Three Keys To Motivation And It Has Little To Do With Money

When life is so good in America, it's easy to slack off. Here are three keys to motivation. None of them have much to do about money.

Here's a short 10 minute video I stumbled upon which eerily highlights several things I do and why (ie play guitar). The video also touches upon reasons why some people are willing to do things for free. While others strongly consider giving up big salaries to just work on a hobby.

When I first wrote this post in 2010, I was already beginning to try a find away out of finance. This video helped me think of ways to get out. Ultimately, I negotiated a severance after 11 years and left in 2012.

Three Keys To Motivation

I find myself agreeing with pretty much everything the video has to say.  Money has become a secondary motivational factor for me over the past several years. 

Three Keys To Motivation

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

Something just happened where I've become satisfied in making what I make, oh my! Sure, I have a “make $1 million bucks” goal for 2010, but that's really just one of those fun, see if I can do it goals.  Autonomy, mastery, and purpose are things I look forward to now.

Progress is a wonderful feeling, which is why I try and play a musical instrument and sing in my free time.  Music also helps fill the void when I'm injured due to sports. 

Going from not knowing the chords and the words of a song, to mastering a tune from memory that's good enough to record is an unbelievable sense of accomplishment. 

I've been working on getting the finger picking of Pearl Jam's “Just Breathe” for the past month, and I can't seem to get it right.  But dammit, I'm going to keep practicing because it's such a beautiful song!

After you have a certain amount of money and experience, you definitely want autonomy.  You're no longer a fresh college grad that is constantly micro-managed by senior colleagues. 

A sure fire way for a company to lose a star employee is to restrict their freedom and ignore their good work

Blogging Has Given Me All Three

Blogging is an incredible example of autonomy. Nobody is going to tell me what to write and that's so liberating. I'll thrive and fade with my decisions alone.

Purpose is something that can either be questioned before you start your journey or after. Having purpose is one of the most important keys to motivation. Purpose is why I'm still blogging 3X a week since 2009!

You can be a high school or college student who has no freaking idea what you're supposed to do in life. 

Or, you can be a 20 year veteran in the workforce who has built a great resume, as well as financial security, but realize you're middle aged now and wonder if there's more to life since you've already conquered insecurity, be it financial or otherwise.

The purpose of this site was never to make money, even though it now makes a good amount. The purpose was to just create something tangible that serves as a creative outlet for someone who was once creative.  I want to be that kid in pottery class again, molding that wet clay on a rapidly rotating swivel stick.

Finally, after writing 2,000+ articles since 2009, I have mastery. It feels great to be in the top 1% in something.

Readers, what are several motivating factors for you in your life or in your job? Have you noticed money increase or decrease in importance as a motivational factor? Share with us your keys to motivation.


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Sam @ Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

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33 thoughts on “Three Keys To Motivation And It Has Little To Do With Money”

  1. You’re lucky to not have to worry so much about salary anymore! That’s a great feeling to have I must imagine. Do know that non profit sector at times can be frustrating to deal with the red tape, but don’t let that stop you from pursuing what you want to do! Best, Sam

  2. Hi Sam, Don’t tell anyone, but my life is almost perfect; Great marriage, job(s) that are fulfilling, incredibly enjoyable blogging experience, fun and hobbies too. + like Dr. Dean said, service to others too! Money up to a point is good, but doing what you love is awesome. Pair what you love with a job and there’s nothing better! Even problems are more manageable balanced with fulfilling activities. Best regards, Barb

  3. Roshawn @ Watson Inc

    Money as a secondary motivator. I can dig that. Although we are working towards financial independence, something resonated inwardly when we became debt free, increased our liquidity, and began investments a couple of years ago. Doing stupid (i.e. financing a car) brought temporal joy, but responsibly hitting financial goals tremendously reduced our stress and increased our overall satisfaction. Other issues, such as mastery, did come to the forefront (i.e. “why can’t I get this assay to work?” or “how can I wow this panel of scientists?” or “are my values reflected in how I carry myself,” etc). Thus, I am in agreement that it is not all about the money. This isn’t a lack of respect for it but rather placing money in its place. Someone much wiser said “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Making money or “the lack of money” your God (your sole focus) rarely results in a productive and fulfilled life IMHO. Regards, Shawn

    BTW, I fixed comments for all future posts. Thanks for the heads up!

