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On the Corner

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by Robert Docter – 

Some ruminations on motivation.

I’m a strong advocate of the premise that if you really want to learn something, you have to live it. It requires doing. And doing requires motivation.

In my elementary education I only remember the activities with which I was involved and the people who were active with me. I remember the names of the teachers by recalling the quality of the relationship I had with them.

I think that’s true of my learning now. I am not motivated by externals. Getting a lot of praise for something I do brings warm feelings, but it doesn’t facilitate my learning. Gold stars, even dollars don’t help me learn more. What motivates me is something internal. I want to learn those things in life which satisfy the motives I feel within me. I like people, and I like to be liked by them, so I have a strong affiliative motive. I’m sure this leads me to a resolute discipline of personal loyalty–loyalty to family, to individuals, to groups to organizations, to a set of beliefs. It’s love. This might be my strongest motive.

I’ve discovered I want to accomplish things in life, so my achievement motive seems to be working. Often times, I like to win, so I guess I’m fairly competitive. This relates to the process of achievement as well.

I seem to seek health–mental, physical, social and spiritual, so I jog, think positive thoughts about my worth, relate as positively as possible to those around me and try to walk through life with God.

I do what I am motivated to do, and my motives are within me. How’d they get there? Why do they push me as they do?

I’m not sure I know the answers to those questions. I suspect my internal motives got started from external sources. It’s true, the externals don’t turn me on now. But I think they were the starter engines that delivered me to certain experiences early in my life. Parental modeling, rewards, praise, acceptance and love all gave me the experiences I needed to begin the process of self motivation which has kept me on track. By experiencing the early reward and support for actions, I began to find pleasure in acting

Now, what about the “push”? I gotta tell you. I don’t feel “compelled” to do anything. I’m not driven. I do know I have a strong sense of responsibility. I also know I am the world’s greatest procrastinator. I might be in the “B” range in some of these other areas, but when it comes to procrastination, I’m clearly an “A.” I need deadlines. I need a little external push even now to make sure I get started on a task. Once started, I’ll see it through to completion.

Some seem motivated to hurt others. I’m not. Nevertheless, there are occasions when I speak in a hurtful manner to those I care about deeply. Once done, I feel hurt and shame. These are not pleasant feelings, but, somehow, they do not deter repetition of the hurtful behavior. Even though I seek to avoid the unpleasant feelings, I don’t learn from the negative experience. In these instances, I learn when someone I trust helps me see myself clearly in the process without passing judgment on me. This leads me to the remarkable curative power of confession and forgiveness.

Somehow, I suspect God works that way with me, too. I feel his presence within me, helping me set the pace of my life, keeping me focused on direction, calling into question some of my actions, providing me with personal power through him and giving me a place for confession and forgiveness. I’m sure I must disappoint him–even grieve him on occasion, but he never rejects me. There’s a quality within the relationship which keeps him fresh in my mind. He keeps me doing things–showing love to others, holding firm to my convictions even when it’s tough, conversing with him. All these actions allow me to learn about myself and him What a God!

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