Felix Jamestin's Blog
A mental model of motivation

I like rabbit holes. especially, the kind where you go deep into something and emerge with a better, deeper understanding of it.

One such long-standing curiosity of mine has been to understand what motivates people.


I've been fortunate to work with a few incredibly talented people, and i'm convinced that what separates them is their drive towards learning, towards getting things done.

Unfortunately, existing theories on motivation all suffer from one drawback – they're hard to apply in practise.

Hence, i set out to create a model that combines existing theory with my own experience. one that can be used as a map to increase your motivation and make progress.

An actionable model of motivation

Motivation depends on 3 aspects – your initial state, the vision/end-state you want to reach and the path along the way.

Each of these comprise smaller components that I've listed below. 

1. Initial state = expectancy + skills + resources

  • Expectancy: your belief in achieving an outcome if you put in the effort – i.e. if i do x, then y will happen. this is a function of your self-image and of past success.
  • Skills: the set of skills you need for the goal.
  • Resources: this includes time, money, etc.

2. End state = better you + better world

  • Better you: you after you reach your goal; a you that’s more skilled, popular, rich, etc.
  • Better world: how your goal impacts the world. this larger purpose is what is commonly referred to as meaning.

3. The path = feedback + empathy + control

  • Feedback: the knowledge that you're making progress towards your goal.
  • Empathy: the knowledge that others have experienced similar challenges.
  • ‍Control: the freedom you have to take your own decisions along the path.

How to use the model

Identify the area that needs help and work on it. here are a few checks to get you started:

  • Better you, better world: are these clear? Are these aligned to your values? Are these a large enough improvement from today? Get clarity.
  • Expectancy: does it seem doable? Work your way up by succeeding at smaller challenges.
  • Skills: are these commensurate to your goal? Identify & learn what's missing.
  • Resources: is there sufficient time, money? Cut scope & reallocate time.
  • Feedback: feel like you're making progress? Break the goal into small wins.
  • Empathy: feeling overwhelmed? Seek others in similar situations from amongst friends & communities. Biographies work too.
  • Control: are decisions yours? ...Remember how games stop being fun when you’re not free to make your own moves...
  • And finally, kickstarting the engine: action creates motivation. Just start.

I've found that unlocking motivation is often as simple as identifying deficient areas using the model. I hope it helps you do so, too.

  1. Sources that helped arrive at this: edward decikathy sierra, theories on motivation by abraham maslow, b.f skinner & victor vroom.
  2. I subscribe to the notion of man as a goal-striving machine. People with purpose seem a lot more alive than those without.
  3. There seem to be two origins for the end-states/goals you desire – a. innate drives (status, sex/reproduction, etc) and more interestingly b. mimetic drives (you desire what your fellow man does. hence the adage of you being the 5 people you spend most time with.)
  4. This applies to company & product building as well. Good products are useful, but great products help you become a better you. Likewise, great companies have an inspiring better-world mission.
  5. I assume that fundamental factors such as well-being & belonging are taken care of.