Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What Is Motivation? Who Cares?

I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of motivation.  What prompts individuals to act, to be successful, to just get out of bed in the morning? Abraham Maslow provided one way to look at motivation in his article "A Theory of Motivation" in Psychological Review in 1943 and further explained it in his book TOWARD A PSYCHOLOGY OF BEING. Maslow described a pyramid of needs beginning with the life essentials like food, water, and air and continued to safety needs, social needs, esteem needs and finally abstract ideas like truth, justice, wisdom, and meaning at the top.  (See the link at the bottom for a picture.)
I am particularily concerned with things I am personally motivated by and the things that seem to motivate my grandchildren, or maybe I should say fail to motivate them.  It is obvious that not everyone is motiavated by the same goals.  Perhaps my mother's influence prompts some of my achievement oriented behavior.  She wanted me to do my best, look the cleanest, smile the brightest, and stand the straightest.
When I was in college, I took some psychological tests that gave me insight into what I find motivating.  I thought I would like to work with people.  I find them interesting, but the tests said I liked data more than people.  That's true.  I like to write at the computer a lot.  I do enjoy people, talking to them, working with them, but I am not a good person to put in charge.  I don't give good orders.   I can plan how it should be done, but choosing people to do it and prompting them to take action falls to others.
My motivations measured by the Edwards Personal Preference Schedule were somewhat surprising.  I scored at the 99th percentile on achievement.  This is also why I have difficulty with my children and  grandchildren who don't value achievement.  My value system is so heavily weighted toward achievement that I want them to achieve too.  I guess that's putting my expectations on other people, and it's not fair. 
Maslow even agreed with my new understanding.  Not everyone is motivated by the same thing no matter how sparkling and shiny it looks.  The Mavericks won the trophy, but some people don't even know who they are.
I am old now, and I should be willing to allow others to flop or fail as they see fit, but I see people, my descendents included, who have potential and intelligence but aren't making the most of it.  What will motivate them?

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