Nathanael Garrett Novosel, April 10 2024

What Drives You?

Understanding what motivates you is one of the most important things you can do to improve your sense of purpose in life. When you have a driving force, you will continue forward no matter what it takes. But how do you know what motivates you?

There are a few ways to determine this, but let’s start with what motivation is and what things can actually motivate you. Motivation is the drive built inside you to make a decision or take an action in your life toward a specific outcome. Motivation is the external factor that flames your desire, which is your inner drive that senses the difference between your current state and potential future state and causes you to move toward that potential future state. In essence, a motivating factor causes you to desire an outcome—i.e., a different future state—and, therefore, take action to realize it. Motivation can be a person, place, thing, or state of being, but it is always something that requires you to act to attain or maintain since, by definition, there has to be contrast between either the current state and future state or, in the case of maintenance, the desired future state and the undesired future state.

So let’s get into how to determine what motivates you. One of the easiest ways to tell is to see what causes you to get extremely emotional, such as someone hitting on your significant other, your child graduating from college, or you winning the Super Bowl. If you experience or imagine that scenario and become extremely emotional, that is something that motivates you because it indicates something that you really care about. Another way to tell is through your logic or reason of whether an improved state is either objectively or subjectively “better” to you, such as having more money, being praised by versus disapproved of by your parents, or having the periodic table memorized. If you either believe that your life would be better with that outcome or that by objective measures your quality of life would improve, it can be something that motivates you.

Note that subjectivity does come into play here. Money, for example, motivates everyone to some extent simply because they need it to survive in the modern world. However, once a certain amount is reached, it becomes hit or miss as to whether it will motivate someone further in terms of trying harder, working longer hours, and/or sacrificing other areas of life. The same can be said about common-but-not-universal motivating factors: getting a spouse or making him or her happy, being healthy and/or fit, having strong friendships, maintaining familial bonds, or gaining fame or social status. Those are all common reasons why people behave in certain ways in life, but they might not be the driving forces for your life decisions.

So there are a few more methodical ways to determine what drives you. One example is followed in The Meaning of Life: A Guide to Finding Your Life’s Purpose:

It’s that simple. Note that growth area categories include physical, financial, familial, social, relationship, professional, and communal growth (among others), so you can use those categories as ways to spur ideas as to areas of your life that you want to improve.

Another is by going “window shopping”—either in its strictest sense if you want to be motivated by a thing you want to obtain or in a looser sense if you want to go out to clubs to find a mate, job hunting to find your next job, or reading What Color Is Your Parachute? to browse possible majors and/or career paths. By exploring options that are available, you can see which strike your interest.

Finally, you can just observe in your daily life what gets you to do things you don’t want to do: what gets you out of the bed in the morning, what gets you to go to the gym, or what gets you to stop procrastinating. Those reasons in your mind that bust through your willpower weaknesses are the things that drive you.

You can do these processes formally or just whenever you want to understand your direction or purpose in life at the moment. You don’t always have to understand yourself, nor do you have to have one motivating force your entire life. You can move forward with faith/belief that things will be better as a substitute for pure drive, and you can always find something new to propel you forward in life. No matter what you do, however, finding what drives you can be very helpful in living a purposeful life: not only is it, by definition, a purpose, but it also helps you to make a decision or take action when you need something to keep you from stalling in life.

Written by

Nathanael Garrett Novosel


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