  4. Jon DeGroff

    I love that video…I came across it a few weeks ago and it really brought things home for me.
    I feel the same way: It’s not MONEY that motivates me-it’s more about success and being able to not worry about the things I’ve had to worry about over the past five years. Of course, that will take money, but money is my secondary motivator, not primary.

    Thanks for posting. Great stuff.

  5. Oh man….freakin awesome video Sam! I love this kind of stuff!

    I am totally on board with the whole purpose stuff. I had gotten to that point in my nursing career, where yeah, I am earning good money, but this stuff isn’t fun for me anymore. Luckily for me, we had our first child, and have since quit to stay at home with our babe.

    Now, I am looking to channel the stuff that I love to do, and focus on that. I used to think that I had to focus on the money part, which I do believe is important too. But what if doing what I love could bring in the money too? That’s where my focus has shifted, and it feels so good to me now. Shift the focus to purpose, and the money will follow.

  6. Nice article, FS. I like this passage especially:
    “Purpose is something that can either be questioned before you start your journey or after. You can be a high school or college student who has no freaking idea what you’re supposed to do in life. Or, you can be a 20 year veteran in the workforce who has built a great resume, as well as financial security, but realize you’re middle aged now and wonder if there’s more to life since you’ve already conquered insecurity, be it financial or otherwise.”

    I’m well into my journey and just recently starting questioning my purpose. I realize after working in my field for about 12 years and gaining financial security I’m starting to become that field and lose a part of my personality. So I started to pursue outside hobbies like creating things – furniture, art, writing – I can pass down to my kids as a way to express myself and redevelop who I am.

    1. Hi Kevin – Good to hear from you mate. Sounds like we are leading similar lives. Our hobbies help our creative release, and we continue to find new purpose outside of our daily lives.

  7. The internal paradox I have is that with work, I would like to take on a job that gives the maximum compensation for the least effort. This inevitably drives me to higher levels of management as the rewards rise much more than the level of effort (after working 10-12 hours a day you can’t put in more hours but can get more compensation).

    The other side of the paradox is that if money comes too easy – like a lottery win – then I don’t value the money since there was no effort to get it.

    The video was good but the conclusion of the experiment is not right. I do agree that high pressure is an inhibitor to creative and deep thinking. However the measure of the test is incorrect. People in higher paying jobs are rewarded over many months so there is enough ‘down time’ to be thinking about problem solving and not just about the size of the bonus. As that Australian software company demonstrated it’s possible to have ‘time out’ days for problem solving while still maintaining the challenges of surviving in a competitive industry.


    1. That’s an interesting paradox Mike. I guess you just want a higher return on effort, which is probably everyone’s goal. But, the higher you go, the more impactful your decisions, so whatever you are getting paid is worth it, otherwise it wouldn’t be so.

      Free market economy!

  8. I just had an “Ah, Ha!” moment. I can use this for teaching and motivating kids! Time magazine recently published an article about paying kids for better grades. Their findings were very similar to what this video mentioned: do this for that worked. For example, if a kid read a book, they earned $2.00. The kids participating in the study read lots of books and earned money. (Now, did the kids analyze what they read, probably not.) However, money didn’t raise test scores at all in a similar study, a more cognitive function. So now I’m thinking, how can I create autonomy in my class? How can I get them to want to master a skill? How can I instill in them that learning something is purposeful? Hmmm…..

    1. While this is excellent training for “The Office”, what will likely also obtain is that these kids will now be LESS likely to read books if they stop getting paid than they were before. Extrinsic (reward) motivation tends to destroy intrinsic motivation.

