Alternate Title: The Spectrum of Motivation
Everything we come across, each encounter and decision, differs in value.
Because life is full of different perspectives and circumstances. And there’s a limit to how much we can do, how well, and at what point.
Basically, life is a matter of priorities.
So, let’s takes a look at the various avenues:
Disclaimer: Try to keep in mind that everyone understands and perceives things at least a little bit differently from everyone else. Because of this, you may consider some types to be the same thing or believe that another word better fits the label. There’s a lot of room for interpretation.
Also, remember that humanity isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience. You are likely to find yourself leaning towards different types in different situations. That’s life.
Often when motivation is discussed, it’s in the sense of ambition. People are driven because they just are. There’s something within them that calls out to be successful and to pursue new accomplishments.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen someone’s problem defined as: “oh, you lack ambition. There’s not enough passion.”
Simply put, ambition is one of those vague terms people drop to explain why you’re not living your best life.
Yet, despite the overuse (in my opinion) of the concept, it remains a valid point of reference and an influencer. People do prioritize and make decisions based on ambition. Regardless of how vague or elusive it can be. The concept has definitely proven to be more than enough of a reason to criticize others or push ourselves to work more.
Honestly, some people build their whole lives prioritizing their ambition.
Common Forms: Accolades, praise, prosperity, passion, power
[When I first developed this breakdown years ago, I tied obligation together with stability and called it “tradition.” I now find that to be too simple.]
Obligation is a complicated matter. In fact, this type of motivation is probably the most likely to be entrenched alongside another type.
In truth, I think everyone is obligated to something or someone. Maybe it’s your family, career, religion, or even yourself. Whatever or whoever it may focus on, there’s dues to be paid and/or expectations to be met.
Now, it’s possible to not feel any sense of obligation. And of course, you can oppose it. But, I don’t think one can completely escape from its clutches. Because our obligations aren’t only compelled by us. Other people and society in general place some obligations upon us.
Common Forms: Morals, promises, physical contracts, default social contracts
[Ah, the ruler of “feel good” motivation.]
Whether it be Disney, anime, the hottest pop songs, or just a random stranger preaching to the world, there’s always someone insisting that the greatest power and motivator in the universe is love.
And I don’t just mean romantic love. Although, that’s probably Hollywood’s favorite. It’s love for your family, friends, yourself, and sometimes just love for humanity.
Love as motivation often boils down to a trifecta of things: kindness, hope, and acceptance. Chances are at least one of those three things is called into action when love is pushed to the forefront.
Does that mean things are always happy-go-lucky? Or that people don’t come to regret where their love is place?
Nope. But, it does often get claimed that love is a more optimistic and innocent form of motivation. Whether or not that is true is dependent on who you ask.
Common Forms: Understanding, sacrifice, protection, affection, compassion
You might ask how independence could be seen as a viable form of motivation, or at least significant enough to not be grouped with stability. Well, it might help to think of it as a contrast to obligation.
Since we are pressured and often to an extent, defined by societies’ expectations and obligations… it’s reasonable to want to separate yourself from that. Or to prove that you are an individual foremost and so you get to decide for yourself how to pursue life.
Some might say this is a selfish type of motivation. Personally, I view it as authentic. What’s more uniquely you than developing the ability and drive to try and uncover the various aspects and details of yourself? Or to build up resilience and trust in yourself that can withstand whatever life throws your way?
[And yes, I’m aware that I sound bias. Admittedly, whenever I see someone discussing the idea of “you can’t be happy with your life until you’re happy with yourself,” or something similar, I think: “Yep. You better raise your independence.”
Common Forms: Self-awareness, self-acceptance, trust in one’s self, self-reliant, control
Yes, once upon a time I did label this factor “tradition.” And I think you can guess why.
As people, we are accustomed to certain behavior, beliefs, ways of living, and more. There is a comfort to be found in this. Because it’s nice to have a sense of familiarity in the chaos we call existence.
Another common way this motivator comes into play is with people that desperately crave control, who wish to avoid feeling as if life is an accumulation of sand slipping between your fingers. [Actually, maybe we all feel this way about something.]
Few things are guaranteed and life is full of changes. But, stability can offer you protection against worry and increase your chances to obtain what you want.
In some ways, life is like a marathon. And the more stability you can provide yourself, the better chance you have of effectively building up the resources and capabilities to “win” the race.
Common Forms: Financial security, diligence, familiarity, comfort, control
I know some people view this motivator as just hollow amusement. And some would even argue that having fun isn’t enough to sustain you over time and that it’s fleeting.
[I think that’s silly.]
Much of life is about intrigue and wonder. As a motivator, fun can be the ability to see amusement and value in unexpected places.
You will often hear comedians say that laughter is what gets them through hard times. And you yourself may smile during a dark moment or even crack a joke during a funeral. Sure, it might seem strange on the surface, but there’s a certain peace tinged with delight to be found when you acknowledge that life can easily be absurd and heartbreaking.
That’s perhaps why it’s best not to take anything too seriously.
Common Forms: Laughter, smiles, curiosity, intrigue, challenge, optimism
[I know sometimes there’s a tendency to imagine this motivator as bewitching the mad scientists of the world. But, there’s more aspects to wisdom than that.]
For many, wisdom is the thirst for knowledge, the love of learning, or the desire to unravel a mystery. For others, it means experiencing and understanding different views on life and perhaps tinkering around to consider if and how it all fits together.
Wisdom is the power of knowing. This often refers to factual, concrete knowledge. But awareness in general, whether it be understanding people or subjects, counts.
Common Forms: Knowledge, understanding, learning, curiosity, wonder, search for truth, right vs wrong, experience