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March 23, 2007

What is Motivation and Where Does it Come From?

The puzzle of what motivates different people captures my imagination.

Motivation

When I ask people what motivates them, they usually answer with an unilluminating "I don't know." Illusive as it may be, people the world over are inspired to do, create and be amazing things, despite enormous obstacles and the plain old pull of lethargy.

"The Pursuit of Happyness," a movie starring Christopher Jaden Smith and Will Smith, is about the real-life story of Chris Gardner, a millionaire stockbroker who was homeless and penniless while working to get ahead. The movie is inspiring and captivating. Chris Gardner has written a memoir of the same title for those curious to hear more.

What this brings to mind for me is where motivation comes from, for any of us. Why and how can one person push and push and eventually overcome terrible adversity while another can't get moving forward? Depression and drug addiction tease the spirits of many yet some people overcome these trials also.

Witnessing people in drug recovery, I have seen lives go from one extreme to another, overcoming odds. These stories are modern-day Prodigal Son tales. I have no answers, just clues and questions. The 12-step programs have helped people where no other solutions have. I am in awe of the power of these well-thought-through systems, the components of which include honesty, open-mindedness and willingness (their acronym is HOW) as well as a sense of a power greater than oneself, unfailing group support and a focus on the moment at hand. The heart of these programs provides keys for all of us, not just those battling to overcome substance abuse.

Still, I am nagged with the question of what motivates people. Color motivates me. Music motivates some of my friends. Wanting to help people can motivate, wanting to achieve riches and other sorts of goals can move us forward. But none of these things in themselves answers the question "what is motivation and where does it come from?" It's a burning desire to overcome the odds but how can you harness it when all seems futile.

One answer is faith. One reason for the great success of the 12-step programs is that they do not require anyone to believe in a specific God, however, they maintain that a sense of oneself as a piece of a bigger puzzle is key. One simply has to see that there are powers greater than oneself to feel humble. This state of mind seems to be motivational and necessary.

Thoughts on motivation and faith to be continued…