On Having the Courage to Create a Meaningful Life

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What about the motivation you’ll need to engage in this life? Our need for motivation is due to our need for reassurance. We are paralysed by our fear that it might not work. And we let the fear demotivate us, giving us the perfect excuse not to create.  Seth Godin: What to do When it’s Your Turn

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink, one of the top 15 business thinkers in the world, argues that all of the psychological evidence points to “intrinsic motivation” being at the heart of success. Intrinsic motivation is when we do something because it matters to us, we enjoy it and want to do it well because it matters. Extrinsic motivation is when we do it for the reward rather than its intrinsic appeal and significance to us.

In Drive, Pink argues that people working at their best have “autonomy, mastery and purpose” and that autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives, is hard-wired into human nature.

Curiosity is widely regarded as the prime example of intrinsic motivation – curiosity, a hunger for knowledge and learning – is rewarding in its own right and triggers the same dopamine reward circuitry triggered by food, sex, drugs and rock & roll. Curiosity is like an itch on the brain – new learning scratches the itch.

Research by psychologist Dr Todd Kashdan, author of Curious: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, shows that people exhibit more curiosity, enjoyment and deeper cognitive processing when they have more autonomy. Threats, punishments, negative feedback and over-controlling bosses are experienced as internally controlling and tend to result in extrinsic motivation or task disengagement.

Overall, curiosity is more likely to be enhanced when control is minimised and feelings of personal choice, meaningfulness and competence-related processes are emphasised.

Interestingly Dr Kashdan initially focused his research on social anxiety, before realising curiosity was the counter motivation to anxiety.

Our curiosity and threat detection systems evolved together, and they function to ensure optimal decisions are made in an unpredictable, uncertain world. We are all motivated by the pull toward safety and seek to avoid danger, but we also possess a fundamental motivation to expand and grow as human beings.

Curiosity and anxiety work together Kashdan argues. The psychological urge evoked by curiosity is accompanied by increased engagement with the world, including exploratory behaviour, meaning-making and learning.

Curiosity propels us forward, anxiety puts on the brakes so we don’t take unwise risks. Kashdan believes that as individuals, communities, organisations and nations we have put the bulk of our energy into anxiety avoidance and we have devalued curiosity.

Dr Kashdan goes further in suggesting that curiosity is at the heart of living a meaningful life:

  • A meaningful life is one of passion and engagement – of discovering what moves and inspires you at a deep level and then pursuing that passion. However you will never find that sense of purpose without curiosity and tolerance of a certain level of anxiety.

This new slant on what drives us is interesting for anyone contemplating lifeshifting, of following their passion and scratching that itch on the brain. As anxiety inducing as lifeshifting is, it may be preferable to living a life compromised and disengaged.

If that’s what you call living.
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