Push And Pull

There are a couple of different ways that people can be motivated into action. Among these factors are ‘push’ factors and ‘pull’ factors. I was reminded of this subject today while driving home from work. Driving is a classic example of where ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors come into play. When a lot of cars are rushing home from work, or leaving a sporting event, that is a ‘push’ factor. On the other hand, once you have passed an accident or a major intersection and there is an open road ahead of you to fill, that is a ‘pull’ factor. As a driver, it’s pretty clear to me which of those two factors is more successful in making a drive pleasant–the ‘pull’ factors. Yet the ‘push’ factors are often present as well, even if they do not do anything but make a trip more stressful and frustrating.

Motivation is a tricky subject [1]. What makes it tricky is that there are some things that need to be done which it is hard to be motivated for, and other things where motivation is easy but that are not very desirable or beneficial. Also, some factors may motivate well up to a certain point, and then little or nothing beyond that. Also, different people are motivated in different ways, and what works best on one person may not work well at all on someone else. These factors, and others, make motivation a thorny issue for people to wrestle with, and often those who are managers or supervisors are not themselves very skilled when it comes to motivating others, or even all that interested in getting to know people well enough to motivate them properly. This is lamentable, but all too common, as we tend to take for granted that other people will be inspired by what we say or command, rather than doing the hard work of winning hearts and minds.

As for me, I tend to find ‘pull’ factors are more motivating. I am drawn to voids, to complete tasks that are not being done, to fill niches that are left underserved, to fill the free time with action and creativity and reflection and to fill the empty pages with elegantly crafted and thoughtful words. Not everyone is motivated that way, but I am. I am motivated to be friendly to the outsider and the outcast, not least because I have always been an outsider myself wherever I have been, and see no sign of that stopping anytime soon. Sometimes these factors can lead to dangers, if one is too drawn to areas that are risky and unsafe. That said, by and large, I prefer these factors because they provide opportunity, which is one of those elements that I seek a great deal in many facets of my life. To say that I am drawn by opportunity is because I have powerful longings for meaning and connection that are quite unmet in the course of most of my life, despite my best efforts. It is little wonder, then, that I would be lured by that longing into meaningful and challenging action.

On the other hand, I do not often find ‘push’ factors to be very motivating. Although I am aware that I am not always motivated to do certain things, I do not find nagging or pressure to make those task any more pleasant. Just like traffic trying to go down a two-lane road, pushing more and more cars is not going to make them go any faster. Instead, it will make more and more people frustrated because there simply is not enough space for all of them to move freely. Yet, it often feels far more satisfying to push people than it does to provide opportunity. It is easier to nag than to encourage, easier to place burdens than to help equip people to deal with them. Perhaps this is one reason why our world is so screwed up, because we dislike the pushing and nagging we get from others and yet it comes to easiest for us as well. Perhaps this is why it is so easy to learn how to motivate others well and so hard to do it, because learning theory and putting into practice are two very distinct tasks. And it is far easier for us to know what is right than to be able to do it.

[1] See, for example:






About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to Push And Pull

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