Ever wonder what motivation actually is?
Motivation is the set of psychological forces that compel us to take action.
But here’s the thing:
Despite a chirpy self-improvement market peppering us with endless tips and tricks on how to live better, healthier, wealthier lives, we’re struggling to put these techniques into action.
Eight out of ten of us are disengaged or actively disengaged at work, despite the HR circus of incentive plans, team-building off-sites, and casual Fridays.
And when a Harvard Medical School study confronted patients with lifestyle-related diseases that would kill them if they didn’t alter their behavior (type 2 diabetes, smoking, atherosclerosis, etc.), 87 percent couldn’t.
Turns out, we’d rather die than change.
Enter the power of flow states.
The sense of effortlessness that comes with the flow can propel us past the limits of normal motivation.
And we’re beginning to understand where this added drive comes from.
In flow, six powerful neurotransmitters—norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, anandamide, and oxytocin—come online in varying sequences and concentrations.
These are all pleasure chemicals.
In fact, they’re the six most pleasurable chemicals the brain can produce.
A flow state is one of the only times we get access to many of them at once.
When psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did his initial research into the flow, his subjects frequently called the state “addictive,” and admitted to going to exceptional lengths to get another fix.
“The [experience] lifts the course of life to another level,” he writes in his book Flow.
“Alienation gives way to involvement, enjoyment replaces boredom, helplessness turns into a feeling of control... When experience is intrinsically rewarding life is justified.”
So, unlike the slog of our to-do lists, once an experience starts producing these neurochemicals, we don’t need a calendar reminder or an accountability coach to make sure we keep doing it.
The intrinsically rewarding nature of the experience compels us.
“So many people find this so great and high an experience,” wrote psychologist Abraham Maslow in his book Religion, Values, and Peak Experiences, “that it justifies not only itself but living itself.”
This explains why action and adventure athletes routinely risk life and limb for their sports and why spiritual ascetics willingly trade creature comforts for a chance to glimpse God.
As Csikszentmihalyi says...
“In a culture supposedly ruled by the pursuit of money, power, prestige, and pleasure, it is surprising to find certain people who sacrifice all those goals for no apparent reason.
By finding out why they are willing to give up material rewards for the elusive experience of performing enjoyable acts we learn something that will allow us to make everyday life more meaningful.”
But you don’t have to take extreme risks or give up material rewards to experience this benefit.
It shows up wherever people are deeply committed to a compelling goal.
When John Hagel, the cofounder of Deloitte consulting’s Center for the Edge, made a global study of the world’s most innovative, high-performing business teams—meaning the most motivated teams on the planet—he found similar things:
The individuals and organizations that went the furthest and fastest were always the ones tapping into the passion and finding flow.
This ability to unlock motivation through flow has widespread implications.
Across the board, from education to health care to business, motivational gaps cost us trillions of dollars a year.
We know better; we just can’t seem to do better.
But we can do better.
The effortlessness of flow upends the “suffer now, redemption later” of the Protestant work ethic and replaces it with a far more powerful and enjoyable drive.
Are you ready for it?