FAQs / There is no doubt that people learn better when they are “self-motivated,” but if motivation was all it took, everyone would have six-pack abs and an almost complete absence of fat tissue. Some things are hard, including math and science beyond a certain point, and some external motivation is required by a lot of people. Right?

Self-motivation is one of those terms that has many facets, and thus varying implications. In the book “The Path of Least Resistance,” Robert Fritz reveals some interesting layers of meaning, including the critical importance of understanding why one is motivated toward a certain end. Do you want to get good grades to please Mom and Dad, or do you want to get good grades in order to get into Harvard? And do you want to go to Harvard because you like what is offered there, especially in your area of interest, or because you want the prestige of having matriculated there? Or is it because your sweetheart just got in and you want to be re-united there? Similarly, do you want six-pack abs because you think they’ll make you look sexy and more attractive, or because they are an indicator of greater strength in the core, meaning you will be able to work harder without straining your back?

Self-motivation is most relevant when we are talking about core values, à la Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy—things that you want just because you want them, not because they will make it easier to get other things, especially the esteem of others. If you really want to understand and be able to use certain math and science principles, you will be willing to do the work of mastering them—and the work, however “hard” it may be, well might be enjoyable as you do it. Otherwise, it does not mean you are not lazy; it just means you didn’t want those things badly enough, and that should be your rightful choice.

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