There are 3 types of motivation we can experience to get us to do the things we want to do. The key is to know which type we’re in, and if it’s not motivating us enough, to get to another type of motivation as soon as possible.

I experienced all 3 types of motivation today in relation to exercising, and it’s all directly applicable to playing piano as well. The more we understand these 3 types of motivation in relation to one activity, the more we can apply our understanding to help us attain another of our goals.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a 3-hour window of time before my next appointment. I arrived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side at 6:00pm, and I decided to take a walk to get some exercise and then write my daily blog post in a local Starbuck near where I parked my car.

Since it looked like it might rain, but not right away, I started walking around the large block that’s home to the Museum Of Natural History. This is what I’ll call Type 1 Motivation.

Type 1 Motivation

Type 1 Motivation is self-motivation. When you’re alone and you simply decide to do something that relates to an aim you have. Sitting down to practice piano the first thing in the morning, or when you get home after a long day at work. Jogging around the park once a day, by yourself. That sort of thing. You’re doing it all alone and not under compulsion or expectation from anyone else. (This is closely related to self-discipline but not exactly the same, since you want to do it at the time.)

When I set out on my walk, it was Type 1 Motivation because I simply wanted to get some exercise. I have an overall goal to exercise daily and I spent yesterday flying on a cramped plane from Fairbanks, Alaska to New York City, and I wanted to get “back in the groove” by walking. My plan was to walk for at least 15 minutes and avoid the rain, so I thought that I’d keep circling the museum’s block a few times and then go write my blog post.

Type 2 Motivation

Type 2 Motivation is when you receive energy from others. For me there was a specific moment during my walk when I needed to decide whether to stay with Type 1 Motivation or go into Type 2. I arrived at the corner of Central Park West and 70th Street, and saw the entrance into Central Park. Lots of people were walking and riding their bicycles in and out of the park, and I knew from past experience that if I walked across the street and about 15 yards into the park, I’d get a lot of energy and motivation from being amongst all the activity.

But I didn’t completely want to do it at first. Part of me wanted to stay close to my car and Starbuck in the event of rain, and I also didn’t entirely want to commit to a longer walk than I had originally planned.

After a moment of indecision, I decided to “go for it.” I crossed the street and briskly entered the park. As soon as I turned the first bend in the path, I knew that I had made the right decision. There were dozens of people in my immediate vicinity. Strolling, playing catch, having picnics, walking on the exercise path, bike-riding, jogging, etc. It was instantly invigorating!

This is an example of Type 2 Motivation, because I was getting energized and inspired by those around me. Another example would be when someone encourages you to do something, even if they’re not actively participating.

I ended up walking faster and longer with Type 2 Motivation than I probably would have with Type 1 only. An interesting moment came when I felt my body begin to enjoy it more and want to keep walking. At this point I looked at my watch and saw that I had been walking for 29 minutes. The same thing happens at a certain point when we play piano. It might be after 5 minutes or 30 minutes, but all of a sudden, the piano becomes our universe and we want to continue playing, even if we were ambivalent about it when we sat down to play.

Type 3 motivation

Type 3 Motivation is when it’s compulsory. This really isn’t “motivation” as such, except when we intentionally put ourselves in situations where we are obliged to do the activity. Type 3 Motivation happened to me unexpectedly today in a humorous way: for the first time in 3 decades, I came out of Central Park on the wrong side!

Yes, I was enjoying my walk around the lake where the boathouse is, and I entered a section of the park called The Ramble. The Ramble contains a bunch of beautifully winding paths, and I temporarily couldn’t tell which way was west. When I finally caught a glimpse of a tall building, I thought it was the St. Regis, on Central Park West. But there is apparently an old tower on The East Side that has 2 peaks as well, and I was a little surprised to exit the park at 5th Avenue and 83rd Street, just south of The Metropolitan Museum Of Art.

Wow! After realizing my mistake and having a good chuckle, it dawned on me that I would now have to walk back across the whole park to get to the West Side. This is Type 3 Motivation. I had no choice. There was no way to avoid walking for another 15-20 minutes. Using Type 3 Motivation is a powerful and effective way to stay with an activity long enough to get good at it. Whether it’s getting lost and having to walk further, joining an exercise class, or organizing a weekly jam session for yourself and your musical peers, you’ll find yourself improving at a fast pace if you put yourself in situations where you’re obliged to keep going and participate more than you would by using Type 1 or Type 2 Motivation alone.

Professional musicians know this very well. By having to play this rehearsal, or that gig, they’re moving their fingers and exercising their musicianship for long stretches of time on a regular basis. Once they take the gig, they have no choice but to participate.

The key in all of this is that if you’re finding that Type 1 Motivation isn’t working for you and your piano playing, to get into Type 2 or Type 3 as soon as possible. Call a friend and say “I just wanted to tell you that I’m going to practice piano for 30 minutes, so I won’t back out of it.” They’ll be happy to help! Or ask a family member to have dinner with you 20 minutes later than usual, so you can play piano right after work. That’s Type 2 Motivation. Weekly piano lessons or going to jam sessions are great ways to enter into Type 3 Motivation. Studying the 3 Type of Motivation and how they relate to your various activities, including your piano playing, will help you accomplish your goals, musical and otherwise.

The great jazz pianist/composer/bandleader Duke Ellington was well aware of the need for Type 3 Motivation. When asked what his inspiration was to compose each new piece of music, he replied, “A deadline!” He knew that he personally wouldn’t get anything done if he relied just on Type 1 or even Type 2 Motivation. He needed that deadline to motivate himself to get working on a regular basis.

To get started, ask yourself if you use Type 1, 2, or 3 Motivation when you play piano. Them take steps to bring the other types of motivation in as well. We need all 3 at times.

As always, enjoy the journey and “let the music flow!”

Enter your email here to get your free copy of my ebook, Pop and Rock Accompaniment for Piano

* indicates required