Our Motivation Matters


Why do we do the things we do? Motivation research focuses on what truly motivates individuals to act. The reasons for the motivation of individuals may differ. David McClelland’s theory of motivation[i] is based on needs and a person’s greatest needs influence behavior. McClelland theorized that each person has a dominant motivator which may be different from other people, based on their life experience, their culture, and their circumstances. This is the individual’s prime motivator. An individual’s prime motivator would uniquely influence a person’s actions and their motivation for doing that action. In his research, he identified three motivators that he claims all humans have: (1) achievement, (2) affiliation and (3) power. Given McClellan’s theory, we can ask ourselves, what is our dominant motivator and how does it determine my actions?  

Is Our Motivation Lightness or Darkness?

Sometimes, our actions will be focused on the world. We still need to work and live in the world. But, we can analyze how we act when the world sees our actions and how we act when we are in private places. Do our actions change when they are seen by others, or do they stay the same? Are we motivated by the adulation of the world or the adulation of our Lord? The Lord taught his disciples:

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise, ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest, alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.[ii]

The Greek word translated in English as “alms” means “righteousness or acts of religious devotion.”[iii] Thus, the motivation of our religious devotions or the outward acts of our righteousness must be done in secret rather than for the applause of men.

We need to determine where our heart is and what is our motivation for doing the things we do. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”[iv] The Lord reminds us that where our eyes are looking will determine if our body is full of light or darkness. “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.”[v] What does my heart focus on and where are my eyes looking at most of the time?

We become a hypocrite when our hearts are aligned with our religious actions and when we look at things that bring darkness into our lives rather than light. Elder D. Todd Christopherson said, “The Savior’s sternest rebukes were to hypocrites. Hypocrisy is terribly destructive, not only to the hypocrite but also to those who observe or know of his or her conduct, especially children. It is faith destroying, whereas honor is the rich soil in which the seed of faith thrives.”[vi]GC Oct, 2010 Reflections on a Consecrated Life.

We can follow the example of our Church leaders. Many of them are very successful in the world, yet they give it all up to serve the Lord full-time. When we are called to serve the Lord, are we willing to give up everything for our Savior, too? Elder Neal A. Maxwell reminded us about how we should accept callings from the Lord: “Such members accept callings but not all of the accompanying responsibilities; hence, their Church chores must often be done by those already ‘anxiously engaged.’ Some regard themselves as merely ‘resting’ in between Church callings. But we are never in between as to this soaring call from Jesus: ‘What manner of men [and women] ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.’ It is never safe to rest regarding that calling! In fact, being ‘valiant’ in one’s testimony of Jesus includes striving to become more like Him in mind, heart, and attributes.”[vii]

How Can We Come to Know Christ?

The best way to come to know Jesus Christ is by doing His will.  The Lord warned: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Man will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in my name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”[viii]

Why did they never know the Lord? They did not have the proper motivation for doing these righteous actions. Because they did not do it for the right reasons, they were not doing these actions because of the Lord’s will. Where was their heart when they did these actions? In terms of their eyes, were they focused on lightness or darkness? Instead, we need to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness “and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”[ix] In the JST, Joseph Smith retranslated this verse: “Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness.”[x] Our dominant motivation should be to seek first to build the kingdom of God by doing His will rather than our own.

Sister Tracy Y. Browning joined the Church and originally had a difficult time talking about the Church or answering questions about her faith. When she looked past herself and sought the Lord, her feelings changed. She wrote:

“Through rigorous effort to look to and for Jesus Christ in my every thought and deed, my eyes were enlightened and my understanding quickened to recognize that Jesus Christ was calling for me to ‘come unto’ Him. From this early season of discipleship in my youth, I can recall an invitation extended to me by the missionaries to join them as they taught the gospel to a group of young girls about my age. One evening, as we were seated in the family home of one of these young women, their tender question of why I believe pricked my heart and allowed me to testify to them with deepened understanding of the Lord’s vision about the spiritual motivations of my discipleship and has refined my testimony going forward.”[xi]

Changing our focus away from ourselves and worldly adulation and towards the Lord’s will transforms our prime motivation. We will see the world through new eyes and engage the world with a new heart and our motivation will become purely driven in the sight of God.

[i] Harrell, Adrian M., and Michael J. Stahl. “A behavioral decision theory approach for measuring McClelland’s trichotomy of needs.” Journal of Applied Psychology 66, no. 2 (1981): 242.

[ii] Matthew 6:1-4

[iii] Footnote1b

[iv] Matthew 6:21

[v] Matthew 6:22-23

[vi] GC Oct, 2010 Reflections on a Consecrated Life.

[vii] Neal A. Maxwell, “Settle this in your heart,” GC, Oct. 1992.

[viii] Matthew 7:21-23

[ix] Matthew 6:33-34

[x] JST Matthew 6:38

[xi] Oct. 2022, Seeing More of Jesus Christ in Ourselves

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