Prioritizing meaning over pleasure

When I decided to write the Civil Services, I uncomplainingly slogged for 7 months. It was certainly not pleasurable in the normal sense and yet I was super-motivated.

We often hear that humans are ONLY motivated to do pleasurable things — it is plain wrong.

Have you not struggled for months preparing for an exam, a job interview, or pursuing a goal you cared about?

Personally, none of the jobs I have done have been pleasurable and yet, I was very motivated to do them.

What is the pleasure in standing on the road the whole night to prevent a communal riot? Or to work till 2 am just to give a PowerPoint deck that extra polish? Or to slog for years without salary to build a startup?

99% of things in life are not fun — yet we are motivated enough to do them willingly. Why?

The secret of motivation lies in a chemical called dopamine. Our brain releases dopamine not just when we feel pleasure but also when we feel that we are making progress — when we are on the right track, towards something we care about.

That is what makes humans different — we have the ability to prioritize meaning over pleasure.

No other species runs 100 miles just to prove that they can do it, and yet ultra-marathoners do it all the time. Why? Because that is their identity — long-distance running and defying the boundaries of pain defines their sense of self.

Let us stop looking for motivation outside. The most powerful source of motivation is inside us — our identity; who we believe we are.

Who we believe we are, determines what we end up doing. Change that belief, and you will change your life.

– Rajan


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