“what motivates you?”

A few weeks ago (yes… weeks) my friend asked me this question amidst my complaining that another half marathon was coming up and I had to failed to properly train for it, AGAIN. “What motivates you?” finally popped up on my phone after the three blinking dots disappeared. “Uhh…” I replied, “Let me think.”

An hour later I was still thinking. It bothered me that I couldn’t come up with a straightforward response, like kids sometimes can. “What makes you want to do well?” “Dad gives me $20 for each A on my report card,” “Mom takes me shopping if I get a good grade,” “I get extra dessert if I try hard in PE,” “I get to play video games or iPad time this weekend if I do all my homework on time during the week,” whatever. It’s simple. And beautiful in its simplicity. A goal and method, wrapped up in an if-then statement of understanding.

But three weeks– or maybe more, I’ve lost track at this point– that question is still bothering me. What motivates me? Sure, I want to run fast and look hot and be successful in all areas of my life. But that sounds really superficial, and the more I think about it, isn’t the end goal– it’s just indicative of progress, the side effects of the work it takes to achieve the goal.

So what motivates me? Back in college we learned about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation– a feeling of satisfaction vs. a reward, basically. In grad school I kept a tally of miles I ran on the treadmill, every mile translating to a dollar, until I allowed myself to buy a waterbottle I wanted with the university logo on it. Those were a great sixteen miles, but once they were done, they were done.

What motivates me? Maybe motivation depends on the goal. After all, it would’t make sense for my motivation to be a good teacher to be the same motivation I have for wanting to complete a half marathon without walking. Other than, you know, success. But that’s so broad, and a different topic in and of itself.

Guess I still have to think about this one…


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