A Lesson from Newton

Dylan | Jul 01, 2019

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The most worthwhile things in life are generally also incredibly challenging and pursuing a technical career is certainly one of them. The thought of having to master programming, mathematics, and other complicated topics so vast in breadth can quickly become overwhelming.

Unfortunately, even when we clearly know what we should be doing, motivation is simply nowhere to be found. Sometimes you feel motivated and make some progress but if you only had a sustainable source, you know you could overcome even the most overwhelming endeavors. How can we begin to tap into healthy and sustainable sources of motivation?

Newton’s Lesson

Nearly everyone is familiar with Newton’s First Law which states that “an object will remain at rest or in motion unless acted upon by another force.” What we often overlook is that the same basic principle that applies to objects in motion also applies to our actions, habits, and responses.

Bad routines and habits are seductive. Once they have you in their grasp they begin to poison your thinking and no matter how much you desire to escape, it’s incredibly difficult. Binging Netflix and social media provides short-term dopamine too often at the cost of long-term fulfillment. Bad routines regularly enslave us in anxiety, depression, and fear. They keep us at “rest” by forcing us to settle for less.

On the other hand, healthy routines and habits put us in motion, propelling us forwards towards our goals and dreams. Thomas Edison famously claimed to a reporter that he “didn’t fail 1,000 times” but rather “the light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” Edison had clearly solidified the healthy routine of persistence, he was a man “in motion.”

If routines and habits determine whether we are at rest or in motion, what are the other forces at play?

Other Forces

Other forces can come in any shape and size. Virtually anything in life has the potential to act on us from passion to insecurity to tragedy. When these things act on us, they become a source of motivation or a strong barrier halting our desire to be “in motion.”

Extreme events such as the death of a loved one, carry with them enough force to drastically alter our trajectory, for better or worse. For some, extreme tragedy is debilitating while others are able to convert it into fuel to accomplish something otherwise impossible.

Unfortunately, sitting around waiting for extreme fortune or tragedy to motivate you isn’t a great plan for success. What if there were a more reliable source of motivation, a force we could apply on ourselves? Thankfully there are.

Dr. Jim Taylor, a professor at the University of San Francisco, developed the “Motivation Matrix” to break motivators into 4 categories.

Motivation Matrix

In addition to defining different sources of motivation, Dr. Taylor has also provided the likely outcomes of each of these forces on our future health and success.

  • Internal-positive: successful change and fulfillment

  • External-positive: some change, partial fulfillment, dependent on others for continued change and good feelings

  • Internal-negative: some change, possible relapse

  • External-negative: some success, high risk of relapse

Clearly, internal-positive motivation is the most favorable source. Not only is it the most likely to provide fulfillment and happiness but it’s also the least painful and most likely to fuel you across the finish line.

Unfortunately, according to Dr. Taylor, many successful people are driven to achieve their goals by the insecurities found in the internal-negative and external-negative quadrants. While each quadrant may motivate you to reach your goals, the experience and ultimate outcomes of each source are very different.

Which quadrant do you think “acts on” you the most? If your answer isn’t internal-positive, perhaps you should reevaluate which forces you allow to propel you.

Internal Forces

While the connection between self-growth and Newton’s First Law paints a powerful representation, thankfully the human condition is much more complicated. When something our physical bodies, the resulting injury or movement is entirely out of our control. Our bodies are masses subject to the laws of physics; however, there remains something entirely within our control.

It is within our control to choose our responses to external events. We each have a personal responsibility to respond constructively to life’s adversities. Mindsets are pliable and are shaped by our responses and views of the world. I believe conquering our state of mind is the first step towards internal-positive motivation and ensuring that only healthy sources of motivation fuel you.

Which quadrant do you often find propelling you on the motivation-matrix? What impact do you think this plays on your mindset? If you spend most of the time motivated by factors outside of the first quadrant, what steps could you begin to take today to shift your locus of motivation into quadrant one? Let us know in the comments below!

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