Your Heart’s Desire….

Recently I’ve been frustratingly frustrated, channeling a lot of my energy into feeling fed up rather than getting on with things like writing my blog. Most of the time I charge along doing what feels like a million things at once: chasing ideas and projects, frantically trying to keep up with my business, a step ahead of client requests and only one step behind what I need to put into my daughters’ school bag for the next day. But at the moment I have lost my fizz, sparkle, steam, whatever you want to call it for just about everything.………..A torn hamstring may well be to blame but whatever the cause the outcome is that I’ve lost my motivation (and no motivational quote is going to help change that)!

Motivation is a topic of great interest to psychologists, boasting a myriad of studies and whole heap of research. Its understanding is critical in areas as wide ranging as: engaging populations around health campaigns, motivating a workforce, encouraging children to learn, progressing artificial intelligence and understanding decision-making, economic behaviour, addiction and psychiatry.

Psychologically speaking motivation is categorized into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within, for example it’s the type of motivation that means you want to get up out of bed in the morning for the pure pleasure of starting the day. This doesn’t apply to me as I am about as far from a morning person as someone can be so I need either a punishment (losing a client because I don’t turn up to a meeting) or reward (a cup of tea in bed) to get me moving. These are not internally driven.

Other examples of intrinsic motivation include:

  • reading a book because you’re fascinated by the subject
  • taking part in a sport because you simply love doing it
  • writing for the pleasure of creating something through words

Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of us and is a response to either a punishment or reward (as described above). Unlike intrinsic motivation it is outside of our own control.

Other examples of extrinsic motivation include:

  • reading a book on something you’re not interested in because for example you will fail an exam if you don’t
  • taking part in a sport because you have to rather than want to for example signing up to a charity run because you’re friends persuaded you to, even though you hate running
  • writing because you have to for example, completing a report because your boss told you to

While we will respond to external motivational factors they don’t create the depth of drive and commitment that internal influences do. In fact research has shown that there is a risk of extrinsic motivations tipping from being motivational to being de-motivational. We, as humans like to feel a sense of autonomy and when external motivations feel forced or out of our control they can put us off. Think of a child who doesn’t want to do their homework, offering them bribes may work in the short term but will lose their potency over time and may actually make the child respond even more stubbornly.

On the other hand external motivations used in the right way can be an incredibly positive and powerful tool. Using reward to engage someone in something that they wouldn’t otherwise be interested in can ultimately lead to intrinsic motivation that lasts a lifetime. This is especially key when it comes to learning. Personally the best example I have of this is my flip from disliking to enjoying classical music. When I was little I would literally spend entire car journeys with my fingers in my ears when my Dad played his ‘awful’ music, but when I was 13 we moved house and consequently I changed piano teacher. Unlike my previous piano teacher Mary was warm and engaging, I wanted to please her so when she encouraged and cajoled me (extrinsic motivation) into playing a repertoire of classical pieces I responded by giving it a go. To this day (while I listen to a whole spectrum of music) I find nothing more relaxing and absorbing than playing classical pieces on the piano (intrinsic motivation).

The big question is how do we know what extrinsic motivation is going to do? Will it turn someone against or engage them for life? There’s no easy answer and beyond a broadly defined set of rules it depends very much on the individual concerned. That’s why we still invest huge amounts of time, worry and effort into trying to work out how to engage a team full of different types of people in the workplace, why doctors so often pull their hair out over patients who simply wont stick to a change in lifestyle and why parents constantly worry about how to get their kids to try harder at school.

Neuroscience is addressing this area and already showing promising signs that we will soon be able to literally train our brain, tailoring our own levels of motivation toward a vast spectrum of situations. But until then, if we want to motivate ourselves we need to find what makes us tick deep downside and tap into that (easier said than done – that’s where psychologists come into play) and if you want to motivate someone else the safest bet is to offer praise. We are after all social creatures who crave the acceptance of those around us (so to all those lovely people who have said nice things about my blog, please don’t stop – I need it!)