    2. What about telling stories of what happens when someone does NOT study, read, write, do what you say? You can give examples of downtrodden folk who thought it was cooler to skip class, do drugs, hang out with the wrong crowd etc. Highlight how their life is like. Instill some reality in them.

      Let the kids know that what they are doing in class has a DIRECT PURPOSE is their lives. So often when I was a kid, I asked myself what the heck is the point of studying math, or biology, or whatever. I thought education was overrated. I know think that education is THE MOST IMPORTANT variable to life.

      Best, Sam

      1. This is interesting and something I have been studying. It turns out that people
        are more likely to change their behavior if you tell them the bad outcomes
        of their actions rather than telling them how the change will be good for them.

        This contradicts pop psychology which typically wants a positive spin
        on everything.

        1. Aaron @ Clarifinancial

          I’ve been thinking about switching over and focusing on avoidance, but I can’t seem to see the bright side;)

  9. This is a good question. I don’t know what motivates me to be honest. I do not work outside the home. Sure, I would like to make money blogging, but money does not drive me to write. If it did, I would have stopped after the first month!

    Financially, my impact is investing what we have, and trying to make what we take in last as long as possible. Having the ability to go on a nice family vacation is very important to all of us, along with getting our mortgage paid down. Now that I write about it, I guess financial independence is what we are working toward, but my role is more of ‘conservor’ of wealth instead of ‘generator’, except for investment decisions.

    I need to spend more time thinking about this!

    1. I would have stopped blogging the first month as well if money was my motivating factor. If it was, I’d put up a lot of affiliate type posts, paid posts, and so forth. The funny thing though is that the money came anyway.

      Conservator of wealth is a good role to have!

  10. Great video. Money IS a motivator for me, but I don’t just want it given to me. I want to earn it, and do work that actually warrants good pay.

    Progress and Purpose are important too. The feeling of getting better at whatever you do is a great one. And doing it with a sense of purpose bigger than yourself will spur you along. The WHY is important.

    1. You make a good point about NOT wanting it given to you, but earned. I feel the same way. It’s not the same getting money from mommy or daddy, or a job via connections as examples.

  11. first of all, wow I wish I had handwriting and drawing skills like that artist! what a beautiful and interesting video. I’ve never thought about doing business that way. It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking money is the only motivation for working, especially since I don’t love my job. I definitely have better days when I feel what I’m doing is for a direct purpose and I have the flexibility I need to come up with my own ways to get to a working solution. Will I ever not want to get paid more money at work…hmm…probably not with my career path but maybe…hopefully. I’d love not to worry about feeling gypped when bonus time comes around. Anyway, I can definitely relate to doing things like music outside of work to get that sense of accomplishment and reward.

  12. What is interesting to watch is the growth of the few that understand the need for self-fulfillment, and serving others.

    Compare those to the masses that continue to be consumers and are self-focused.

    Freedom from money worries without a “cause” is unlikely to be any better than having to work for a living. It doesn’t have to be kumbaya, save the world, but you need a reason to get excited every day.

    And buying a bigger big screen is not usually a good enough reason.

  13. Aaron @ Clarifinancial

    That explains a whole lot of behaviors. For instance, using “financial adviser” as a big word, it’s interesting to note that the wealth management model (people who sell stuff along with others who sell other things) make the most money per adviser, but more and more advisers are flocking to a financial planning model (people who tell you what they think and charge you money for it). It’s no surprise that most of the big names try to emphasize the big carrot instead of the big idea.

    1. Hmmm, I don’t know much about the shift in money to specific types of advisers. Financial planning sounds good. I’d rather pay a set amount, and receive some advice.

  14. My motivation is Financial Independence. I like my job but I would like to know that I don’t have to rely on it. Take the handcuffs away.

