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Motivation, Emotional Intelligence and My Messy Desk


This is a picture of my desk. This morning I felt motivated to clean it up. But why? What motivated me this morning? Did my emotional intelligence go up this morning? In their first important article on the concept of EI back in 1990 Peter Salovey and Jack Mayer said this:

This article presents a framework for emotional intelligence, a set of skills hypothesized to contribute to the accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in oneself and in others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan and achieve in one's life. Source

Then in 1995 Dan Goleman said this in his now famous book which introduced the term "Emotional Intelligence" to the world:

My concern is with a key set of these "other characteristics," emotional intelligence, abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations..." p 34

So is there a connection between emotional intelligence and motivation? And if so what kind of a connection is it? Is it fair to say that if one has high EI then one is highly motivated? Is it fair to say that one is highly self-motivated? Or is it more accurate to say that a person with high EI may or may not be highly motivated, depending on his environment, the amount of love in his life and the level of emotional support he receives, etc.?

By the way, I haven't started cleaning off my desk yet. I felt more motivated to write this article. So again I would ask "Why?" Why did I suddenly feel more motivated to write this article? I am not achieving my goal of cleaning off my desktop. I am not "staying on task," as students in so many schools are told to do. So what does this say about my EI? Does it say anything or nothing?

To answer these questions we have to ask more questions.

We have to ask for example, what one is motivated to do when we speak of motivation. It is not enough to say "highly motivated" or "highly motivated to achieve." We have to ask

- What exactly is one motivated to do?

- What exactly is one motivated to achieve?

- How do we even define achievement and how do we know that it is something we want to promote in society?

When I feel depressed I need someone who will listen to me or just be there with me until I find the words to talk. But in times like this the person I need is not likely to be someone who is highly motivated to achieve. That is because they are probably not going to have too much time for me. They will start to feel impatient too quickly and want to get back to achieving whatever it is they are highly motivated to achieve. I have also found that people who we would call highly motivated and high achievers usually are not likely to give me much helpful advice, be able to validate my feelings, relate to them or show much understanding.

Society needs a balance of people and society's needs change with time and circumstances. Right now I am not convinced we need more highly motivated people of the typical kind. In fact, I am afraid the majority of those who are defining something they call emotional intelligence are doing so based largely on their conformist's perception of what is needed in and helpful to society. (See Problems with Mainstream Concept of EI)

Yet if a group on an island were hungry and held the common belief that they needed to eat fish to survive they might define an intelligent person as one who could bring in a lot of fish and a stupid person as one who preferred to look for edible fruits, berries and plants, while in reality it might be the one looking for alternative food that was truly the most intelligent because he was the only one who noticed that each year it was harder and harder to find enough fish for the group. So this leads me to ask, "Are we intelligent to let the majority tell us what is intelligent, as Mayer, Salovey and Caruso do? (See articles related to conformity on the Problems with EI page mentioned above)

To be fair, although Mayer et all seem to believe the conforming person is emotionally intelligent, they removed the reference to motivation in their 1997 "Four Branch Model" of EI. Their ideas about EI have been evolving, just like everyone else's. Goleman and BarOn though, seem to still believe a person with high EI is highly motivated and never depressed, no matter how bad things are around them.

But I would say this is more likely to be a person who is not well connected to their feelings and is likely to be extrinsically motivated, rather than intrinsically. This leads us to another question: Does it matter to those like Goleman and BarOn whether one is motivated intrinsically or extrinsically? Does it matter to society, for example, whether a writer writes what his or her heart dictates, or what will sell the most books?

But returning to the question of whether motivation and EI are positively correlated, I have a few more questions. For example, if a person is highly motivated to kill people, would we say he is emotionally intelligent? What if he were highly motivated to seek revenge?

As stated before Mayer, Salovey and Caruso seem to believe that it is okay to let the majority decide what is emotionally intelligent. In fact, they seem to sincerely believe this approach to defining EI is even worthy of being called science. So if we apply their perspective to the last two questions, what results might we get?

Let's say one year we polled people in a country like Australia on the first question and the majority said "No, we wouldn't call a person who is highly motivated to kill someone emotionally intelligent." But then let's say the next year we polled the same people a week after Australia had been attacked by a group of people called "terrorists" by the Australian political leaders and popular press. Let's say that 300,000 Australians had been killed. Might this affect their answer to the question about revenge?

If the majority of Australians said that it was emotionally intelligent to seek revenge, does this mean that the rest of the world should believe them and start teaching young people about EI based on the poll results in Australia?

Now let me quickly talk about love and motivation with a couple examples. If you knew that someone you loved were inside a burning house, would you be more likely to try to rescue them than if it were someone you despised?

Also, try to imagine this scenario. Imagine you were feeling depressed and suicidal, and had been self-harming, smoking, drinking excessively and using drugs, and you had no motivation to even get out of bed for many, many reasons including all kinds of abuse and being surrounded by ignorance and hypocrisy. But suppose the main thing which was depressing you was that the only person who you ever really loved and felt understood by had been imprisoned for a crime they never committed. Imagine you were unable to visit or even contact that person for several years.

Now imagine one day they knocked on your door and gave you a big hug and said "Hello my love! I've missed you dearly, but I've never forgotten you! I'm free now!"

"And guess what!? Not only that but I've won the lottery and we can go traveling wherever we want, and we can spend the rest of our lives pursuing our dreams together!"

Wouldn't it be likely that your depression would suddenly vanish? And if you were suddenly filled with excitement and energy, and you never again self-harmed, smoke, drank or used drugs, would it be fair to say it was your emotional intelligence that shot up the day your beloved re-appeared back into your life?

If you say "no," as I do, then please seriously question the work being done by Mayer, Salovey, Caruso and others in the "mainstream" and keep looking for a more "intelligent" definition of emotional intelligence.

S. Hein
June 7, 2006
Salta, Argentina

PS My desk is still a mess!

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Mayer, Salovey, Caruso quote about EI and smoking, drinking, self-destructive behavior and drug use

The high EI individual, relative to others, is less apt to engage in problem behaviors, and avoids self-destructive, negative behaviors such as smoking, excessive drinking, drug abuse, or violent episodes with others.

Another quote

Studies of Olympic athletes, world-class musicians and chess grand masters find their unifying trait is their ability to motivate themselves, feeling resourceful enough to accomplish their objectives, reassuring themselves when in a tight spot that things will get better p 87


SH - I have no doubt that this is true - but what I question is why they show this self-motivation and this resilience. Is it more because of innate emotional intelligence or could it be more directly related to having adequate emotional support while growing up?