1: Author Steven Kotler wakes up every day at 4 am and starts writing.  

“Does this demand grit?” he asks in his book The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer.

“Occasionally,” he writes. “But mostly, grit takes care of itself because I have curiosity, passion, and purpose. When I wake up, I’m excited to see where the words will take me. Even on those crappy nights when I wake up in a panic, I retaliate by writing. Writing is where I run when I need to run. My craft is my salvation. And if you talk to anyone who has tackled the impossible, you’ll hear a similar tale.”

Yesterday, we began looking at the four cognitive abilities we will need on our path to peak performance: (1) motivation, (2) learning, (3) creativity, and (4) flow. “Whenever we see the impossible become possible, we are witnessing the end result of a quartet of skills,” notes Steven, “expertly applied and significantly amplified.”

2: We start with motivation. And the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.  

“Extrinsic drivers are rewards that are external to ourselves,” Steven notes. “These are things like money, fame, and sex, and they’re definitely potent. Money translates into food, clothing, and shelter, so the brain treats our desire for it as a basic survival need. Fame might seem trivial, but famous people often have significantly more access to resources—food, water, shelter, mates, and so on—so we’re wired to want it. And sex is the only way for humans to win evolution’s game of survival, which is why sex sells and the bars are always packed on Friday night.”

Intrinsic drivers refer to behaviors that are driven by internal rewards. We engage in activities and behavior when intrinsically motivated because we find them interesting and internally satisfying. Intrinsic drivers, Steven tells us, include psychological and emotional forces such as curiosity, passion, purpose, autonomy, and mastery.  

3: For most of the past hundred years, scientists believed that extrinsic drivers were more potent than intrinsic drivers.

New research over the past few decades has demonstrated the power of intrinsic drivers. “What we now know is that there’s a motivational hierarchy at work,” Steven writes. “External drivers are fantastic, but only until we feel safe and secure—meaning that we have enough money to pay for food, clothing, and shelter and have a little left over for fun. In US dollars and today’s economy, the research shows that this is somewhere around $75,000 a year.  

“Measure happiness levels among Americans, as Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman discovered, and they rise in direct proportion to income, but only until we earn about $75,000 a year. After that point,” Steven writes, “happiness becomes untethered to income because, once we can meet our basic needs, the lure of all that stuff it took to meet them begins to lose its luster.”

At a certain point, the power of extrinsic drivers begins to fade, and intrinsic drivers become increasingly important. For example, with for-profit businesses, “once people feel fairly compensated for their time—meaning once that number starts to creep over $75,000 a year—big raises and annual bonuses won’t actually improve their productivity or performance,” Steven writes.  

Once this threshold is crossed, many team members value intrinsic rewards. “They want to be in control of their own time (autonomy), they want to work on projects that interest them (curiosity/passion), and they want to work on projects that matter (meaning and purpose),” Steven shares.

Taking a step back, this priority change is an example of evolutionary principles. “It’s not that evolution ever lets us stop playing the ‘get more resources’ game, it’s that our strategy evolves. Once baseline needs are met, we can devote ourselves to ways to get, well, you guessed it, seriously more resources—for yourself, for your family, for your tribe, for your species,” Steven observes.  

“As high-minded as something like “meaning and purpose” might seem as a driver, this is actually evolution’s way of saying: Okay, you’ve got enough resources for yourself and your family. Now it’s time to help your tribe or your species get more.”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: Consider what motivates me. Do these drivers tend to be intrinsic or extrinsic? Has this changed over time?

Action: Journal about what motivates me and why.

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