Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

09 MAY, 2013

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose: The Science of What Motivates Us, Animated

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“When the profit motive gets unmoored from the purpose motive, bad things happen.”

The question of how to avoid meaningless labor and instead find fulfilling work brimming with a sense of purpose is an enduring but, for many, elusive cultural ideal. Daniel Pink tackles the conundrum in this wonderful animation by the RSA — who have previously sketch-noted such fascinating pieces of cultural psychology as the truth about dishonesty, the power of introverts, where good ideas come from, what’s wrong with the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy, the broken industrial model of education, and how choice limits social change — based on his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (public library).

Pink shares the counterintuitive results of two studies that reveal the inner workings of what influences our behavior — and the half-truth of why money can’t buy us satisfaction:

The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table: Pay people enough so that they’re not thinking about money and they’re thinking about the work. Once you do that, it turns out there are three factors that the science shows lead to better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

In Drive, Pink goes on to illustrate why the traditional carrots-and-sticks paradigm of extrinsic reward and punishment doesn’t work, pointing instead to his trifecta of intrinsic motivators: Autonomy, or the desire to be self-directed; Mastery, or the itch to keep improving at something that’s important to us; and Purpose, the sense that what we do produces something transcendent or serves something meaningful beyond than ourselves.

Also of note is Pink’s TED talk on the subject:

In his follow-up to Drive, Pink dissects the secret of selling your ideas with his signature blend of counterintuitive science and practical psychology. Pair with his insights on how we construct our identity in a material world.

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09 MAY, 2013

David Foster Wallace’s Timeless Graduation Speech on the Meaning of Life, Adapted in a Short Film

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“The real value of a real education … has almost nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness.”

On May 21, 2005, David Foster Wallace got up before the graduating class of Kenyon college and delivered one of history’s most memorable commencement addresses. It wasn’t until Wallace’s death in 2008 that the speech took on a life of its own under the title This Is Water, and was even adapted into a short book. Now, the fine folks of The Glossary have remixed an abridged version of Wallace’s original audio with a sequence of aptly chosen images to give one pause:

UPDATE: The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust exemplifies everything that’s wrong with copyright law. What a shame, this travesty of cultural legacy.

The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude. But the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life-or-death importance.

Hear the full speech in its sublime entirety, along with transcript and highlights, here, then wash it down with Wallace on ambition and why writers write.

Thanks, Matt

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08 MAY, 2013

Our Objects, Ourselves

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“If one changes internally, one should not continue to live with the same objects.”

Last week’s meditation on the psychology of identity in a material world reminded me of a passage from The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947 (public library) — the same tome that gave us Nin on the meaning of life, why emotional excess is essential to creativity, and a prescient anecdote of gun control failure.

In September of 1944, amidst the physical and spiritual devastation of WWII, Nin writes in her diary:

The physical as a symbol of the spiritual world. The people who keep old rags, old useless objects, who hoard, accumulate: are they also keepers and hoarders of old ideas, useless information, lovers of the past only, even in its form of detritus?

[…]

I have the opposite obsession. In order to change skins, evolve into new cycles, I feel one has to learn to discard. If one changes internally, one should not continue to live with the same objects. They reflect one’s mind and psyche of yesterday. I throw away what has no dynamic, living use. I keep nothing to remind me of the passage of time, deterioration, loss, shriveling.

And yet we attach enormous significance to objects. But perhaps Henry Miller, Nin’s longtime lover and friend, had it right after all when he observed that “all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis.”

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