Satisfied Needs Do Not Motivate

As I slowly but surely make my way through The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, I’m coming across more and more important life lessons. One of the quotes that I’ve recently come across in the book tells me that satisfied needs do not motivate.

Think about that for a moment. How often have you tried to motivate yourself or someone else with a reward that really adds minimal value? If you just finished a hearty and fulfilling steak dinner, how motivated are you going to be for another fantastic cut of meat? How motivated are you going to be to eat something else? The same kind of philosophy applies to other parts of our lives too.

Absolutely, we should all work toward realizing our potentials, but you also have to recognize that you’re not going to motivate yourself with a need that is already satisfied. It’s easy to think that more money will make you happier, but there is a certain threshold where more money doesn’t really bring more happiness, just as a marginally better house isn’t going to make you that much happier either. Your goals (and their associated rewards) have to fulfill a need that has not yet been satisfied.

We are motivated by that which we do not have. We are motivated by the areas in our lives where we feel we might be lacking. In psychology, I studied Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (wiki). If you’ve already moved halfway up that pyramid, you’re not going to be motivated with more food or more job security. You’re already there. You’re going to be motivated with respect and creativity instead.

There is a reason why some people choose to leave their jobs for lower-paying opportunities elsewhere. The slight drop in income is “worth it” when they are afforded greater creative freedom, a greater sense of achievement, and greater self-esteem. They are more satisfied with the new opportunity, because their “lower” needs have already been met. They seek to have the “higher” needs addressed.

And I suppose that’s how I found myself pursuing my freelance writing career. I’m not rich, by any means, but my basic needs are largely met. The needs higher up on Maslow’s hierarchy are what motivate me. They are what get me up in the morning and keep me moving forward.