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The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations

By Dan Ariely
  • Read in 9 minutes
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  • Contains 5 key ideas
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Payoff by Dan Ariely

Payoff (2016) is all about the logic of motivation and how to make it work for you. These blinks explain the different factors that drive people to achieve, and show why the most important factor of all is meaning.

Key idea 1 of 5

Motivation is the result of several factors, but a sense of purpose tops the list.

Every day, you wake up, get the kids ready for school, cook breakfast and make your way to work. Repeating such a jam-packed routine week after week, year after year, can be difficult – and it’s probably already obvious that motivation is key to keeping you going.

But what exactly is motivation?

Well, a cynic might say that the only thing driving anyone to do anything is money. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Just consider this example:

A mom says to her daughter, “I’ll add five bucks to your allowance every week if you take out the garbage.” Is it possible that those five dollars are the only thing compelling the daughter to take out the family’s trash? Probably not.

In reality, motivation is a complex process that’s influenced by things like happiness, achievement, pride, fulfillment and countless other factors. To understand how complex it is, just consider why you’re working your current job. Is it really just for the money? (If it is, then you might want to reconsider your line of work!)

In reality, people are motivated by many things – and foremost among them is meaning. Just take a struggling, young fashion designer who does everything herself, from designing the garment to making the pattern to sewing the final product. She works 18-hour days and is stressed beyond belief, but she sticks to it because, for her, this is meaningful work.

Okay, so meaning is essential. But it’s not the same thing as happiness. People often confuse these two terms, and draw false conclusions based on the confusion. Meaningful work can be miserable. People don’t engage in excruciatingly painful and difficult tasks because it makes them happy; they do it because, for them, these tasks have meaning. So don’t think that happiness is the path to motivation.

An example: Drinking a pina colada on the beach sounds great, and you might want to be doing that right now, but would you be happy doing it every day? It would get old pretty quickly because it’s a relatively meaningless activity.

But if happiness isn’t what generates meaning, then what does? For most people, meaning comes from contributing to something bigger. In the next blinks, you’ll learn how to use this knowledge to motivate yourself.

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