Greetings Boilers!  Now is stereotypically the time of year for fresh starts and New Year’s resolutions.  Why on earth does society designate the end of the holiday season – when there is a probability of high emotions, broken routine and fatigue – to make a lifestyle change?  Well, there is hope associated with the new year and comradery between ourselves and everyone else who committed to a change recently. These are building blocks for the concept known as motivation. Motivation is helpful for maintaining goals but it can also be a hindrance. Read on for a breakdown of motivation, how to find yours and how to make it work for you this year. 

Motivation is defined as a noun, the condition of being incentivized, driven.  In other words: WHY we do anything. There are three types of motivation: extrinsic, intrinsic and instinctual. 

  1. Extrinsic motivation: The type of motivation that refers to behavior that is incentivized by external rewards such as money, fame, ratings and praise. Extrinsic motivation originates outside the individual. Some whys of extrinsic motivation include: eyes on the prize, competitions are made to be won, make a name to be remembered in history, etc.

How it hinders our success: Strict extrinsic motivation is delayed gratification and generally requires additional support to put forth continued effort towards a reward. Extrinsic motivation can become a habit and make it difficult to identify intrinsic motivators that cannot physically be seen. These and other negative effects of physically tangible rewards are summarized in “The hidden costs of reward: New perspectives on the psychology of human motivation.”

  1. Intrinsic motivation: The type of motivation defined by doing an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separable consequence. Intrinsic motivators originate inside an individual’s conscious mind. Whys of intrinsic motivation tend to be non-materialistic, like: achievement, commitment, satisfaction through initiative and optimism/persistence. Intrinsic motivation is also referred to as self-motivation.

How it hinders success: Intrinsic motivation seeks out action and is in constant battle with instinctual motivation to seek inaction. Often we inappropriately interpret a lack of intrinsic motivation as a reason to purposely delay change. 

  1. Instinctual motivation: The type of motivation that is least familiar, where subconscious decisions are made that maintain a standardized method of survival. Instinctual motivation originates in nature and also is known as motivated reasoning. Wherever you are and however you are doing as you read this, you are alive, so instinctually we are encouraged not to change anything.

How it hinders success: It can accentuate negative self-talk and shines a negative light on setbacks. It happens subconsciously making it unavoidable. 

At first glance, this breakdown makes motivation seem like a thing that I can obtain logically, and if I have that thing then I will get my goals. If this is true, then I should wait until I have motivation before I move toward a goal.  We have all procrastinated doing something because we did not FEEL motivated to do it. Then, circumstances change and we THINK we have become motivated to do it.  Just thinking about doing something results in limited progress and experience so we return to procrastinating because we do not feel motivated to do it.   

Do you see where we’re going with this? 

Our THOUGHTS about motivation will never lead to FEELINGS of motivation without ACTION.  Waiting to feel motivated before we act perfectly exemplifies the expression ‘putting the cart before the horse.’  The horse can stare at a cart full of thoughts all day. The horse may even feel excited for the promised rewards or feel excited for the opportunity to pull the cart to its destination. However, the horse will never experience the reward or the achievement until it gets in front of the thoughts and starts acting.


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Once we start doing, we have the opportunity to feel motivation, wherever it comes from. Take advantage of this new year when our thoughts of a fresh start are full of hope and accompanied by others having similar thoughts. I encourage you to identify your thoughts about motivation, turn them into concrete goals and take baby steps that actively and physically bring you closer to your goal.  Baby steps include: writing down a motivator or a goal, posting it somewhere like the fridge or your desktop, investing 5 minutes in preparation, talking and brainstorming ideas with others, etc. 

If you are not the in the routine of making a New Year’s Resolution, that’s okay!  You can set a goal and start acting on it anytime of year. Resources for support, brainstorming ideas and accountability are many and include: family and friends, internet inspiration and the Center for Healthy Living (CHL) on West Lafayette’s campus (where benefits-eligible Purdue employees can meet with the center’s health coaches, registered dietitian and employee assistance counselors to set and work on their goals). Call the CHL at 765-494-0111 to learn more or to schedule an appointment. Appointments also can be scheduled via the center’s portal.

You are not alone.  Be kind to yourself.  Do not worry about the stair case, focus on the first step, then the next and the rest will come.   

Be kind.  Be well.  Boiler up!



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