Using the “Puzzle of Motivation” to help foster vocations

By Father Matthew Wertin
Director of Vocations

Quite often it happens, when we know we ought to do something, because it’s important and good for us, but we simply don’t do it because we lack the proper motivation.  In one of the most popular TED talks of all time (with over 5.7 million views; the video is posted at the end of this article), Dan Pink speaks about “the puzzle of motivation.”  He mentions how using a “carrot” or a “stick,” offering a reward or threatening punishment, not only doesn’t work, but may even do harm.  Most of us typically continue living the same way, without any positive change in the direction we need to grow, which is a “functional fixedness.”  Not overcoming this keeps many people from hearing and answering God’s call.

“Intrinsic motivation,” on the other hand, actually taps into the “building blocks of an entirely new operating system”: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.  Autonomy is the urge to direct our own lives (i.e. “I do not wish to be a puppet for someone to control.”); Mastery is the desire to get better and better at something that matters (“I have no interest in being a coach potato my whole life.”); Purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves (“I refuse to get swept away by trivial things.”).  Thus, at our core is the amazingly powerful desire: wanting to be something more, able to do something more, living a life that is worth something more!

Ultimately, Jesus becomes our primary motivation for everything we are and do.  He gives us our true identity (Autonomy), helps us become really good at helping others (Mastery), and gives our lives a whole new, wonderful direction (Purpose).  What Jesus has for us is a real and lasting love, the kind that when you have it you don’t care so much about lesser things.  This must happen with spouses for each other, with parents and their children, with priests and their people, and between friends.  It only works when we say: “there is someone else here besides me who needs my attention, my time and energy, and it is a joy to make the necessary sacrifices!”

 We might be involved in the parish at some level, and that’s good, but is it really good enough? We’re made for more, and once we have the right kind of motivation, it will be up to us to choose to seek it out and embrace it, with the conviction that: “God has created me to do Him some definite service.  He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.  I have my mission.  I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.  I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.   He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good; I shall do His work”  (John Henry Cardinal Newman).

Watch the TED video, "The Puzzle of Motivation" by Dan Pink