Thinking about why people do what they do has been a constant in the life of Duke psych professor Dan Ariely. As an 18-year-old, Ariely, who was born in the U.S. but grew up in Israel, suffered significant burns after standing too close to an exploding magnesium flare. As he recovered, he contemplated how to move forward post-accident; those insights are the backbone of his new book, Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations. The text, which expands on a TEDx talk Ariely gave in 2014, delves into how we can motivate ourselves in our daily lives in order to maximize our overall potential.
What don’t we understand about motivation?
I often say being motivated means getting people to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Being motivated by a “right reason” isn’t effective. We need to realize that motivation and joy are intertwined, then learn how to tap into that in the best possible way—which means finding something in the short term that will motivate us to behave. Long-term happiness and well-being aren’t enough.
In terms of working out—which isn’t always fun—how does a person stay motivated?
It’s very hard for people to find true, deep joy in exercising, but that doesn’t mean they should give up. People generally want to exercise several times a week, but it can be difficult to keep track of that. What I’ve found is that it’s necessary to dedicate time for some sort of activity every day. Sometimes it’ll be vigorous, and sometimes it’ll be walking or another light activity. A habit becomes much easier to create when it’s part of the schedule for a long time and not just a dozen days a month.
How do you turn exercise from something that’s extrinsic to something intrinsic—that’s really part of us?
When I started running a few years ago, someone suggested I allocate 40 minutes to it—if I was tired, I walked; if I had a bit more energy, I started running. The time, and not the distance, became the benchmark. This routine allowed me to develop a good habit over time. We all have lots of intentions. Turning good intentions into something we act on turns them into something larger and more meaningful.
You can purchase Dan Ariely’s book, Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, here.