Purpose And Motivation: Some Thoughts From Daniel Pink

AJWs TaproomA few years back, author and thinker Daniel Pink made quite a splash with his bestselling book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, in which he challenged conventional wisdom in a provocative argument suggesting that the future may not be all about productivity and results but rather process and meaning. Pink followed up A Whole New Mind with an equally edgy book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, in which he looked at human motivation and its impact on individual success and satisfaction.

The two most compelling aspects of Pink’s work are his reflections on purpose and motivation and his assertion that taking a contrarian viewpoint may become the norm in the 21st century. Understanding that purpose and motivation are inextricably linked and also tied to aspects of life we might not necessarily assume to be true make Pink’s thinking simultaneously counterintuitive and constructive.

With respect to purpose, Pink’s extensive research suggests that there are aspects of life which provide meaning that have little to nothing to do with extrinsic rewards. While certainly the need for resources and a livelihood are essential to human survival, Pink notes that, in fact, “man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life.” Furthermore, Pink notes that the modern technological era has spawned a “fourth great awakening” in which material well-being, while important, is less of a factor in human decision making than the simple, more primal, desire for purpose and meaning.

In Drive, Pink asserts that motivation, at its core, comes from within. Citing the three elements of true motivation–autonomy, mastery, and purpose–Pink implores us to accept that our internal desires are far more significant indicators of what drives us than external gratification. And further, that a fulfilling life is one in which intrinsic and extrinsic rewards are not at odds with one another.

As a long-distance runner, Pink’s ideas resonate with me deeply. Certainly, there are external factors that motivate me–competition, physical well-being, the tacit approval of my peers–but the true essence of my love of running comes from what it gives me on the inside, a true sense of satisfaction and meaning that is entirely my own and well beyond the day-to-day grind of life.

It may strike some as odd, but I often view a single run as an apt metaphor for life. Typically starting off my doorstep, I am a bit creaky and sore. As I begin to find a rhythm, my energy increases and I get into a bit of a flow. By the time I hit full stride it is like I am floating. In that moment of peace, the reward is all on the inside. Sure, the training benefit is there but for me, the motivation to find that feeling far outweighs anything the outside world will see or even care about. And that, to me, is the great purposeful gift of this running life.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Blue Mountain Brewery SpookyWith Halloween this weekend, this week’s Beer of the Week has to be a pumpkin. Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, Virginia makes a great one called Spooky. More balanced than your typical pumpkin, Spooky goes well with food and the holiday season. Enjoy!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Where does your drive come from in your professional life? External goals set by the company you work for or a supervisor-type person? A drive to please the people around you? An intrinsic desire to accomplish a goal? Have you noticed your motivation evolve as elements of your professional life change, like who you work with or your level of responsibility?
  • How about in your running? What are the origins of your motivation to run, something inside of you or external variables? Some of both? How do you notice your motivation changing from season to season, in different parts of your training cycles, or as you age?

There are 7 comments

  1. georgezack

    Andy – the universe is telling me something. I was in a meeting last Friday where one of Pink's videos on motivation was shared. I was then at a conference in Baltimore where Pink was the keynote speaker, and I spoke to him briefly afterwards. And now you are posting about him.

    I guess I must read Drive.

  2. @SageCanaday

    Yes! Southpaws of the world unite (or any people that just think "along the edges of the box" as Seth Godin would say)! Pink also wrote a book called "To Sell is Human." which I think is very good.

    But to get back on point with motivators….I'd agree that the ultimate drive must come from within. Maybe it's the "Flow" aspect of distance running? Ultimately even if we run races with a chance to win money or improve our "rankings" or have external pressure from social media/previews (which do factor into my career since running is my main gig and income is heavily determined by performance), the long lasting happiness/reward/motivation comes from looking back on these experiences and knowing that we gave it our all (mind, body and heart/spirit) in a long-term goal that required a long-term process (the real reward) and we challenged ourselves and grew in some way.

    When I think back to races I did well in, I don't remember crossing the finish line as much as I think about the points mid-race where I made a decisive move or had to grit my teeth and really buckle down. I think about overcoming physical and mental struggles and (in some twisted way) those provide fond memories!

  3. senelly

    Very thought provoking… as you may well have intended. So here's the thing, while I agree that motivation is likely rooted in purpose and that process more than not trumps productivity, there's a rambunctious contrarian inside me that keeps singing, "row row row your boat gently down the stream; merrily merrily merrily merrily, life is but a dream". When I run, it is often the case that the passing miles seem to allow my regular, superfluous self absorption and niggling preoccupations to take a backseat to a more full and direct contact with the ongoing origin of creation, more or less. Or, in other words, as I let myself go to what I perceive as focused, relaxed exertion, I lose contact with my normal reality in favor of a semi-dream state. It's a kind of time machine. Working at my desk or mowing the lawn, I am a temporal being with the same destination as everyone else. On the run, on a trail through the woods or over a mountain, time evaporates and I am eternal. Hubris? Maybe not. After all, as the miles roll on, I get to a point where I have no self-importance at all. As Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite storytellers used to say as an ending to a paragraph or a tale, "So it goes".

  4. robsargeant

    There's a wildness inside of me that is best released while on long runs through the winding forest trails, or beside a river. No other activity takes me to that place. Running doesn't change, although the world around me changes. It's always one step after another. These simple truths are the biggest motivating factors that keeps me lacing up the kicks and hitting the trails.

  5. RunThunderstick

    Long distance running gives us time to pause and reflect on those things deep inside of us. When I run I often think about how our training and running reflects the various aspects of our spiritual life and well being. The two aspects of our lives have many things in common. For example, prayer and water/energy drinks are similar. You can go on a long run without fluids but you eventually crash and nothing goes well. You dry up and lose energy and in some causes can even lead to serious medical issues. The same is with prayer, you can go a long time without prayer but it wears on you and you are left feeling empty, dry , and can even lead to bigger problems later on.

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