What Motivates Us

The TED talk below from Dan Pink describes in a simple manner what motivates people doing cognitive tasks in business. I want to argue that we can apply this also to ourselves regarding what WE want to achieve.
So if you’re not interested in the business part then skip to 12:16 in the video.

The key concepts are;

  • Autonomy: The desire to become more engaged through self-direction.
  • Mastery: The desire to become better in a skill.
  • Purpose: The desire to contribute to something greater than ourselves.


So how can we apply the above concepts to our daily lives? Autonomy is the most obvious of the three. Anything we do in our free time is mostly due to something we want to do. Important to distinguish is if we want ‘it’ because of something that drives us internally or if ‘it’ follows from external motivators like something friends do, family matters or something the neighbours have and you want it as well. The internal desires usually are the long lasting desires because they are connected to our values and they don’t depend on external factors.

Sports for me has become something I do because I am internally driven to do so. I believe that through building a functionally strong physique, like the Spartans, gives me the strength to conquer any challenge I give myself.


Mastery occurs through the focused application of a strategy in which small, consecutive goals with increasing level of difficulty and number of repetitions result in the mastery of a skill.

Suppose I want to learn how to do pull ups. This skill requires the ability to lift my body about an arm length distance until my chin is above the bar. This requires strong back muscles, good chest, shoulders and biceps and a tight core. If I’m not able to perform a pull up right away then I can do other exercises to strengthen the muscles required for doing a pull up. Push ups, hammer curls, tricep dips, sit ups and planking are good exercises to start with. Through repetition and increasing weights, speed and techniques with which the exercises are performed, I slowly become strong enough to do pull ups. Note, this is an example on how to train for pull ups, if you want to actually learn how to do pull ups then we need to go in more detail.


The road to mastery is hardly easy. It’s a question of when, not if, before we feel unmotivated to continue. In these times it’s paramount to understand why we do what we do. Having reasons for doing something that extends beyond ourselves is a powerful ally in tough times. Often these reasons are an extensions of our core values. I view reasons as a crystallized form of our values.

The main three reasons I do sports is because:

  1. It gives me the confidence, will, discipline and resourcefulness to succeed in various areas in my life.
  2. I feel inspired by those who can take the hard work and occasional suffering to achieve what they achieve and I desire to inspire others in the same way.
  3. At the core is my belief that I’m in control of my own fate and it is my responsibility. Through continuously breaking my boundaries I can live on my terms and die with a smile on my face!

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