Motivation as a Complex Ecosystem

Motivation as a Complex Ecosystem

When we consider motivation, we begin by breaking it down into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation—internal and external motivation. We can further break the idea of intrinsic motivation down into needs (the things that drive us), cognitions (the things that direct us), and emotions (the things that dictate intensity and energy behind motivation). All of these things are influenced by extrinsic motivations; consider motivation a very complex and fluid experience with ebbs, flows, and does a 180 on occasion.


And to add complexity to this narrative, we often (usually) have motivation for many things at once. We might be motivated to run a half marathon, while we’re also motivated to eat cheeseburgers and watch movies and become couch people. We might wake up on a Sunday highly motivated to run, and by the end of the day, the milkshake is calling our name more than our running shoes.


Or more applicable to our work here: perhaps we’re deeply motivated to change our relationship with alcohol. And, we’re motivated to maintain a social life, motivated to not “rock the boat,” motivated to have something that relaxes our nervous system, and motivated to go to that Fourth of July bbq and partake like we “normally” do. On any given day, one of these motives might be beating out the rest in intensity and energy. As complex human beings, we can hold these many spinning plates in the air, and with intention and focus, we can keep the most important motives top of mind.


When we consider the strength and intensity of motives—high at first, and then decreasing over time—this presents us an opportunity to bring in all of the goal setting work that we did in our previous module. We know, empirically, that we’re more likely to achieve a goal when we break it down: we keep it time-bound, measurable, we have regular checkpoints, accountability, and consistent action outlined in advance.