them and to do the same for oneself.”

The clarity of this statement created a significant effect on the students.
They began expressing honest concerns that their actions were not
consistent with their ideals, admitting that in their experience it seemed
easier to “do bad things than good.”

This classroom experience has direct application to addictions, which
persist because addictions sap the energy to close the gap between
one’s actions and one’s aspirations. As the students clarified their
purpose, they immediately had energy to examine their actions.

This is precisely what Pink’s studies showed – as one taps into one’s
internal motivation, one finds a strong desire to help others. As the
students demonstrated, this desire quickly evolves into an honest
evaluation of one’s actions and a desire to act more consistently with
one’s higher aspirations. What more can we ask for?

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