At the core we humans are rather simple creatures. We are motivated by simple emotions, expectations, or perceptions to almost predictable outcomes. I would like to begin a short series on the topic of motivation. First of, as any good information professional will tell you, we have to define our key terms. Seeing this series is on motivation let’s begin here:
n 1: the psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal; the reason for the action; that which gives purpose and direction to behavior; "we did not understand his motivation"; "he acted with the best of motives" [syn: motive, need] 2: the condition of being motivated; "his motivation was at a high level" 3: the act of motivating; providing incentive [syn: motivating]
Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University
One thing I picked up from my professors was the hatred for defining a word with a variation of the same word. Webster’s definition did just that, so it is not included here. Motivation then is basically a force, factor, or internal idea that makes us do things, anything actually. We eat because we are hungry or stressed. We drink because we are thirsty, we seek shelter when it is raining, we get out of bed to get to work on time so we can keep our jobs because we have bills to pay and retirement to save for, etc. etc.
Motivation it seems then is the one factor that makes us move from our natural state of laziness into one of action. The military is huge on motivation, as are many large organizations. Rarely will you see motivation used in a negative light. Seeing this is a large part of our lives, everyone wants us to be motivated or know where our motivation comes from; we need to investigate our own motivations.
Now the $100,000 question… What really motivates you? From my observations I am seeing fear becoming an increasingly majority answer to this question in peoples lives. I am not saying it is the #1 factor, but it is closing on that spot. America is an increasingly fear obsessed society. This is odd as we are a free and open society that values freedom and transparent government. But if you look at its beginnings you will see it has always been a fear based society and government.
Our founding fathers were scared of their government, so they rebelled, overthrew it, and created a government any paranoid person would love to live in. The problem with this is we have no fundamental trust in anything in our short history. We have checks and balances so no one branch can dissolve the other two. We have prevented the military from acting against its own citizens, therefore preventing a coup. We have the right to keep and bare arms and hold a militia to keep the government honest and to protect against invasion and for hunting (no the right to bare arms in not to allow you to have a gun to shoot burglars or drug dealers or each other). The federal government is limited in what it can do out of fear of it gaining too much control over peoples rights, therefore giving us state’s rights and sovereignty over their domains. And finally because one of the original reasons people came here was to escape religious persecution, and to make money, we have the separation of church and state. It is there to keep the government from dictating a national religion, not to alter our pledge of allegiance (written in the modern era not the days of the nations founding) or to stop prayer is schools or to cancel Christmas from school plays.
Ok, so our nation was founded out of fear and we seem to have trust issues, because we all know power and influence corrupt and lead to evil deeds and oppression, so what? We are better of for it… right!? Are we really? This brings me to the first of my motivational points, fear.
Fear is a huge motivational factor in every organism’s life on this planet! Fear of death, starvation, thrust, isolation, injury and pain, imprisonment, being eaten, disappointing others, not fitting in, or the unknown are very strong factors we all try to avoid so we are motivated to eliminate or minimize their presence in our lives. Lately the amounts and types of fears have increased.
Americans are more afraid today then we were just 10 years ago. We have car alarms, house alarms, theft prevention in our bank accounts, passwords and pin numbers for everything, insurance for every kind of situation, warning stickers and signs, labels warning us of everything, even that a can of peanuts ‘may contain nuts’… As we lock ourselves away and seek the safety from the outside what is it we are actually doing?
Life is dangerous, it is a losing proposition from the beginning, as we are all going to die, nothing can change or stop it. Oh, we may be able to slow it down, or thing we are, but we can not stop it. We will go through many of the things we fear just to make it to adulthood, and yet we make it. If we really stop and look at our fears, and yes they are real and some are real scary, they are just part of everyday life in our society, but succumbing to them takes the control of our life our of our hands and gives it to the fears that now rule us.
While fear protects us from foolish risk taking for minimum gain, or from getting into situations we will not survive in, it can be taken too far. It, like many things in life, is a double edged sword. Moderation is key. Our penal system is built around the fear of incarceration is motivation enough to make the crimes seem a bad idea (too bad it does not work with dishonest people). If we take this too far we run into the bad fear, the one that either prevents us from living, or taking any kind of risk. Some of us are scared of failure, so we do not try. Some are scared of rejection, so we isolate our selves. Some of us are afraid of success, so we never stretch or grow, but stay at the same level. Some of us are scared of letting go, and therefore live with ghosts and ruins of times past.
Our ideals have painted an unreachable image of where we should be. We all expect to live a utopian lifestyle without realizing that this is impossible. Our reality is built on a foundation of contrasts. We only know something by knowing its opposite. We know what warmth is by knowing what cold is, so on and so forth. We can not have an existence without fear, because without fear we will not know security, safety, contentment, or a large part of motivation. We need fear in out lives, but we need to be in control of it, or at least as much as we can. Everyone knows fear, it depends on how far we let it into our lives.
When I was younger I was scared of dying, unusual for a 13 year old, but still a very real fear. I talked to pastors, grown ups, all kinds of people and realized no one knew what the real fear was. That is when I came up with the knowledge that in reality all I was scared of was the unknown. There was no way I could be relieved of this fear, as the only way to get over a fear is to meet it head on, and see how small it really is, and then move on. Well you can’t do that with death, but if you really think about it there is very little to be scared of. By conquering your fear you gain control of your life and accept that for everyday you live you take a risk. This is more then true in our modern world. We wakeup, take a risk when we step into the shower, get into our cars, fly in planes, or just go shopping or working. Danger is everywhere, but it is not as bad as we fear.
Despite the American medias love for sensationalism and shock factor, the sky is not falling, we are just as safe as our ancestors were, the old days were not that great, tomorrow is just tomorrow, the sun will rise and set, and life goes on. We must accept that life is dangerous, and only with the prospect of death does it really hold any real meaning and value. So what does any of this have to do with fear as motivation? Everything! Fear should only be a motivating factor in not doing something that will cause death, loss of free will and liberty, or personal safety, nothing else. Fear of failure or success is not a valid reason to be motivated to stay where you are or not try for something better. Fear of isolation or loneliness only leads to isolation and loneliness, so you have to take the risk. Remember anything worth having is worth the risk to obtain it. Fear of losing our housing and material items should not keep us in a dead-end or unsatisfying job. We are the dictators of our own lives.
We are the ones who dictate how far we allow fear into our lives. Fear only rules over you if you allow it to. Fear is not a bad thing, it keeps us safe, but if we give it an inch, it can paralyze your decision making process to where we make no decisions at all. In our modern world we have allowed fear to be a motivating factor to do things, when it should only be a motivating factor in not doing things. Living life in fear is equal to living life in a box, filtering through only what you thing you can handle. If you do not take risks, challenges, or dares what is it you are really doing? Existing, not living, but biding your time to end up at the same place we all do. Each of us takes their own unique path in this world, but the destination is always the same; the experiences, wisdom, and richness lived is the only difference. We all owe it to ourselves, our ancestors, and each other to live with our fears for what they really are, not as motivators curtailing us and our dreams.