Unlock Your Inner Mojo
“Aim to produce couple of articles every day”
“Promise to write an hour a day daily for 30 days”
“Use these marketing tricks to drive more traffic to your blog”
As a two-week-old writer on Medium, I’ve come across these types of posts everywhere. Clearly, there’s an inquisitive audience who’s desperate to learn the tricks to “crack” Medium, get hundreds of thousands of views and live off the earnings into the happily ever after. With the learnings from Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, I’ll show you six psychological truths about how the science behind human motivation works and how we can tap into these to have a more fulfilling and sustainable writing career.
First, some context — In his succinct and actionable book, Pink gives us an actionable toolkit to bridge the widening schism between business practices and advances in human motivation research. Here’s an ultra-simple summary of Drive: Science has established three distinct drives of human motivation: Biological (our drive for food, shelter and companionship), Reward (our drive to attain rewards in lieu of work) and Intrinsic Motivation (our drive to be part of a greater whole). The de facto framework for motivation, used by companies and organizations since the dawn of the Industrial age addresses the first two key drives and is called Motivation 2.0. This worked for organizations for profit maximization but because it inherently treats work as undesirable and humans as cold, rational economic beings, it has severe limitations. With the realization that humans aren’t purely self-interest-driven rational beings, Motivation 3.0 with its focus on intrinsic motivation, is the order of the day as it’s more suitable for today’s creative workloads, ensuring they remain sustainable, fulfilling and fun. Here’s how.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Shared via Kindle. Description: The New York Times bestseller that gives readers a paradigm-shattering new way to think…
1. Forget the carrot & sticks approach
Science has proved it: the old carrot & sticks approach does not work and is actively harmful, for most creative workloads. Broadly speaking, we often encounter two types of tasks — Algorithmic and Heuristic. Algorithmic tasks are process-driven, follow a series of well-defined steps and require limited innovation to complete — think call centers and manufacturing lines. Heuristic tasks are driven by creativity and innovation with no “paint-by-the-numbers” instruction sheets to complete a task — think writing, coding, marketing, etc. Here’s the big reveal: the carrot & sticks approach works moderately well for algorithmic tasks but actually worsens performance for heuristic tasks. So, extrinsic motivations, such as performance bonuses and salary hikes worsen the performance and output of creative endeavors.
Tip: When doing anything creative, like writing on Medium, be influenced by your intrinsic motivation to tell a story, have your voice heard, highlight issues that matter to you, engaging your readers, etc. and not by extrinsic motivations like getting more followers and increasing your earnings or views or claps per article. Motivation 3.0 says that your driver for writing content must be intrinsic — the joy of writing and not any other extrinsic reward.
2. Move from “if-then” to “now-that”
Science has also proved this: getting an unexpected reward at the end of a creative task reinforces the pleasure of completing the task and thus internal motivation; completing a creative task with the expectation of a reward worsens the quality of creative output.
Look at these two scenarios and remember that the second scenario will always lead to better results “If you finish this article before time, then you’ll get a completion bonus” vs “now that you’ve finished your article before time, here’s a little bonus.”
Tip: Adopt a “now-that” attitude to all your writing work — don’t expect rewards. Focusing on rewards — like views, reads, claps, followers — may result in huge output but at diminished quality. Now that you’ve understood this, heed this warning — too much of “now-that” leads to “if-then” i.e. consistently gaining unexpected rewards after completing a creative task will lead you to be driven by the rewards, so be mindful of this.
3. Autonomy is a privilege
Three things that satisfy us the most and leave us motivated to do more — even more than extrinsic rewards — are Self Direction, Decision Latitude and Ownership. In most of our day jobs, seldom do we have all three. You normally have fixed tasks and deadlines (lack of self-direction), you have limited approaches to solving a problem (lack of decision latitude) and unless this is a solo-project, chances are you are responsible for your piece of the task and not the whole (lack of ownership).
Writing gives you all three — your internal motivation spurs you on to write (Self-direction), you can decide exactly what and how you want to write about (decision latitude) and you are the sole author and distributor of your content (ownership) — this is autonomy and it’s what our souls crave. Creative juices flow, your mind, body and soul are fired-up and you feel like you are accomplishing something of value. This is autonomy and its epic — embrace it.
Tip: Realize that autonomy is a total privilege. Use that privilege wisely. Command your craft and don’t aim for short-term pleasure (increased viewers, earnings, claps, followers) at the cost of long-term pain (burnout, lack of ideas, stale prose).
4. Aim for Learning Goals, not Performance Goals
Does anyone look forward to performance reviews at work? Without exception, they are boring, repetitive, often delayed and just a pain. But when it comes to writing, performing at your highest is vital to ensure you remain in the flow as much as possible. One way of achieving this is to focus on Learning Goals. Learning Goals — for example — “Read more variety of topics, study the structure and content of successful writers” are proven to cajole intrinsic motivation more than Performance Goals (“Aim to write 1 article per day, publish new content every Monday.”)
Tip: Writing is asymptotic - you’ll get close to total mastery but never touch it. But that’s not disheartening — the dollops of intrinsic motivation you pick up along the way will ensure you persist. It’s organic, autonomous, self-directed — you’ll get there.
5. Extrinsic motivation encourages unethical behavior
Being driven by extrinsic motivators, like rewards, makes us prone to cutting corners, cheating and gaming the system to achieve our short-term goals at the risk of the quality & sanctity of our output. Further, rewards are addictive — you’ll never complete the task for free again after you’ve been rewarded for it! Lastly, rewards hinder creativity, even more so when twinned with urgency. Urgency focuses our brains to the immediate task at hand, thereby crowding out Motivation 3.0 and turning autonomous, self-directed “play” into boring, uninspiring “work”.
Tip: Look within for inspiration, not with-out.
6. What’s your line?
As Pink points out in the book, “A great man is one sentence”. Let this be your guiding light — one single line that encapsulates what it is your writing is trying to achieve. Refer to it in times of stress or elation and see if it still applies.
Tip: My line is this “To simplify, contextualize and apply the takeaways from books I read in a 1500 word article on Medium”. What’s yours?
Our third drive is what makes our lives fulfilling, sustainable and pays the highest dividends. We may be working in Motivation 2.0 companies for our day-jobs but when writing as a side-hustle, autonomy and mastery are privileges that we should embrace — this is what gives us fulfillment. Creativity is painful and the “carrot and stick” approaches hinder it, short-term goals are achievable and even rewarding at first but will cause stress, burnout and a loss of productivity in the long run. As cited in the book, nurturing and cajoling our intrinsic motivation leads to enhanced output and satisfaction. But hey, what do I know — I’ve only been here for two weeks!
I’ve mainly applied the learnings from this book from a budding writer's perspective — it’s a lot more far-reaching than that, covering topics such as improving employee engagement and bringing up children in a Motivation 3.0 world and is an easy, holistic, positive and life-affirming read — unputdownable.