The Motivated Mind
Author: Dr Raj Persaud
In this fat volume Persaud examines what current and recent research tells us about what motivates the human mind to achieve happiness and fulfillment. On the way, he takes numerous detours into the byways of the human condition. Of course, it can be argued that any behaviour only occurs because the brain is motivated. Even procrastination needs motivation, as does sleeping.
Persaud takes a look at why women love risk takers, the downside of being a perfectionist control freak in relationships and the danger signs of work addiction, among many other fascinating topics. There are questionnaires to complete, and tests to do and simple tips which you can use in daily life.
The myth of the value of rewards is blown out of the water. We learn that rewarding people/children/rats and monkeys can actually de-motivate unless those rewards constantly increase. Complimenting a child for doing something the child enjoys doing - such as painting or singing - can increase the likelihood that the child will lose interest in that activity unless ever more compliments are forthcoming. Giving rewards can make people lose focus on the task itself.
Consider the position of the Wimbledon contender. To succeed, the tennis pro needs to be ‘in flow' focused exclusively on tennis itself, when playing in the final. If thoughts of the title and the money are too entangled with the playing of the tennis, our would-be champion can get distracted and pulled out of the flow state they really need. In effect, they are de-motivated.
The modern celebrity obsession neatly shows up how the desire for reward becomes an end in itself. When children were asked what they wanted to be famous for, few cared as long as they would be celebrities. Fame should be a by product of doing something well, not an end in itself. Of course, not every one who wants to be famous will make it, and this can lead to disappointment, loss of interest and de-motivation.
A very common behaviour also sharply highlights the problem with rewards. Everybody knows about procrastination. But just why is it so common a difficulty? The answer is that when there is no instant reward on the horizon, the activity itself gets put off until the threat of the consequences of not doing it is sufficiently strong to motivate the person to take action.
So it seems that most effective reward system is making the activity itself intrinsically rewarding. Some of the reward, at least, needs to come from within rather than from outside. Truly successful people forget all about the rewards of success and submerge themselves in the activity itself. This is true of ordinary working life, as well. Job satisfaction needs to be at least partly linked to enjoyment of and satisfaction with the work itself, not just financial reward.
Much of the research Persaud cites echoes common sense, but there are some rather more startling revelations, such as that there seems to be a reverse correlation between school academic success and long term life success. In fact, top academic achievers may be less likely to be top performers later in life in areas other than academia. Conversely, there seems to be a massive correlation between high school drop out and later business success. Entrepreneurs tend to 'go their own way', learn tacitly or instinctively and take risks - all characteristics not particularly encouraged by educational environments.
We see how great success can lead to depression and burn out and why very successful sports stars can make such boring interviewees - precisely because their lives are so focused as to be one dimensional. This book is not about encouraging ruthless ambition (although ambition and its consequences are discussed). Instead, it is about the needs we all have and how ‘success' and ‘achievement' fit in with overall fulfillment.
When psychologist Joe Griffin reviewed this book in The Human Givens journal, he said that it’s a book crying out for a Human Givens framework and without such an organizing idea it can indeed seem just a rag bag collection of facts and research findings. Nonetheless, psychological findings are fascinating and can inform us to make better decisions and develop greater understanding. Hopefully this book will make you really think about just what it is you want from life - and what you don’t. Well worth it.
Review by Mark Tyrrell