The Motivation Conundrum

Right now, I am a living example that it is possible to be intrinsically motivated, without extrinsic motivation. This means, you can too. 

Back in the day, I taught preschool with Teach for America in Tulsa, OK. This was one of my most transformative experiences thus far, but I often refer to this version of my life as the “pre-yoga” stage. I was always spiritual, but before taking my yoga teacher training, I lived in a swirling emotional storm in which I felt lost. I think every 20-something goes through a period of life where questions like “Who am I? What do I do? Where do I go? & What’s my purpose?” are constantly chattering in your mind. Maybe you’re past the 20-something age and you still have those questions. As contemplative and conscious beings, we all go through phases in life where we feel adrift. No matter your age or where you are in this moment in life, you are never lost. Everything you are currently doing, or not doing, is exactly as it should be and this is your purpose. Moving to another place or landing a new job may not necessarily guarantee your longing heart will feel at rest. Peace begins within.

Meditation is like the anchor to my forever seeking soul. After sitting for a few moments in quiet, utilizing different pranayama breathing techniques, I feel a veil of clarity come over my mind, like putting on a pair of clean glasses. I feel more prepared to work, write, and live as a responsibly kind and loving human. So how does this connect to my former life as a preschool teacher? In my opinion, becoming a teacher is one of the most noble and courageous careers you can choose. For me, I learned more in my years teaching about human development, emotional regulation, and breathing than any training program could provide. I didn’t formally study education, so during my crash-course of teacher training before AmeriCorps placed me in a classroom, I learned the basics. One of the theories that still resonates with me is intrinsic VS extrinsic motivation. Let me provide the definitions I’ve adopted:

Intrinsic Motivation: Doing something because you feel an inner drive to do so; feel a calling or desire that propels you forward. Perhaps this momentum comes from your core values, morals, spirit, or heart space.

Extrinsic Motivation: Doing something for outward gain, or to avoid consequences. Feeling compelled by a desire to do something for monetary reasons, material or tangible benefits.

Now that it is officially 2018 and I have made my list of goals for the year (as I hope you all have begun as well), I found myself contemplating these concepts. Oftentimes, an extrinsic motivation to do something gives us the why. For instance, the young child begs their parent to stay home from work, and the parent replies: “I have to work.” And the child asks  "why", and the parent replies "To make money to give us food, for this house and everything we have.” For many of us, that is the basic reason we work: to earn money. However, we also may have some intrinsic motivation to do this as well. Perhaps we are really passionate about our paying job, feel our work is making a difference, and are dedicated to creating the best life money can buy. However, more and more I hear people complain about how “their day-job” is not something they are passionate about; the intrinsic motivation or excitement that was once there at the start of their career has faded, and you’re left asking why.

Think about your biggest dream or goal for this year. Then, think about why you want this for your life. Most likely, you feel a certain joy, passion, or tenacity come up as you visualize yourself accomplishing this desire. In this dream of yours, is there any extrinsic motivation or is it purely intrinsic? For instance, do you want to start writing a blog because you have that longing within you, or because your boss is asking you to do so and it will increase your pay? In my pre-yoga brain when I would get restless about not living the life I wanted, my therapist at the time would always remind me that where I was in life was ‘simply, a means to an end.’ That was probably true, but it never really comforted me or motivated me to feel excited about where I was at that time. I felt stuck.

Our life and how we spend our days is a means to an end, but the only end occurs with our final breath. *Spoiler Alert!* Life’s finish line doesn’t result in a celebratory party on a yacht. There isn’t a finish line. To soothe your restless soul, you may tell yourself that after you save enough for (retirement, school, a house, your baby, etc), then you can start your business...or then you can move to Hawaii...or then you can write your book. However, unless you carve out the time now to fulfill your dreams now, the then, may not happen. For my literary readers, think of "Death of a Salesman" or for the movie-buffs: "It’s a Wonderful Life." Both stories tell the tale of a man who is worth more dead, than alive. Without spoiling the endings of these stories, both characters dedicate their life to their work to provide for their families, dreaming of the future and the day to come when they can really live. In my opinion, they were both driven by extrinsic motivation (money) and intrinsically drawn to 'do the right thing' that their true sense of living was lost.

Now look at your goals for 2018 again. Maybe they seem difficult, maybe a paycheck would make it a lot easier to workout everyday, or a book deal would make it a lot easier to start writing your manuscript. However, intrinsic motivation is your soul’s calling; it's your internal compass of what your life is about, what you’re heading towards, and why you continue to do what you do. I have felt more productive this past month allowing my intrinsic motivation to lead the way, versus solely relying on outside forces (monetary gains, or societal norms) to guide my path. Realistically, a paycheck or a way to earn money is essential to living. I still work for pay, but now, so much of what I do is based on working without extrinsic motivation. No one is paying me or asking me to write this blog, yet my inner self continually calls me to write.

Explore your sense of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation; think about what propels you inwardly, and outwardly. Think about the ties or social conformities that keep you stagnant, or in a place of feeling stuck, and see if you can let some of that go. How? I always suggest meditation and probably always will. A walk in the woods can be considered a walking meditation, as long as you really observe your surroundings/breath and don’t let your thoughts flood you as you walk. Inner and outward awareness are very interesting things. Dive in deeper there and see how this can shape or transform the goals and dreams you want to accomplish this coming year.

Motivation Brainstorm: 

Make a list of all of the things that keep you motivated intrinsically...

Then, list all of the things that keep you motivated extrinsically.

There is a yin/yang quality to our motivation. We definitely need both and need to strike a balance. Use the above exercise to see where you may be lacking motivation to achieve one of your goals. See if there’s something you can change, a new outlook to adopt, or a way to reignite your passion. Never lose sight of the fact that your soul's answer to 'what's my purpose' lies within you. You're never lost, and most importantly, never alone. 

If you want tips on starting a meditation practice, feel free to email me directly at I will provide you with a free customized guide-sheet on how to get started.

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