When I want to motivate myself, I open a cabinet. I’m inspired by air space–something that is sadly lacking in our cluttered house. With no air space in the cabinet, I create some by discarding items that have expired and stacking empty containers. Why is space so important? Because with more space, I can create order.

I’m also motivated by deadlines. When they’re far off, I work on a project slowly and really think it through. When they’re sudden (like tomorrow), stress hyperventilation gives me a workout that qualifies as an aerobic exercise.

Motivators can be classified as extrinsic (external rewards) or intrinsic (driven from within, like my desire to create order). I’m engaged most happily when the motivation is intrinsic. However, most motivators in my life are extrinsic: small-scale initiatives that have to be completed so my husband Steve and I can resolve the next crisis. Here are examples:

We were rushing out of the house to meet friends for dinner. Steve realized he’d forgotten something and tried to go back in, but the doorknob broke off in his hand. Cracked. Evidently it didn’t like freezing weather. The repair required a side trip to a hardware store and the shivering installation of a new doorknob. Extrinsic motivator.

The temperature’s recent plunge into the single digits had us worried about our two geriatric chickens who live in a backyard coop. Steve had previously hung a light in the coop to warm it slightly, but the chickens were freaked by it to the point that they stayed outside in the cold all night. After stewing over what to do, we sneaked outside to the coop, wrestled the nesting box open, snatched the chickens, put them in a waxed cardboard cat crate with air holes and two inches of wood shavings, and set them in a cool but temperature-controlled back room for the night. During the day, they stayed in the coop, but for the next four nights, they went to their temporary digs. Another extrinsic motivator. And what about the chicken’s water freezing and the ice splitting its container? We’re low-budget people, so Steve modified a cinderblock to install a light bulb inside it. We put the new chicken waterer on the heated block, then watched the water freeze again. After redrilling the cinderblock to raise the bulb closer to the waterer and upping the bulb wattage, only the water at the rim froze, and it froze more slowly. Later, Steve glued the split in the old chicken waterer for backup, and we resolved to watch the state of the water more carefully. Yet another extrinsic motivator.

On the other hand, why do I write? To better understand what I think, to create order, to better appreciate the world. Why do I write these columns? By looking at things differently, maybe readers and I can make more sense of a small slice of our world. The motivator? Intrinsic, intrinsic, intrinsic.

Which is more satisfying—intrinsic or extrinsic? It depends on interests, time constraints, goals, frustration levels, preparedness, service orientation, skills, and more. Regardless of the stimuli, people have to be motivated to action and getting the right things done is how the human race moves forward. So what does this mean to us? It means Steve and I are repeatedly checking our doorknobs, watching the thermometer and trying not to scare the chickens. It also means that we should all be paying closer attention to our intrinsic motivators and our individual notions of order so we can become happier, more fulfilled people.

About the author: When she’s not trying to squeeze past the next crisis, Linda Lemery llemery@averett.edu works as Circulation Manager at Averett University’s Mary B. Blount Library in Danville. She welcomes reader comments.

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