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Three Components of True Motivation

Have you ever joined a gym as a New Year’s resolution and then by March found your energy waning and your parking spot empty? If you have experienced motivation coming in fits and starts, you may be surprised to discover there is more to motivation than just sheer determination. What if I told you there is a kind of motivation that breeds self-esteem, feeds our relationships, and brings a greater sense of well-being?  Maybe, like me, you want to experience the kind of motivation that impacts your professional life and spills over into your personal life.  Let’s hold these past defeats in the light of a new paradigm that author Daniel Pink explains in his book, “Drive”. He believes that true motivation and true drive, have three components.


At its base level, autonomy is about being self-directed.  It may sound like doing what you want and when you want, but it has other facets. Daniel Pink describes it differently than just dogged independence. He defines it as “…acting with a choice – which means we can be autonomous and happily interdependent with others.” One of the most notable examples in Drive describes how programmers became inspired to participate in open-source projects. They had the liberty to work on these projects at their discretion and many of them continued to do so outside their work hours. Three German economists who studied open-source projects discovered that the programmers’ motivation was fueled by(1) their sheer joy in “mastering a challenge of a given software problem” and (2) their “desire to give a gift to their programming community.” Giving workers this kind of autonomy bred continued engagement and revealed a connectedness to their community of colleagues.


Mastery is “the desire to get better and better at something that matters”. Pink states that there are two different factors necessary to build mastery in something:   ‘flow’ and ‘progress’.   You might have heard of the term ‘flow’ which comes from the work by Csikszentmihalyi [pronounced “chick-sent-me-high”]. He studied ‘play’ by observing dedicated artists, rock climbers, swimmers, just to name a few. He discovered that when they were at their peak of being stretched just a bit beyond their mental and physical capabilities, there was this characteristic of hyper-focused attention, almost like that of being in a trance. He defined this as ‘flow’. “In flow, people lived so deeply in the moment and felt so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self,-melted away.“The second part of mastery involves a need to see progress. When folks were able to make progress on things that mattered, they were engaged and motivated to do more.

Ideology [Purpose]

Human beings desire to make a significant contribution and to have a purpose in what they do. This can be compensated or uncompensated. Part of this contribution, many times, will be for a cause that is greater and longer-lasting than themselves. Pink observed a unique characteristic in those who reached tremendous success or achievement simply for the money itself or the fame that followed. He discovered that emptiness lingered. The common theme that bred this emptiness was a lack of connection to a greater purpose.  In other words, money and fame without purpose were not great motivators.

The good news is that motivation can be cultivated. For example, I can now hold my own in pursuit of learning a foreign language (Italian) up to the light of these elements. I have great autonomy in ‘how’ and ‘when’ I can carve out time to learn which makes it attainable. I have two programs that allow me to dedicate 20-minute intervals of language study. I can test my progress by occasionally watching a foreign film entirely in Italian or, like this morning, join a language class with other students to check my understanding. These quarterly opportunities are little milestones that indicate I am following more of the conversation and making progress which fuels me to learn even more.  I have also been able to tie this pursuit to a larger purpose. Much of the culture of Italy is about family, food, olive oil, and wine.  Yet, I long to talk about matters of the heart with my foreign friends; my real motivation for learning Italian in the first place.

Do you have a pursuit where your motivation is waning? Consider weaving autonomy, mastery, and ideology into your pursuit. Through this newfound lens, perhaps the original motivation will be reignited.

Author – Michelle Santaferraro 


About InteraWorks

InteraWorks is a global learning company on a mission to elevate the human experience at work. Specializing in professional development and performance enablement, we offer top-rated learning programs based on four defined conditions that must exist for individuals, teams including Effective Edge, Best Year Yet, and the Essentials series. Our integrated learning framework and online tools generate immediate and sustainable breakthroughs in performance. Through decades of working at all levels in enterprise companies across many industries, we’ve built a reputation for helping people and organizations harness their focus, mindset, talent and energy to produce results that matter most. 


We’ve defined four conditions that must exist for an individual, team or organization to be effective within the arena of performance and development; Accountability, Focus, Alignment, and Integrity. We’ll continue to explore these and more in our blog and look forward to your engagement and interaction with us. Stay tuned as we engage the edges.