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In the acting world, the idea of motivation is connected to “why.” Why would my character behave this way? The idea is that by understanding what’s motivating the character to do what she does or think they way she does, the actor can more realistically portray the part.

In life, however, the character is you. That means it’s up to you to answer the question of “What’s my motivation?” Have you ever literally asked yourself, why am I acting this way? Why am I doing this? I know I have.

But of course motivation means more than the reason for behaving in a particular way. It also means having the desire or willingness to do something. The desire can be strong, but the will can be weak.

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There are all kinds of psychological theories about motivation. Motivation can be rational, incentive-based, or culturally-based, to name a few. Studying these theories can be useful for understanding why you do what you do and why you’re willing — or not — to do certain things.

Do a search for motivational quotes, and you’ll find pages of them. And while there’s value in the words of a wise person — I’m a big fan of quotes — they’re kind of like the decorations on a cake. They’re not the cake, they’re not even the icing, they’re just pretty ornaments that are nice to look at. Not really much more.

What drives you?

Asking the question “What’s my motivation?” can be key to actually getting and staying motivated.

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Perhaps there’s an incentive, a form of motivation that involves a reward of some type. Stay on your diet and you can fit into a smaller size of jeans. Save your money and you can put a down-payment on a house. Do a good job at work and you’ll get a promotion and a raise.

Another form of motivation is fear. Fear of punishment or other negative consequences can be very powerful. You’re motivated to study for a test because you fear flunking out of class. You’re motivated to clean your house when you’re expecting guests because you fear being perceived as a slob if you don’t. You’re motivated to get up and get to work on time every day because you fear losing your job if you don’t.

The drive to achieve goals motivates us to take on a new challenge, learn new skills, or prove our competency. This is an internal motivation, but the desire for praise and recognition also can be a part of it.

Another internal motivation is the desire for growth or self-improvement. For many people, the desire constantly to learn and grow as an individual feels hardwired.

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Power is another important motivator. It could be a desire to control others or a desire to have control over our own lives, to have choices about how we live. Power can be intoxicating and even dangerous. Control freaks are often motivated by power in ways that are unhealthy for themselves and others.

Finally, there is social motivation. We want to fit in and be accepted. We want to connect with others. Social motivation is what drives the desire to make a difference in the lives of others.

So, think about it. What’s your motivation and how can you harness its power to help you achieve your goals?

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