Editor's Desk - July/August 2017

Motivation Grows & Grows

"A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one's neighbor—such is my idea of happiness."

— Leo Tolstoy

How, exactly, does motivation work? It's not just about do-this, get-that. There's a lot more to it than that. And, truthfully, there's probably more than one way to get from here to there.

I was thinking about it yesterday, as I spent hours in the garden, pulling weeds, adding mulch, staking up my tomatoes, and then building a bamboo fence and support to help keep my sunflowers looking up and my pole beans climbing. After a day of dirty, sweaty work, I sat down on the porch with a beer and watched as next-door grandma slowly walked to her yard-swing (similar to a porch swing, but under a tree) for her daily sit.

Mr. Neighbor built the swing last year, just for next-door grandma, who had had parts of both feet amputated earlier in the season. And, in what I can only consider a compliment, the swing faces my garden. So when grandma comes out for her sit, she's looking at what I've done.

Occasionally, she tells me all about what I ought to be doing. At least, I assume that's what she's telling me. We don't have any language in common, so she points and talks at me in Vietnamese while I smile and nod and try not to say sarcastic things that I know she won't understand anyway. But through our not-very-conversable conversations, I've come to realize a couple of things: first, that she really likes cilantro and jalapenos; and second, that she especially enjoys seeing a variety of flowers.

And so, this year, when I was getting motivated to get the garden going, I'll admit, I paid a lot of attention to where I was planting my cilantro and peppers (is it somewhere grandma can get to easily?), and I also added a lot more flowers than usual. After I built my bamboo fence yesterday, I'll admit that I waited eagerly for all of them to get back from church so I could see grandma's reaction. And it was worth it. My joy of accomplishment swelled as I saw her joy contemplating the new landscape.

So, in this case, motivation, such as it is, comes from making someone else's day. And it doesn't stop there. It becomes a kind of feedback loop. I make grandma happy, and grandma's happiness makes me happy, which makes me want to find more ways to make her happy.

In the workplace, this kind of motivation might be harder to come by, but that doesn't mean we should just pass it by. Sure, incentives and rewards are powerful motivators, but we all know that without the human touch, they are far less powerful than their potential.

So, how do you make motivation? What are some of the ways you try to reach deeper? To create this kind of intrinsic motivation?


Emily Tipping
Editorial Director,