    The Drive book and video you included is going around at our office. Human behaviors are so interesting. I wonder what the video would look like surrounding investment educations…

  15. Robert Muir

    A motivating for me is the desire for financial security (I want enough money to be earning enough money (without my labor) to feel secure about most things that could happen). After we paid off our debt and I had enough money to actually start thinking about investing it and making money from money, cash has actually increased in importance as a motivational factor.

    My current goal is to have enough money earning enough money to support the hobbies that I’m constantly coming up with.

    Jacob @ Early Retirement Extreme just posted a similar article discussing internal vs. external motivation.

    He would say that I had more than enough money already, to retire and dabble as much as I wanted; that I should use my intellect to come up with ways of pursuing my hobbies with very little money, rather than using money as a crutch. He’s right. Perhaps I’ll conquer my fear after internalizing enough of yours and his messages. :)

    Thanks for the RSAnimate video! I’d never heard of them before – very interesting method of using visual cues to assist learning from an audible source. Their recent video video on the “Crises of Capitalism” is fascinating and scary.

    1. Your welcome Rob! I don’t know much about your finances, and can’t tell how old you are in your Gravatar picture, but sounds like you really do have enough money to do whatever you please!

  16. No apparent connection to money anymore except as a binary trigger, that is, I care about whether I make it or not, but I do not care how much I make. Lemme splain: Obviously, for similar work, I’ll take the highest paying. I am just as likely to drop higher paying work for lower paying work which is different and more interesting.

    Another way to lose star employees is to make their work boring or meaningless.

    Insecurity drives a lot of our economy. As a recent reader told me, who have stockbrokers who make millions yet can’t change their tire and presumably, thus, don’t know much else other than how to make money. Who are they if they don’t have their high income? What can they do? You take away their resume and what do they have left? Our economy has turned them into a product with a specification sheet. I think people full well realize that they can easily be replaced with someone with better specs. Heck, you see it even in blogging. Apparently, our goal in life is now to become a “brand”. Man, I feel some religious exclamations are in order. A brand, by Jove! My goal in life should be to become more like Pepsi Cola?! On a related (insecurity)note, we have a substantial number of people who measure their self-worth or the worth of potential partners in terms of the quantity of their acquisitions or the SG&A on their personal balance sheets. They are probably afraid of a) either being found out; or b) not being able to keep up since that kind of performance is relative and there will always be someone who has more stuff or newer stuff.

    1. Interesting point you make about rich people who can’t do anything themselves.

      As you are retired, you’ve got all the autonomy in the world which sounds good. Looks like you are mastering sailing. What are some of your thoughts on the purpose portion of the video?

  17. That video is pure gold, Sam.

    Look at blogs and discussion boards. How many comments do they get on weekends (when people have lots of “free time”) compared to what they get on work days (when people are theoretically performing their jobs)? Very few. A large, large number of today’s workers are bored to death at their jobs. They stay for the money. But they are desperate to use their skills and can find happiness only when they find some outlet for their intelligence and creativity.

    These people would love to be making fantastic contributions to their employers. And of course that would make the employers wealthy. So what the heck is holding us back? When you look closely, you almost always find it is some form of politics. If one group at a company does too well, it makes other groups look bad. So the groups that try to encourage creativity have to cut back and fall in line with the standard procedures.

    The edge that we possess as a free market economy is that we are more innovative. But an economy that depends on innovation can never rest on its laurels. We always have to be pushing forward. Using solely money as a motivator worked yesterday. It does not work today. We will die unless this message breaks through.

    If it does break through, watch out! Our economy may take off in a way that no one today anticipates and in a way that it has never taken off before. It’s always darkest before the dawn. Our best days may very much be yet to come.


    1. I’m always impressed with the drop off in comments during the weekends, and the increase in comments during the weekdays. It’s good to know that people know how to have fun!

      Maybe productivity and innovation will take off if companies adapt more of these principles talked about in the video. But, I’d rather not have everybody do so, and only a select few we are personally invested in, to have a leg up on the competition!

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