What’s My Motivation?

When we talk about motivation, and the importance of ‘being motivated’ there is immense scope for confusion here because what we don’t normally realise is that there are two totally different types of motivation. The key thing is not that we should be motivated (which is what we usually think) but that we should know how we are being motivated (i.e. what ‘exactly is motivating us’). Motivation is generally seen as being good ‘no matter what’ – in fact it is just about seen as seen as the secret of everything, the key to success and happiness, etc. That is why there are ‘motivational speakers’ – to provide us (at a cost, naturally!) the magic ingredient of motivation. It’s all about the motivation, so we’re told, and what we really need – if we are ever to amount to anything – is to work out how to get it.


The question that we don’t usually ask is “What sort of motivation is it that is being sold to us?” The most common type of motivation is where we incentivize ourselves to do stuff. This really comes down to coercing or compelling ourselves to carry out some task and the reason we need to coerce or compel ourselves is of course because we don’t really want to do it. We can call this type of motivation extrinsic because it doesn’t come from within us – if it has to be imposed from outside, by the thinking mind, by the use of incentives, then obviously it doesn’t come from within. It’s an ‘external adjunct’. In the case of extrinsic motivation we are essentially doing something that we don’t want to do for the sake of some reward (or for the sake of avoiding a punishment, which is of course a reward in itself). We are not doing what we’re doing for the sake of doing it, in other words, but for the sake of what we’re going to get out of it…


The other type of motivation is therefore motivation that does come from within and so we can call it intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is of course exactly the other way around to the extrinsic sort – we’re not doing what we’re doing reluctantly, because of what we think we’re going to get out of it, but because we genuinely do want to do it, whatever the outcome. We’re not doing it because there is a reward if we do it right, or because there is a penalty if we don’t – we’re doing it because it’s in accord with our true inner nature. We don’t need motivational speakers to give us the key for this type of motivation therefore! We don’t need to go to talks or workshops or attend courses or anything like that because there is no standardized or formulaic way to get in touch with our own intrinsic motivation. No strategy can help us here, much as we love strategies. No angle will help, fond as we are of angles. There is no ‘trick’ or ‘gimmick’ to getting in touch with our own intrinsic motivation – the only thing that is needed is sincerity and no one else can tell us how to be sincere! There are no methods to being sincere – in fact if there is a method (i.e. if there is any forcing, if there is any coercion or compulsion) then there can be no sincerity.


Sincerity isn’t really amenable to coercion or manipulation in this way – I can’t make myself be sincere. Neither I become sincere because I think that it’s the right thing to do – if I think that it is ‘the right thing to do’ then all that this means is that my thinking mind is trying to artificially impose some ‘game-plan’ on the rest of me. It is coming from outside of me, not inside. I can’t be sincere ‘for a reason’, or because it suits me, in other words. I can’t be sincere because I am going to get something out of it!  I can’t tap into intrinsic motivation because I’m going to get something out of it, either. Intrinsic motivation isn’t an ‘external’ sort of thing anymore than sincerity is, and so I can’t buy it for myself in the same way that I can go to a shop and buy a new jumper.  I can’t learn it on a course. It isn’t an ‘adjunct’ or an ‘add on’, but rather it is something that is inseparable from our own true nature, if we can only connect with that nature.


So what we are saying here is that we can connect with our intrinsic motivation only through our sincerity and we can’t be sincere on purpose, or because it suits us to be. So this is really just another way of saying that ‘we can’t use extrinsic motivation to connect us with our intrinsic motivation’, which of course makes a lot of sense when we reflect on it! Naturally I can’t coerce myself to act in a non-coerced way. I can’t ‘control myself to be uncontrolled’ (or ‘force myself to be free’) – that is clearly absurd. I can’t cure myself of always doing stuff for a reason by using extrinsic motivation because the definition of extrinsic motivation is that it is always driven by a reason, by an agenda.


Once we have established that there are these two types of motivation, and that we rarely – if ever – distinguish between them, then the next thing to consider is what difference this might make to the way we live our lives. As soon as we ask this question however the answer becomes clear – we all know what it feels like to be living life in a controlled way, doing things because we think we ‘have to’, doing things unwillingly but under some kind of compulsion, doing things because it is our ‘duty’ to do them, etc, and so one and we all know (on some level or other) that there is another way, a way that isn’t so forced and heavy-handed. The other way of living life is of course not by telling ourselves what to do every step of the way, not by planning and calculating everything the whole time, not by ‘doing it because we think we have to’. This other – freer – way of life (which we so easily forget about) is the spontaneous way and whilst lip-service is always paid to the idea of living spontaneously (rather than living as if life were a forced march towards some kind of known destination), this is generally as far as it gets! For the most part we don’t live freely, we live under compulsion, as if we were in the army and a commanding officer has to be barking orders to us every step of the way. The ‘commanding officer’ might be someone else, it might be society in general, or it might be our own rational minds, but it comes down to the exact same thing in each case – we are living under compulsion.


