felix jamestin.
is the curious sort.
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 seperates 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 of.