Bob Denny: Let’s get motivated

Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 4:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 4:12 p.m.

As a curious little child, I watched a busy ant colony in my backyard. I saw every ant work hard, digging a grain of sand at a time, and piling it neatly around the entrance. Ants died and fell off the edge of the pile, having worked themselves to death! The ants all seem to know what to do. They gave the project everything they had. They were what psychologists call “motivated;” totally dedicated to complete their goal — the perfect ant hole.

We people also have motivation. But we’re different from the ants. We think about what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. We question whether it’s the right thing to do, what’s best for us, what the results will be, what others want from us, and how we’ll feel about the results. We can recognize obstacles in the way, and are often discouraged by the conflicts or challenges. Unlike the single-minded ants, our thoughts and feelings can get in the way of what we want to get done!

What is motivation? Carole Wade and Carol Tavris, in their textbook Psychology (10th edition, 2011, Prentice Hall) that I use in my psychology classes at Florida Gateway College, define motivation as “… a process within a person or animal that causes that organism to move toward a goal — to satisfy a biological need or achieve an ambition—or away from an unpleasant situation.” They suggest that it’s good to have enthusiasm and inspiration, and that it’s helpful to use critical thinking when deciding what you do, and to make choices that will lead you toward goals you have chosen for yourself.

But how can we use the psychology of motivation to build a better, happier, more fulfilled life? Here are some ideas:

You might not think about it, but our health and fitness is closely tied to our feelings and our power to feel motivated. Eat foods you know are healthy, and get enough physical activity to maintain fitness.

What do you really enjoy doing? I’ve heard, “Do what you love doing, and you’ll never work a day of your life.” Don’t settle for a mediocre job, except temporarily. Find what you love doing, plunge into it, and the rewards will follow. Wherever you are in your life, whatever your limits or capabilities, choose things you enjoy rather than things you’d rather not have in your life.

Feel the joy and fulfillment you can get just from the doing -- from learning and developing your skills, talents, and knowledge. The rewards you can get from learning and growing can give you power.

Build social support, and a “work space.” Connect with family and friends who are supportive. Find a comfortable, pleasant work space.

Unlike the ants, we often have multiple goals, and our goals are often in conflict. What is really most important in your life? Choose goals that are most important, and schedule time for them.

Find a “reason to get up in the morning.” It may be to take care of your kids, knit lap blankets for the nursing home, participate in a charity marathon or walk, participate in sports, or whatever. Ask yourself, “What can I do to make the world a little better?”

Bob Denny taught psychology at Florida Gateway College for 10 years, and counseled troubled youth and families for 15 years.

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