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Motivation is for lab rats: Humans need greatness

Motivation is nothing but giving someone a motive to do something. The word motive comes from the Latin “movere,” and it means “to move.” We want people to go in a certain direction. When we try to motivate ourselves in that manner, we start counting all the various motives why we should do a certain thing. How many times have we done a list of motives to convince ourselves that something was worth doing and yet we have not done it? Motivation without a heart is not sufficient. Pumping motivation into someone is not sustainable in the long-run. Why does it not work? For a very simple, yet fundamental, reason: We are not lab rats. We are humans that infinitely transcend the animal nature and cannot be tricked into doing stuff (at least not for a long period of time). We are not satisfied with mere survival or satisfaction of needs, for once we satisfy them we rapidly get bored, or start to despise our source of pleasure and satisfaction, sometimes even triggering a bad disposition and depression.

We love things that are great and will expand the human possibility. We want our actions to become a source of light for ourselves and mankind. The Maslow pyramid does not consider our need to be virtuous, heroic and our love for adventure, the sense of mission in accomplishing a call. We aspire for the greatest Good we are able to attain. And, before anyone asks: No, this is not a Freudian wish to show off or brag about one's achievements. This greatness, in my view, is connected to humility and simplicity, for it is beyond the individual. One of the most prominent mark of great people is simplicity, although their purpose is deeply personal, it surpasses their selfish interests.

In that being said, we need to be aware of two orders of motivation, because where we place the motor for action makes all the difference. The first order is the strongest, called Intrinsic/Transcendent, and the second, Extrinsic/Immanent, the weakest. The first one is a fundamental human need, the second can only be complementary. If we do not adjust these two orders and place them in the right priority, then we run the risk of corrupting human action, reducing it to mere stimuli, without invention, adventure and virtuous action, as if we were objects and the only difference between humans and rats were the quantity and complexity of cells.

First order of Motivation (Reason)


Based on an internal reason connected to feelings, personality and ideals. The source of motivation is entrenched in our spiritual reality, highly personal, connected to who I am and why I exist.


Transcendence is a word that comes from Latin and means “to climb over” or “to go beyond.” It goes beyond the daily routine and the immediate world of phenomena. I want to reach an ideal that goes further, that transcends what I am doing right now and is bigger than myself. It is not limited to animal needs, but connected to human achievement, purpose, mission, journey, adventure and dissolution of ego.


Second order of motivation (Stimuli)


Motivation based on external stimuli of rewards and punishment. We give and take points, keeping score, and create systems to control behavior and manage outcomes. The motivation source is external.


Immanent comes from Latin and means ““to stay, to remain within” and it is the contrary of transcendent. It is limited to the day to day actions, chained to stuff, to the things as we see them today, This is Maslow pyramid all the way through. No great ideal and virtue is there, just the gains we can harvest at each step of a career. This vision of human beings considers people as an accumulation of many layers of needs that must be satisfied and tries to motivate them with external objects, giving them more security, more money, more recognition and etc. People are stuck on hows, and whats, procedures, methods, protocols and etc. It is connected to pleasure search and pain avoidance, routine and planning, actions that will generally fortify ego.

How do we adjust these two orders of motivation? Simple, but not easy: By changing the way we think. We need a paradigm shift and only through a deep and serious reflection are we able to do it, in ourselves and within the scope of action of our companies. We should be careful not to treat people and ourselves as lab rats. This was the paradigm of the 20th century, that tried to tame and manage life in absolute control. We need to move beyond that. Otherwise, we will keep spinning around the same axis, trying to motivate and force things and people, as if they needed only to be managed. Second step would be putting things in order. Give priority to the first kind of motivation. Get your essence and purpose right, and then incorporate that into the operational details. In a personal level I highly recommend logotherapy, as to adjust one's purpose in life, and for companies a branding process such as we have at Fire Can Burn.

A final observation: There is no sin in using the second order of motivation, depending on how we use it, it can be positive and complementary. The second order helps to maintain the first, as long as we are aware of its limitations and do it coupled with a deeper reason. We need to consider the motivation based on money, recognition and etc. only as a symbol or sign for effort, as a positive gratification during a great journey. But it is a mistake to reduce human action just to stimuli or making these external prizes as the primary and only reason why people would do things.

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