Saturday, March 19, 2011

Motivation...Is There such a Thing?

  In the early 90's, as part of my Master's program at George Washington University, I took a wide variety of classes for topics surrounding change.  One such class covered Change Management from a organizational behavior perspective.  During this class, the professor preached that there is no such thing as motivation, its all about incentives that drive people.  This theory was repeated in recent books such as Super Freakonomics and more.  I see many articles and blogs on what motivates runners to train, finish long races, and more...This premise started making me ask myself the same question,  is motivation what drives my training and races or is it pure incentive?
  I would lean toward incentive...I don't think you can ask the question by itself, but you need to look at specific real life scenarios.  After a night of going out on the town, is it motivation that makes me train the next morning?--NO!  When I sign up for a race, is it motivation that drives me to do so?--NO!  When I'm running my last mile of a long race, is it motivation that drive me to the finish line?--NO!  Lets take each of these questions individually. 
 So, I've eaten a 10oz steak, drank some wine, and indulged in dessert.  I wake up the next morning and my stomach feels like a rock.  Does this motivate me to run?  No.  I have an incentive to run so I can keep my weight down.  Then why do folks sign up for races?  Most races cost an arm and a leg!  So why do it?  Does a race motivate you?  No.  I sign up for races to see if I can beat my PR, see how I compete against others in my age group, and in some cases for the prize.  Is this motivation?  Lets look at one last example, what gets you to the finish line?  In a recent race, in my last mile, I started cramping in my shins and calves.  Very painful, so was it motivation that got me to the finish line?  No.  I ran through the pain because I new if I did I would break my PR.  Is this motivation. No.  It was simply an incentive that I had to break my PR to set the bar higher for the next race.
  I know many believe in the motivation theory, but I just don't believe in it.  To me, regardless of how non-PC this sounds, people generally do things because they get something out of it--shear incentive...These incentives can range from self satisfaction for volunteering to winning the prize. Here are a few links to some books on the topic if your interested: 

1 comment:

  1. I would say, personally, that incentive is what creates motivation. The promise of the incentive is what motivates you to do what you need to do (in this case, run) to acheive it. So. . . which came first, the chicken or the egg? And in the end, does it really matter? I wouldn't say that motivation doesn't exist, but your professor had a point that motivation is a direct product of incentive, and therefore probably can't exist by itself. Thought-provoking topic! :)


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