slippers in the sand

The Weird Psychology of Motivation

We start out with a dream, an idea. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning and it’s what keeps us going when things are tough.

Staying motivated is another thing entirely, and if your home is anything like KindredHQ, there are all manner of self-help and motivational books on the shelf as testament to those times when we try to rekindle that flame.

It happens even when your outlook is glass half full.

So, it’s not that we are short of advice. In fact, we could easily spend a fortune on books, online courses, therapy and mind gyms. They all say moreorless the same thing. Focus on your goals. Focus, focus, focus. Because if you do, you will work on the steps that help you achieve those goals.

I think they miss the point though. Sometimes you don’t know what the goal is. Sometimes you are in it for the journey.

In fact, the more that I focus on the goal, the more terrified I am. It’s something to do with not wanting to appear too big for my boots, but also because they are someone else’s goals. Weird psychology, but I bet you know what I mean.

You see, I think there is huge pleasure to be had in finding stuff out, in learning along the way and in indulging in the experience. It is a more humble approach, but it’s very enriching.

The psychologists amongst you are now smiling to yourselves. This is about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, isn’t it? Intrinsic motivation comes from within. It’s the sort of motivation that you get when you’re doing something you enjoy and it’s what I referred to above – it’s about the journey.

The problem is that intrinsic motivation can reflect your moods, and if you are feeling down and lacking in confidence you are less likely to be motivated. And for some tasks, there’s simply no way you’re going to enjoy them. That’s where extrinsic motivation comes in. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside. Think back to school and swotting for your exams. You did that because you wanted good grades and a job at the end, not because you loved studying. Presumably. Or maybe because you liked books. Extrinsic motivation is about doing something that you wouldn’t normally do because you will get some kind of reward.

Of course, working as a freelance or independent, we have already made the choice to draw on our intrinsic motivation, rather than the ‘extrinsic’ salary paycheck.
But the dilemma is – how can we draw on our own reserves to keep motivated?

The very best outcome would be a bit of both types of motivation. You are doing something because you want to, because you would anyway, but you are also receiving some sort of external reward for doing what you were going to do. Ask most of you why you choose independence and you will probably say it’s got something to do with getting paid to do the stuff you love.

MotivationIn pursuit of this goal, we’ve got some choices: only do the things we love doing (wouldn’t that be amazing?), try to put up with the projects and stuff that the world throws at us, and not doing anything at all. Not doing anything at all is basically procrastination and it is the scourge of the freelancer. It’s also not good for your bank balance, and you won’t be doing the things you like doing. So, how do you turn things that you are ‘doing because you have to’ into things that you ‘do because you want to’?

Well I’ve made my mind up to just convince myself that I love it all. There are usually elements of projects that I enjoy, and I’m going to focus on those parts, and find other people who can work with me on the parts that I’m not as keen on because one of the ways that I get intrinsic motivation is by collaborating with other people.

So, as we reach the end of another year and we start thinking about our resolutions to be so much better at everything than we were before, perhaps we should chill out a bit, start to enjoy the ride a little more and look around us. Just because you are drawing on your own reserves, it doesn’t mean that you are on your own.

Who is Alex Butler

Hello, I'm Alex Butler and I founded the KindredHQ community and blog back in 2011 after I re-started a freelance career. I LOVE freelancing and I wouldn't swop the freedom, control and joy of working for myself for anything. But I realised how much I missed the company and energy of other people - of having a team around me. So, I got a few people together one day with our laptops, a jar of coffee and some jelly babies and we sat and worked together one afternoon. We've been doing that every week in London, UK since then! I am still 100% freelance and I like to share the everyday highs and lows of being a freelancer here on the blog.

  • Alex Harrington Griffin

    Great piece Alex, very inspiring and well thought out. I completely agree that working with others and seeing something develop is incredibly rewarding, especially in the free agent world.

    Goals change also so much along the way that if you have a goal and you start veering off track, you can self doubt with regards to commitment, stability and focus. Have an idea of where you’d like to be, but the more flexible you can be and the more you can do this the more you can feel good about what youre doing and also take opportunities when they spring up.

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