Behavioral Psychology

Doing Something For Yourself And Motivation

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A common sentiment is “I want to do something for myself.” From working a job whose main purpose is to help the bottom line of someone else to parenting whose main purpose is to raise someone else, you may have come to feel like your existential needs have taken a back seat. Even when these decisions are freely made it’s easy to start to feel like an important element is missing, that the chance to self-actualize is being submerged under duties and responsibilities.

Actually it’s a humanistic ideal that humans are ends in themselves, that they should never be used as means for the ends of someone else, but this is exactly what happens to just about everyone in one form or another in our modern world. We all have that inner striving though, potentialities waiting to be developed, and it’s natural to feel a nagging sense of discomfort or even guilt about not developing these potentialities. But the social environment tends to make us question these natural feelings, instilling us with a competing sense of guilt precisely for wanting to self-actualize, calling this desire selfish. A market economy needs the majority of its citizens to be worker drones for the economy to keep functioning smoothly, and worker drones don’t worry about themselves they worry about the hive.

You don’t have to upset the whole balance of your life to do something for yourself though, you don’t have to quit your job or give your kids up for adoption, you just have to choose an activity or pastime that is primarily meant for your own human growth, something that gives you the chance to develop your unique potentialities, and dedicate yourself to this activity or pastime, sticking with it through thick and thin to see where it takes you down the line.

Sticking with it is where most people encounter problems. They yearn to do something for themselves but once they actually do they find that their motivation levels flag and then they find an acceptable rationalization to give up. Why? Because when you do something for yourself you no longer get the same reinforcements from the social environment, positive reinforcements like monetary rewards, praise, or encouragement and negative reinforcements like threats or not wanting to let others down. These reinforcements make continued behavior likely, and when they disappear into thin air you find yourself lost, unsure of how to proceed, lacking in motivation since it now has to come primarily from within you instead of from the social environment where you are accustomed to receiving it.

Becoming consciously aware that your motivation levels will probably flag due to a sudden lack of reinforcements from the social environment will help strengthen your resolve. You can think about ways to cultivate that internal fire, what yogis call tapas. One way is to start positively reinforcing yourself. But really the most important thing you can do is to dedicate yourself completely from the beginning, to be aware that the decision to do something for yourself implies a lack of reinforcements from the social environment. Most of the people around you will not have a vested interest in what you’re doing if it doesn’t affect them and will therefore cease reinforcing you. But that’s okay, if you stick with it they’ll start to take notice as you approach mastery, and much more importantly you’ll feel like you’re doing something to fulfill your unique destiny through your self-actualization, not just helping to fulfill the destines of everybody else.