Understanding the psychology that drives human motivation can be tricky. Some theorists, like Abraham Maslow, have suggested that our motivation is fairly predictable and transitions from basic (i.e. finding food and water on a daily basis), to more complex and unique as we strive to find our own unique meanings to life (and become “self-actualized”). Other behavioral psychologists think in more primitive, reinforcing ways when it comes to motivation — we do things that feel good, and stay away from doing things that cause pain. The reality is that human motivation is not something that is easily understood, and our reasons for doing (and not doing) things are dependent on many different variables. There are some common denominators, however, and by using what we do know as it relates to human motivation we in turn increase the chances for future success and personal happiness.
The importance of creating challenges & human motivation
When it comes to setting future goals, it’s important to consider how challenging your goals will be constructed. Create goals that are too simple and goal perseverance suffers. Ironically, goals that are too difficult also negatively impact goal commitment and attainment. The key, therefore, is to think about how to create future goals that are challenging in nature in order for motivation to remain at a high level.
When I work with athletes one of the first things I do when evaluating their goals is to talk about the level of challenge they experience with their goals. In some cases I find that the goals are so basic that goal commitment decreases almost from day 1. With other clients, I find that their goals are so difficult that they never really believed they could reach them — and put in poor effort as a result. Getting it just right —- making goals challenging enough to keep focus and motivation high — is something well worth the effort, and will dramatically increase the chances for significant human growth and success in the future.
Locking in to the ZONE
Setting challenging goals offers another important advantage when it comes to maximizing your talents — specifically, it allows you to experience Flow, or as athletes call it, the zone. Being in Flow allows us to experience better focus, motivation, and resiliency, all qualities that increase the odds that we will reach our future goals. Having to work hard at something piques our interest, allowing us to concentrate at a high level and finish, or solve, important tasks.
To further this point you might think of a sports example — if you compete against a team that hasn’t won a game all season, it’s doubtful you will have the same focus as you would against a team that is slightly better than you. Similarly, if you are asked to compete against a world championship team and you are part of a truly terrible team, it’s just as doubtful that you will remain focused very long. Again, playing against competition that is challenging allows you to experience excitement, motivation, focus, and resiliency.
Developing challenging life goals and paradigms is well worth our effort if we truly want to reach our full human potential. Setting future goals that are either too easy or too difficult prevents us from taking full advantage of our mental toughness and abilities, making it very worthwhile to think through goals so that they keep your interest.