Motives are usually broken down into intrinsic and extrinsic motives: Things you do for the sake of something else (extrinsic) vs. things you do for their own sake (intrinsic). But I feel that 2 classes of motives isn’t enough…
1. There are the actions we do for extrinsic motives: Whether it’s prehab for the joints, hypertrophy training for aesthetics, or functional training (for whatever people do functional training for…), we would not do these things were it not for the outcome. The motive here is an extrinsic one: we will perform this action so long as there is carry-over to something else. I highly doubt we’d spend much time doing seated external rotations if they didn’t improve the health of our shoulders.
2. Then, there are things we do for their own sake, with no expectation of carry-over, transfer, functionality, etc. When I play soccer with friends, or go to a dance party, or play a game of monopoly, I don’t usually expect to come out improved. Intrinsically motivating tasks, which may differ from individual to individual, usually are forms of self-expression/self-actualization (Mihalyi, http://realleaders.tv/portfolio/mihaly/).
3. And finally, the third class, which I feel is fuzzy: the things we do to become better at, in order to enjoy more for their own sake. For example, in bboy, capoeira, parkour, so much practice gets put into refining the details, into dealing with circumstances. However, all that preparation is for an ulterior motive: to battle/dance, to play in the roda of capoeira, to interact with an environment. When finally we come to the thing for which we were preparing, we are no longer aiming to improve. The experience itself is the valuable product.
The motive here comes from the challenge and the potential for improvement. It’s an overlap between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and I’ll tentatively call it “future-oriented intrinsic motivation”. The motive is for the task itself, but a FUTURE version of that task.
Further complications come from relativity of motivation – Motives are inherent to the person, not the task. A person can find shoulder rehab intrinsically motivating and pursue it regardless of improvements in shoulder health, or find dancing extrinsically motivating and pursue it only so long as they get laid at parties. And someone may find monopoly “future-intrinsically” motivating, and pursue it only so long as they can play better in the future. Whether you find something extrinsically or intrinsically or future-intrinsically motivating is left to things we’ll never understand (so we call them fate, or genetics, or flying spaghetti monster).
This begs some questions… Would we improvise if our capacity to improvise would not improve? Some people play games for the sake of developing some mental capacity – is there something missing in this motivation for “brain games” (my intuition is yes)? But is this any different than the person who derives pleasure from complex memory challenges, as in memory competitions? Would they enjoy the challenge if it were not something that could be improved upon? Are there things we enjoy that are inherently impossible to improve upon? I think even a task such as eating, can be improved upon, so I doubt there is anything we cannot improve. Perhaps the answer to these questions, lies in the role of increasing a sense of awareness in our lives – perhaps improvisation serves as a very high level of awareness, and we look to both facilitate it as well as experience it, because this awareness in and of itself is good and worthwhile…