Related Links:

Does Money Really Motivate People?

Motivation and Aspiration – What’s The Point?


Marsden K.E. et al. (2015) Diminished neural responses predict enhanced intrinsic motivation and sensitivity to external incentive, Cognitive, Effective & Behavioural Neuroscience, 15, 276-286

Myers, D.G. (2010). Psychology: Eighth Edition in Modules. New York: Worth Publishers.





A First World Problem

A First World Problem – I often use the phrase, I found myself doing it this morning when I was chatting about our building work. We’ve had no kitchen for the last 5 months, cooking on a two ring portable hob and washing up in a small bowl sink in the back of the garage. I keep referring to it as a ‘First World Problem’ but, ‘am busy with so many other things that while it’s not ideal, it’s not occupying my every waking thought. I’m also well aware that I’m lucky to be getting a brand new kitchen when, with the danger of sounding self-righteous, others are living in war zones or have no access to clean water let alone a lovely new oven.

But when we get caught up in the moment of our own stress we’re not always able to stop ourselves from finding relatively minor issues to be major problems. I travelled into London on a packed train last week – what was normally a ten carriage train had been reduced to four. There was only room to stand. A lady got on with a bike and I initially felt irritated and almost commented on it ‘Not being allowed at that time of day’ but stopped myself. Of course she already knew and was clearly feeling very awkward already. Making a comment was not going to help in any way. It did however take a degree of conscious effort for me not to.

By the time we’d gone two stops further toward London people were getting really really narky (for want of a better word). Squashed like sardines inevitably someone got pushed, a business-man by a lady in her 50s. The man responded with ‘Well don’t say sorry then’ to which another guy behind him said ‘That’s my mum you’re talking to’ I couldn’t have made it up – from there it all kicked off. The lady with the bike and I attempted to calm things down. It was a lot harder than you’d expect with a group of well-dressed business people. Tempers were running high!

Once things had finally reduced to a fizz (the air was still thick) the lady with the bike turned and said to me, ‘And meanwhile in Syria’ – yes, this truly was a first world problem. It turned out that the lady with the bike, Jane, is an aid worker who has seen many places and things that fall way beyond the issues facing a few commuters on a train into work. She said she’s always amazed by the way people behave when she returns to London from war zones and crises situations. People’s daily irritations taking on a far more monumental scale than rationality would predict. In the moment, everyone is seemingly oblivious to the issues going on in more despairing countries of the world.

Why is that? If you asked people you’d find that they are aware and they do care. But we are ‘just’ humans being human. I refer back to the point made in earlier blogs, that while we may live in an advanced world, we still have a very primitive brain. When confronted with a life threatening issue our fast thinking survival driven brain takes over. While it may seem that forgiving someone who accidently knocks you when there is no room to move seems like a trivial matter, it’s not to our brain. We automatically view other people in our space as a threat. Our brain is in effect pre-wired for a time when anyone that we didn’t know that close to us meant life or death. In our ancestors time, when our brain stopped evolving, the population was so spread out that we’d of been very unlikely to suddenly come that close to someone we didn’t know, unless they were trying to kill us. Our rational brain knows that it’s ‘silly’, getting to work on time or sitting on the train is indeed a ‘First World Problem’, but our rational brain is slower to operate. It takes effort to engage and by the time it’s engaged we’re so worked up (as a result of our faster reacting more primitive part of our brain) that we’re rationalizing our ‘first world’ behaviour as being justified, rather than talking ourselves out of it.

 I had to take a step back and remind myself that bringing a bike onto the train in rush hour, in the grand scheme of things really didn’t matter. As a result I’ve met a new and interesting person. Jane and I are trying to arrange to meet for a coffee. She’s rather tied up dealing with Haiti and the impacts of hurricane Matthew at the moment. Meanwhile I’m worrying about the little things in life –making sure the kids are taking the right stuff to school, checking that the electricians are putting sockets in the right place, keeping on top of the washing…….oh and writing my blog.

As always comments are welcomed and I’ve donated via the link below….


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