Motivation vs. Intention

In the linear-rational world we all like to think we inhabit behaviours routinely follow well formed intentions.

We say we want to do something, we then go and do it. Simple.

You might say “I’m hungry, I’m going to go eat”, you might then go eat and thus confirm to yourself the logic of Intentions –> Behaviour.

This a delusion. 

We’ve crafted a very clever cultural narrative around teleological behaviours and we are singularly convinced that there is something inside us – we call it free will – that drives our behaviour. This view is so deeply ingrained in our cultural psyche that to question it is to reveal yourself as a raving lunatic. Yet the idea of some non-physical thing inside our heads directing our actions in response to some ethereal will stands in stark defiance of all known natural laws; biological, physical, and chemical.

You see we intend to do many things. We intend to eat healthier. Go running. Buy that book. Book that holiday. Quit that job. Order that pizza. Buy that shirt. Watch that film. Paint that room.

We spend a lot of time telling ourselves all the things we intend to do.

These intentions are useless. Saying “I’m going to read that book” is functionally equivalent to saying “I’m going to fly to Venus”. The outcome of reading a book and going to Venus are equally unlikely.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating; We behave in response to environmental and historical contingencies. 

In other words we have to be motivated to behave in a certain way. For example all logic tells us eating healthier is better. Yet we sit down and tuck into an XL Bacon Double Cheeseburger more often than we should. Why? We are not motivated to eat healthier. We may have had bad experiences in the past (Tofu…) or spent months starving ourselves only to put on a pound or two (trust me…it happens). Yet every goddamn mouthful of the burger is blissful. It’s always there. Always tasty. Always cheap. It’s a guaranteed good feeling.

We have to be motivated in order to change our behaviour and motivation is derived from the environment, not the stories we tell ourselves.

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