It is true that there are many situations – like a downsized office with scarce resources and people constantly stretched to the limit – where it is difficult to alter the conditions that affect enjoyment. These external situations impose real restrictions, but they make the moments you can control even more important! You can always choose your own attitude and priorities and make your personal conduct the arbiter of your success.
This brings to mind another little-known fact: Intrinsic motivation can often bring about extrinsic rewards. Let’s face it, when you love what you’re doing, you tend to spend more time at it, developing your skills and abilities. As a result, you have a better shot at becoming a top player at whatever you do. In other words, intrinsic enjoyment can often lead to extrinsic excellence.
Take Charlie for example, two years ago one of his swimmers placed 8th in national competition. Charlie trained her to focus on enjoying the process more, and last year she took home the top prize – an accomplishment that reflected well on them both! For people focusing on fitness, this lesson is incredibly important. Knowing how you want to look or what you want to achieve can help you define your goals and keep them clearly in mind, but to keep progressing, you need to create a process and mindset you can enjoy along the way.
Roots of Wisdom
Although the concept of intrinsic motivation is now best known in modern psychology, teaching and coaching circles, it has existed for a long time and has functioned in much broader contexts. It was, in fact, the basis for Aristotle’s definition of the good life – his concept that true enjoyment is the pleasure of using one’s own skill, as opposed to doing something just for a reward.
According to Aristotle, the definition of happiness is: “the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope.” Now there’s something to think about the next time you head out for a long run, consider a career change or encounter virtually any other opportunity to do your best work for the best of reasons – namely, that it matters to you, that you care about doing it well and that it makes you happy while you are doing it.
If, on the other hand, you are working – or working out – in a slavish pursuit of some outward goal, Aristotle’s definition of happiness may give you ample reason to pause and put things in perspective. If you aren’t “exercising your vital powers,” and you’re not striving for excellence, and/or if your life doesn’t afford your effort the scope and meaning you think it should, consider why. Weigh the forces that intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are exerting in your life, and start creating a healthier shift toward your own internal, high-velocity catalysts. You’ll be amazed at how far they can take you.
Jeremy Hunter is Director of Research at the Quality of Life Research Institute at the Peter F. Drucker School of Management at Claremont University.
6 Questions That Can Change Your Life: Completely, Dramatically, Forever by Joseph Nowinski Ph.D. (Rodale Press, 2002)
Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy & Commitment by Kenneth W. Thomas (Berrett-Koehler, 2000)