Understanding Motivation

If you were asked what motivated you, what would you say? My wife would say she is motivated by competition, which explains a lot of things; particularly it explains why I have never beaten her in a game of “Horse”. Often, our motivations extend much deeper into our cognition and who we really are as an individual.

I sought out to explore this in response to an assignment called “Understanding Motivation” given this past week for my graduate proseminar. The task was to interview someone to seek what motivates them to learn. Funny how that assignment seems so simple, yet within it reside two of the broadest terms in all of psychology – motivate and learn. Truly, these provided for a vast amount of freedom within the task, but also made it nearly impossible to determine what I wanted to produce as a result of this activity. I decided to put a few notes on paper, but to really let my interview determine the outcome of my final product; perhaps as a journalist would proceed.
For my interview subject, I wanted a student whom I knew was available, but would also provide the best responses without worrying about the content of his/her answers. I teach freshman U.S. History in a public school, so finding an adolescent who fit this description isn’t as easy as it sounds. However, I probably picked the best subject imaginable for this interview.
Chris is a fifteen year old who is as teenage male as it gets. I was able to secure a few hours with him between practices and games, as this is the intense part of his summer baseball schedule. I sent him a text message asking him if he’d honor me with his time, and, upon agreeing, I asked him to give me a call when he had the chance so I could relate to him a few of my questions and allow him a chance to prepare. This was on Sunday, and we agreed from the phone conversation to meet Tuesday. He sent a text Monday evening saying “Mr. Bruce,??Is there anyway you can make that interview Wednesday? I won’t be ready tomorrow. Thank you much :)” I knew then I had the right person.
We spoke for over two hours Wednesday afternoon, discussing his passions for math and physics, baseball, football, how those interests inspire him, the role that his passions affect his relationships with friends and family, etc. He related examples of times when he was particularly challenged, and how, after a test on which he did poorly over a topic that he could not comprehend, he pursued understanding because of the challenge. With no reward, the challenge motivated him. He explained the difference between loving something because you are good at it and being good at it because you love it. His drives to learn and achieve are powerful, deep, and intensely intrinsic.
I had over two hours of audio to sort through, but the experience was great. He shed light on aspects of motivation I had not considered. When the conversation moved into work – something he does almost strictly for money – he motivated himself by making it personal, to advance himself for his future by having this to refer to when applying for more rewarding work later on. However, once he was at work (cooking in a restaurant) his motivations had a very moral and ethical flavor. The desire to do his best at this task, one in which has consequences far greater than many occupations, Chris competes with himself to serve the best dish possible. And if he wouldn’t eat it, he won’t serve it.??
Where else can morality and ethics play a role in motivation? In our conversation about sports, Chris related a situation where he was expected to play basketball, almost solely because he is good. He decided against it because his enjoyment for it did not exist and he would not allow himself to take the position of someone who really does enjoy it. By stating this, he provided insight into the question “can you love something because you’re good at it?” However, his decision follows an unwritten social code. By not playing, his considerations for unknown, unaware classmates are unthanked. His decision to do what he felt was right is a profound motivator.
The study of motivation continues to explore the interplay between internal and external forces. As sure as we are about why we act or behave, a little digging can reveal hidden motivations. Aspects of personality, morality, social constructs, and situations all affect our behavior – all at once. On the surface, Chris may have been considered lazy by some classmates (potential teammates) by not playing basketball, but within, he made a decision that affected unknown others. He may mope his way to work, but once there, you’d never see it in the intensity of his efforts in the kitchen. On the field, he performs as though he has been coached from birth, but really it’s the aspiration of overcoming greater talent. In the classroom, his teachers can revel in their success, but their PowerPoint is scratching the surface of what is possible.
Posted in Blog, Uncategorized
One comment on “Understanding Motivation
  1. Molly says:

    I’m taking a study break and thought I would listen to a few of the motivational interviews posted… so glad I chose yours! Chris sounds like a very dynamic young man.

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