This is the stuff we carry inside of us. When we have it we don’t need persuading, we don’t need added incentives and we don’t need much by way of reward. When we have innate motivation, we do things because it is easier to do them than not do them.
But, interestingly, it isn’t always that way.
My drive has always been to understand why people are the way they are, to find out what we can do to improve our behaviour and become the best version of ourselves we can possibly be. I have looked into these things and worked on myself both casually and intensely; supported others both as a hobby and, now, as a profession. My motivation has always been to discover and improve.
But what happens when distractions mean we can no longer rely on our innate motivation? What happens when our focus is shifted by other, external influences? If the rewards for our work become the motivation, then we are in danger of becoming more focused on the reward than on what ignited our desire in the first place.
We see this with well-paid sports stars; none more so than professional footballers. Especially those in England where so much money is available, even for players of average talent. In some cases the sums of money earned become more important than the reasons they play the game. As a result, we see players seemingly more than happy to sit on the bench and collect massive wages, than actually play football.
These players seem to have forgotten the reasons they played in the first place: the fun; the enjoyment; the beauty of it all; the chance to experience the pinnacle of your ability; to see for yourself just how good you are; the harmony of being part of a wining team working with and for each other. Even the privilege of making a living doing what you enjoy most.
In my last season playing football, I played for my club’s first team. I have never known such a wonderful team spirit as I experienced among those players. I was 18 years old, coming into an established team, the average age of which must have been around 26-27. There was no animosity from the rest of the squad, no negative competition. They welcomed me with open arms.
I was taken aback. A nervous young footballer entering the hallowed, lauded circle of the first team, I had expected to be kept at arms length, required to prove myself before being accepted. But it didn’t happen that way. They accepted me immediately and, right from the start, I felt at home in their company.
Years later I realised that the sort of spirit I experienced in that team, once created, reinforces itself. It was highly effective too because, from the first day I entered the dressing room I felt like an integral part of the team. They made me feel like an equal, which meant that when they needed me, and they did, I was ready to perform to the best of my ability, and I did.
They conducted themselves as all good teams do. United by their love of playing, they accepted, encouraged, trusted, supported and challenged each other to be better. And their communication was always excellent. They won the league that year. I played in the last home game of the season and scored in a memorable victory. Then, not long after scoring, I got carried away with how well everything was going, injured my knee and never played again.
So, for me there was never any chance for the rewards to override my innate motivation. I always played for the love of playing. In that sense I was fortunate because, in the same way we can become disheartened by failure, we can also become blinded by success. We think we’ve made it and we get cocky. Or our self-interest becomes more prominent than the needs of the team. Or we get distracted, as external factors such as money or adulation take on unnecessary importance.
Whatever happens, it always serves us well to remember why we started; to recall the drive and enthusiasm we had at the beginning; to remind ourselves of our goals and of those around us who have supported us in our growth. And to connect again with the innate motivation which inspired us in the first place.