How do world-leading thinkers and doers become great?
Well, they don’t hack their way to greatness.
Our culture is obsessed with tips, tricks, and shortcuts. In many respects, it’s human nature. We want to find the shortest line from point A to point B. We don’t punch an address into WAZE and ask for the most challenging route that will give us the richest view of a city’s diversity. We want to get there as quickly as possible.
Even our brain looks for mental shortcuts, constantly computing and searching for the most efficient way to consolidate the vast amount of information that pours in, these processes are called “heuristics.” Heuristics are cognitive rules of thumb, hard-wired mental shortcuts we use to make judgments and routine decisions. Heuristics generate deeply grooved neurological channels that opt for speed and efficiency at the expense of accuracy, the familiar over the unfamiliar.
But there are no shortcuts or heuristics to being one’s best.
There are, though, a handful of psychological principles that thread through those who pursue excellence. One of them is becoming masterful with the art of motivation — the reasons behind specific choices and actions that you make.
When we become skillful with motivation, we are better able to thrive with the inherent challenges and obstacles that are part of the path of a life of purpose, meaning, fulfillment, and high performance.
Think of motivation as having two axes: drive and reward.
We have internal and external drivers. Those who are internally driven are self-motivated. They take action, without priming or prodding from sources outside themselves to initiate or sustain action. On the other hand, those who are externally driven require someone else or something external to act as a forcing function to get them going. All of us experience both drivers.
We also pursue two different types of rewards: intrinsic and extrinsic (jeez, sounds so close to internal and external, but they are different). Those who are intrinsically motivated engage in behaviors because they flat-out love how it feels to unlock and explore the challenges that come with the task. For them, the journey is the destination. For those who seek extrinsic rewards such as recognition, money, power, shelter, food, safety or belonging, the destination is the destination.
How do you fit across those axes?
If you’re really honest with yourself, are you driven more by intrinsic or extrinsic rewards? Respectfully, do you love how it feels to learn, unlock, improve, and make sense of something (intrinsic rewards) or are you more interested in fame and fortune (extrinsic rewards)? And, is the source of that drive primarily generated from an internal or external force?
My experience with world-class performers is that nearly all of them are highly internally driven. They don’t need others to “get them going.” They are the classic self-starters who are relentless in their work ethic. Don’t get me wrong, there are hard days for everyone. No one does the extraordinary alone. We need each other along the adventure to stay committed — to increase motivation. I love it when I’m struggling to go for a run — and a friend says, “Hey, break away from your computer and meet me outside in 10 minutes.” Fires me right up. But we all know that’s not sustainable. It’s too hard to become great when relying on external drivers to consistently work hard and smart.
When it comes to rewards, the truth is that world-class performers can be propelled by internal or external rewards. We used to think that if someone was focused on external rewards (e.g., money and/or fame) that it was at the exclusion of internal rewards (e.g., the joy unlocking). That’s not the case. You can in fact be highly motivated by both. There is a caveat though. When motivation is more aligned with temporary pleasure or outside acknowledgment, it’s hard to sustain for the long-haul. Those rewards can be wonderful, but the buzz that accompanies them seems to diminish over time. That’s where the pattern of “more, more, more” comes into play. Eventually, we see a natural de-motivation curve take place. Those who seek the rewards that lie within tend to stay in the game longer and, in return, have a greater possibility of fully expressing their potential.
Enjoy carving your unique path of mastering motivation — both the drivers and rewards.