Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

March 14, 2014

Ok, I started March with one more Nutrition book, because I couldn’t resist reviewing Salt, Sugar, Fat. For the rest of the month though I’d like to talk about mental skills. The first book I’ll review is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink. 2011, 272 pages.


Although not strictly related to sports psychology, I find this book relevant because understanding what motivates us to do triathlons in the first place seems like a logical first step in sports psychology. After all, triathlon is (or at least can be) an expensive sport, requiring lots of time and energy, tolerance of tough workouts, and we get very little actual reward – typically a medal and a free t-shirt. So why bother?

This book helps us understand that. It’s geared toward business people, but I think it can apply to triathlon and sports psychology very well. If you’ve heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, you’ll have at least a bit of understanding of what Pink talks about in the book. Basically, he presents that people are motivated by more than just external rewards, and are driven by the need to reach our own full potential. This would correspond to moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy to Self-Actualizing.

To do this, Pink says we need: 1). Autonomy: the ability to have at least some self-direction. 2). Mastery: the ability to improve ourselves in a field or skill, and 3). Purpose: the ability to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.

I suppose the translation for this for triathlon would be: 1) choosing to do triathlons (and the training and workouts) on our own and 2) obviously, get better at all three sports. Three gets a bit more challenging, but I would guess that would be to complete an event that we might not have done on our own? Or, getting more abstract, being part of a “triathlon community?” Or the fact that triathlons wouldn’t exist if large groups of people didn’t come together to do them together?

Pink does a great job of describing psychological research studies in a way that doesn’t make them dense and boring. For example, multiple studies have shown that, contrary to what we might predict, offering rewards and payments for behaviors can result in people being lessmotivated to complete tasks. This has been true for adults completing tasks as well preschoolers, and he describes these studies well. Thus, NOT being amazing at triathlon and finding your own motivation, not getting anything for participating in them, is actually more likely to make you want to do them.

He also does a good job of summarizing Mihaly Csikszentmihaly,’s* concept of “flow” which is described as the moment at which “a person’s body or mind is stretched to the limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” I think that sums up triathlon pretty well without much further explanation!

Things I liked were Pink’s writing style, which is easy and entertaining. It’s a quick read. He profiles very interesting examples in the real world, such as opens source projects like Wikipedia and Modzilla Firefox. For negatives: as mentioned, he does great summaries, but that of course means he sometimes oversimplifies the studies. And it can get repetitive. Overall though, it’s a good book that’s totally worth the read.

If you’re interested, Pink also does a good TED talk which covers much of the same stuff in the book. It can be viewed here.

*I’ve heard no less than about 100 different pronunciations of this guy’s name. Not going to lie, I included it in here in part for you to have fun trying to read it. You’re welcome :)


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