Another way of talking about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is to say that latter is conscious whilst the former is unconscious. As we have said it is the second type of motivation that we are most familiar with in our daily lives and so what we are talking about here is essentially compulsion. Compulsion is unfree motivation; it means, as we all know, that we have no choice in the matter, that we are forced or coerced to do something or other. We can be coerced in two ways, we can be bribed (or ‘lured’) or we can be threatened (or ‘scared’). This is another way of saying that compulsions can be either positive or negative – in the first case we are gripped by desire, in the second case, fear. Both desire and fear are unfree (or non-volitional), as is very obvious if we ever try to go against them and not do whatever it is that the desire or fear wants us to do. Desire and fear both control us – they both ‘motivate us from the outside’. Desire and fear are both ‘motivations’, it is true, but they are motivations of the extrinsic variety.


Why we should call compulsion an ‘unconscious’ motivation takes a little bit of explaining. One way to explain it is to say that when we are craving something intensely we go straight into ‘unquestioning mode’ and then all we care about is ‘obtaining whatever it is we want to obtain’. Similarly, when we are terrified we similarly lose all interest in anything other than ‘escaping from the thing that we are terrified of’. There is no consciousness in either of these situations because being conscious means that we are free to take an interest in stuff OTHER than what the greed or fear is telling us to be interested in! Consciousness implies autonomy, in other words, which means that we are NOT being totally controlled or coerced by some type of extrinsic motivation. Being ‘totally controlled but not knowing that we are’ is a very good definition of what it means to be ‘psychologically unconscious’. It is not so easy to say what it means to be conscious on the other hand but we can make a start by saying that it has something to do (a lot to do) with being free to act (or not act) in accordance with our own true nature.


If both the way that we see the world, and what we want to do in the world (i.e. the goals that we see as being important in the world) are being 100% controlled by some external factor (i.e. the conditioned mind) then we can say that there is no consciousness in this situation – there is only the ‘external factor’ which is determining everything about my reality and anything other than this we neither know nor care about. We could therefore compare the unconscious situation to water when it is forced to flow down a canal and perform various tasks (such as turning a water-wheel) – in this case the water is only what the canal says it is, and does only what the canal says it is to do. It is not given the freedom to be (or to do) anything else. When our awareness is totally regulated or determined in this way (i.e. when it is conditioned in this way) then we could say that this is the state of unconsciousness, which is our usual way of being.


We could also say that compulsion is unconscious motivation because when we are craving that we don’t really know what it is that we are craving for, and when we are afraid we don’t really know what we are afraid of. This is a more difficult point to grasp because we automatically assume that we do know what we are greedy for, and that we do know what we are afraid of! The thing about this however is that we only know the prize we are craving to get our hands on is good because our thinking mind tells us that it is, and we only know that the threat which we are running away from is bad because this same mind informs us that it is so. We just go along with this way of seeing things – we go along with it because this is the understanding that we have been provided with and we never stop to question it. The conditioned mind says what is good and what is bad and this is how it controls us! Whatever labels, whatever evaluations the mind automatically provides us with are taken as being ‘synonymous with reality’, and so we are left with no choice but to act (or try to act) in accordance with these labels, these evaluations. In this situation it could be said that we are being ‘controlled by our thinking’ (or that we are being ‘controlled by our conditioned minds’) and this is just another way of talking about extrinsic motivation.


So – just to repeat this point – when we are driven by fear or desire we have already taken it for granted that we know what the object of our fear or desire is, and we are now acting on this basis. This basis is never questioned; this is after all the whole thing about ‘a basis’ – it constitutes a ‘jumping off point’ (or ‘launching pad’) that is never going to be examined. All of our energy goes into the jumping and none into reflecting on ‘why it is so important that we should do this’. We don’t reflect on the ‘why?’ because we are now 100% preoccupied with either trying to ‘avoid the thing’ or trying to ‘obtain the thing’. We’re not ‘curious’, we’re ‘cunning’!


Under the influence of fear or desire we close our minds to anything other than this very black-and-white picture and it is this ‘closing of our minds’ that gives rise to the force of compulsion. It is this that gives rise to the ‘extrinsic motivation’. In essence, the ‘black and white picture’ (which equals ‘our thoughts about the world’) is being acted out through us, without us having any say whatsoever in the matter. We are therefore no more than ‘the passive vehicle through which our thoughts or ideas or beliefs are being enacted’. This of course means that they are not ‘our’ thoughts or ideas or beliefs at all – it’s completely the other way around! We are their vehicles: they don’t belong to us, we belong to them!


We can therefore talk about the phenomenon of the ‘closed mindedness’ (which is the hallmark of the unconscious state) by saying that it is all to do with the mechanical process by which a label is allocated to whatever is going on. It has to do with the way in which we are ‘slaves to the evaluation process’. The ‘label’ is our ‘definite’ (i.e. ‘black-and-white’) description of reality and once the ‘definite description of reality’ has been arrived at we never look back – from this point onwards we are not in touch with reality but only with our description of reality. This is what ‘having a closed mind’ means!


