Motivation and the Red Zone!

The damage controlled motivation can do

The red zone – the mind state where we are far from our best -  is created through controlled motivation.

Up until the age of about ten years old the childhood mind, based on the more primitive parts of the brain, the parts most developed by this age, is in control of the whole organism.  From about ten the adult mind begins to emerge bringing with it self-awareness and other advanced capabilities such as imagining a future different from today and impulse control.

Of course, the childhood mind has no idea that another mind state exists and, having been in control for a decade, sees no reason for anything to change.  Nature solves this problem by creating existential anxiety.  The emerging adult mind is aware of its own existence and fairly shortly after becomes aware of the possibility of non-existence, that the organism will die.

Vincents Bedroom in Arles.jpg

This thought is presented to the childhood mind which responds with everything it can to avoid this possibility.  Many people can remember crying themselves to sleep or trying not to sleep for fear of not waking up again, around this age.

Typically, it takes about six weeks for the organism to settle down again and, in the best case, the childhood mind fades away or is fully absorbed into the emerging adult mind, resolving the issue.  The adult mind – the blue zone – can handle an uncertain future with courage and takes over.  We are confident, collaborative and creative all the time.

The problem arises when the childhood mind has been trained – through controlled motivation - that it can avoid punishment if it just does as it is told.  It realises that it can handle existential anxiety by doubling down on this – ‘if I just do exactly as I’m told I can continue to avoid punishment/pain.’  The childhood mind persists into adulthood.

Achieving this outcome was a main objective of nineteenth century schooling, that aimed to suppress the emergence of the adult mind completely.  Our current education systems ensure the survival of the childhood mind into adulthood and develop the adult mind in parallel – we have two mind states with all the problems that entails.

Controlled motivation – reward and punishment – should have no role to play in the education of our children.

John Corrigan is an expert in helping individuals to bring their whole of mind to their daily life and increase their effectiveness and the effectiveness of those around them. This expertise scales from the individual to the team to the organisation. At the core of this work is the practice of encounter.

John Corrigan