I worry that this is going to come off as some sort of weird new-age type fluff. But here goes anyway:
From physics, we know quite a lot about energy. Enough to apply mathematical equations to answer quite complex questions about the reality in which we seem to be living. In such a rational Universe, does it even make sense to think about “mental energy”?
I’m on the fence, but I think it’s reasonable to think about human behaviour and metaphysical constructs as “real” — even though there are factual physical and biochemical determinators explaining each and every thought ever had by anyone throughout history.
From such a metaphysical perspective, I’ve been thinking about how to classify how individuals generate their mental energy, their “inner drive”.
My hypothesis is this:
There are three types of mental energy to fuel inner drives. Positive energy, neutral energy, and negative energy.
Some things you do because you’re intrinsically motivated to do it (positive energy). Some things you do because you’re rationally motivated to do it (neutral energy). Some things you do because you feel extrinsically motivated to do it (negative energy).
This might matter greatly if intrinsic motivation gives you more mental energy than you started with, rational motivation replenishes your mental energy but nothing more, and extrinsic motivation subtracts from your mental energy.
In the space of self-help literature, there seems to be a consensus that you should always strive towards being intrinsically motivated. However, I think that this is a non sequitur.
I think that the key is to not deplete your mental energy, because being depleted of mental energy for too long has detrimental effects on both your mental and physical health. But to think that this can be remedied by always finding intrinsic motivation is an unrealistic ambition — which is ultimately doomed to fail.
In life, we should expect to have to find motivation from all of these three sources of mental energy. We simply can’t afford to ignore any type of fuel for our inner drives.
Sometimes, we must use our rational motivations to get things done. Sometimes, we must even dig into the darkest parts of ourselves to find that raw and fearsome motivation that dwells deep inside us.
The actual trick, therefore, ought to be mindful and consciously draw energy from all three types of energy. You just won’t let it stay too close to zero for too long. A poignant way of putting this is to focus on “filling up” your mental energy using intrinsic motivation so often that you can easily afford to “unleash your inner devil” when you need to.