Extrinsic motivation is never about ‘learning something new’ therefore; it’s always about ‘acting out the old’ and ‘the old’ boils down to the impressions that we have formed (or have absorbed) about reality. ‘The old’ is ‘mechanical mind-stuff’ in other words, and extrinsic motivation is the way that this ‘mechanical mind-stuff’ (which is stuff which is not us, but which pretends to be us) gets to reproduce itself and perpetuate itself, just like a virus reproduces and perpetuates itself, just like any habitual pattern reproduces and perpetuates itself. Krishnamurti talks about ‘the old triumphing over the new’ and this is exactly what he is speaking of – the mind (which as Krishnamurti says ‘is always old’) reproduces itself over and over again to the exclusion of anything else, and the type of compulsive motivation which almost always dominates our lives is all about compelling us (out of either fear or desire) to keep on reinstating the old. We have allegiance not to the real but to the conditioned mind’s version of ‘what is real’ and this allegiance shows itself in the way in which we never look into the difference between ‘the thought’ and ‘the reality’.


We very rarely give much thought to the difference between ‘the reality’ and ‘the thought’ but actually there is all the difference in the world. When we can see the difference then this is when freedom comes into the picture, and when we can’t then this is when what we have called extrinsic motivation continues to rule the roost. When we don’t know the difference between reality and the ‘version’ of reality that our conditioned minds provide us with then ‘compulsion which we can’t see as compulsion’ comes into play.  ‘Seeing the difference’ actually comes down to seeing the world that exists beyond our thinking – it comes down to seeing that there is a world beyond the world that we ‘think’ is there, and this is a very good definition of what it means to be ‘conscious’ rather than ‘unconscious’.


Just to sum up, what we have just been saying is that the motivation which is compulsion is based on an assumption (or a description, or a thought) which is not at all the same thing as reality. It’s not coming out of reality at all, but something else – it’s coming out of an ‘extraneous version’ of reality which is based on the unexamined assumptions that exist in our everyday thinking mind. Or we could equivalently say that the compulsion is coming out of the automatic evaluations that are constantly being performed by this mind – actually these evaluations are the compulsions. They are our own unreal creations.


When we react on the basis of these automatic evaluations then needless to say we don’t perceive reality as it is in itself, but rather we perceive reality as it is represented by our own mental projections. If unconscious motivation comes from the relationship between me and my mental projections, then conscious motivation must (as we have already suggested) have something to do with the relationship between me and what lies beyond my projections. In order to relate directly to the reality which lies beyond our mental projections all that is needed – it could be said – is curiosity, which is a quality (like sincerity) that is inseparable from who we really are.


The state of mind in which we are not curious (and as a result react helplessly and mechanically to our own mental projections as if they were not mental projections but reality itself) is the state of psychological unconsciousness, and as the psychologist Carl Jung has noted, this ubiquitous state of being is in itself the primary cause of all our neurotic pain and suffering.


Jung says somewhere that ‘Man’s worse sin is unconsciousness’, which tends to sound rather odd to our modern ears. This however is not a ‘sin’ in the usual religious sense, it is not a sin that we commit consciously but one that we get caught up in despite ourselves, with no knowledge of what we are doing. Yet whether we know what we are doing or whether we don’t makes no difference to the outcome, according to Jung; we suffer the consequences just the same, and the ‘consequences’ are all the various forms of neurotic suffering that descend upon us as a result of living unconsciously.


Really, when we live unconsciously – when we live on the basis of extrinsic motivation rather than on the basis of genuine volition – then we are – in effect – our own enemies. How could this not be the case, when we are ignoring our true volition in favour of what the conditioned mind is telling us to do? This is a very old idea – “To thine own self be true” as Shakespeare famously says in Hamlet, and if we fail to be true to our own selves then how can we ever expect to be happy? If we turn our backs on ‘who we really are’ then how can we ever expect to find peace or meaning or fulfillment in life? How can a false mind-produced version of myself (living in a false mind-produced version of reality) ever be happy?


All this fuss about ‘motivation’ and how it is the key to everything in life is really just part of the hoax therefore. The reason motivation becomes a big issue is because we’re cut off from our true selves, cut off from who we really are. Because of this ‘dissociation’ between ‘who we think we are’ and ‘who we truly are’ everything has to be forced to happen, compelled to happen, in accordance with whatever ideas we have in our heads about what should be happening, or about what we should be doing. We have been cut off from our sincerity and as a result we have to ‘fake it’ – and as everyone knows ‘faking it’ doesn’t bring any energy with it…


If we could only reconnect then ‘motivation’ wouldn’t be an issue. We wouldn’t need to go on about it the whole time, or attend courses on it, or read books about it, or whatever else. If we could only reconnect with ourselves then we wouldn’t feel that we needed to be more motivated. After all, motivation happens all by itself, just as soon as we’re free to be who we really are…



Art: JR