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From ‘Have To’ to ‘Want To’: Inspiring Sustainable Actions

mobile phone with green recycling sign and mesh bag
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We stand on the precipice of three planetary crises – climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. As such, marshalling efforts towards a healthier planet is a matter of urgent importance. Our planet, the cradle of our existence, provides us with everything we need to sustain life; without these resources and conditions, we may not only lose the ability to enjoy our planet as it is now, but even to survive.

As environmental issues loom larger with each passing day, the need for immediate action is apparent. Yet, have you ever felt a surge of excitement when someone instructs you to do something? The answer, likely, is no. Conversely, have you ever been filled with an almost palpable enthusiasm to accomplish something, when the decision to undertake it comes from within? The answer, in all likelihood, is a resounding yes!

Reflect on the difference in motivation when you feel compelled to do something, versus when you are driven by a desire to do it. Have you noticed the subtle yet profound difference in the wording?

When we feel that we “have to” do something, the motivation stems from external sources — be it the government, parents, or teachers. This is defined as extrinsic motivation. However, when we “want to” do something, the inspiration springs from within, kindling a deeper level of motivation. This is known as intrinsic motivation.

How then, can we inspire and motivate individuals who feel either unmotivated or are extrinsically motivated, feeling they “have to” take action? Here’s how we can stoke the fires of motivation and kindle the flame of action towards a more sustainable future:


The initial step in fostering motivation and inspiring others to take action is elucidating the “why”. It is crucial to explain why it is important to care for our planet. This understanding helps extrinsically motivated individuals to comprehend the reasons behind altering their behavior and decisions. By illuminating the “why”, they can metamorphose into intrinsically motivated individuals who genuinely wish to change.


The second step in augmenting motivation and spurring others to take action is delineating the “how”. It’s essential to clarify how we can make a difference, for even when we grasp the long-term consequences and acknowledge the necessity for change, we may still be at a loss as to how we can contribute to the solution. Hence, sharing and explaining potential solutions is of utmost significance.


The third step in boosting motivation and encouraging others to take action is specifying the “what”. It is of vital importance to articulate the actionable steps we can incorporate into our daily life. Even when we understand the solutions and their relevance, we may still be uncertain about the specific actions we can undertake in our day-to-day lives.

To prompt others to stride towards a more sustainable future, it is fundamental to transmute extrinsic motivation into intrinsic motivation. They should no longer feel “compelled” to act, rather they should be “desirous” of taking action. This metamorphosis can be facilitated by explaining the “why”, the “how”, and the “what” of sustainable actions.

In conclusion, acting with intrinsic motivation is a critical step on the path towards building not just a sustainable world for today, but for generations to come. Each one of us should recognize the value of our planet and treat it with due respect. When we act with this awareness, we find ourselves not just carrying out a task, but kindling a beacon of hope for the future.

Once, a man walking on the beach saw another man trying to throw back the starfish that had washed ashore. Before another starfish could hit the water, the man turned to the other and asked, “Why go to such lengths? What difference does it make to save just a few starfish? What can you possibly achieve with this?”

The man, after quietly throwing another starfish back into the sea, smiled and replied, “Maybe we can’t do something for all those we couldn’t save, but we can do everything for those we can.”

This tale serves as a reminder that even small steps can make a big difference. Each one of us can be a hero for the future of our planet. By working together, we can step towards a cleaner environment and a healthier world. Every step matters.

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