Monday, June 4, 2007


Considering that it's been more than a week since I've last blogged, I thought Motivation was a good topic to start with. I'm getting away from the Official Canon of Generally Accepted Knowledge (OCGAK), and throwing my own thoughts out there. So if it makes you wildly successful, I get partial credit. If it makes you fail spectacularly, you're on your own. If you saw these ideas somewhere else, I thought of it first and just didn't write it until now. I don't care if it was from the 16th century.

There are three thinks that get me (or anyone else, I assume) to do something or not do something:

1) Rewards. If we go through the maze, we get the cheese. If I show up for work, I get a paycheck. If I do good things while I'm there, I get raises, bonuses, promotions, etc. There's a lot of research and open discussion on what makes the best kind of reward (Money, recognition, intrinsic satisfaction). I personally believe that people have their own mix of them that best drives them forward.

2) Penalties. This is the opposite of the reward. If we go through the maze the wrong way, we not only don't get the cheese, but we get zapped by the electric floor. If I don't mow my yard, angry neighbors start chasing me with torches and pitchforks. If I take a HDTV from the store without paying for it, I get fitted for a orange jumpsuit. Civil & Criminal penalties, Societal disapproval, and even guilt are examples of this,

The two of these can be balanced against each other and there are cases where uncertainty is a factor. In the example of stealing the TV above, there is a chance I wouldn't get caught, then the Reward of the new free TV would outweigh the avoided Penalty of going to prison. Of course, my luck would make that chance pretty close to zero. Lawmakers use these tools in their attempt to nudge society in one direction or the other. That's one reason the tax code is as complex as it is.

The third and, I feel, most powerful of the motivators is 3) Habit. Habit never starts fully formed, but begins as response to Reward and Penalty that outlives the Rewards and Penalties themselves. A personal example is eating. I originally ate to get the Reward of the taste and avoid the Penalty of being hungry. Those are still considerations, but I occasionally (okay, frequently) find myself eating something I'm not all that crazy about when I'm not even hungry out of simple Habit. On the flip side, people who stay with a long-term exercise program often say that it's become a Habit for them.

So in short, If there's some change you want to make in what you do, look at Rewards and Penalties you can attach to that behavior and work to make it last long enough to allow Habit to kick in.

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