Today’s article is written by Sabrina Kennedy, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Southern California.
The source of human motivation is an incredibly complex force. Why do we do what we do? Why can it be so difficult to make lasting, meaningful change? How do individuals become genuinely motivated to do anything, while others need either a carrot or a stick to stay on task?
The many benefits of proper motivation have been promoted by a steady line of leaders and keynote speakers. For a long time now, psychologists have been aware of two separate but interdependent types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.
When it comes to accomplishing goals, it turns out that the vast majority of people need at least a measurable dose of both.
What is Intrinsic Motivation?
Intrinsic motivation is motivation from an internal desire to perform a task, job or role for the sheer joy or satisfaction it brings to a person. In other words, whatever external gain may be had through one’s efforts — be it money, material goods, more vacation time, recognition, a degree or fame — that gain is secondary.
The external rewards may be something a person enjoys, but if they were removed from the equation, the intrinsically motivated person would still perform the job with the same attention, effort, and quality. Likewise, a fear of punishment is also unnecessary. Intrinsic motivation needs no outside reason.
Interestingly, studies have shown offering some people external rewards for behavior they find intrinsically rewarding can actually make the behavior less enjoyable, and in effect, it can actually dry up the original source of motivation. Called the overjustification effect, researchers think it occurs due to a shift in a person’s attention from the joy they once experienced within a task to the external rewards they are now responsible for gaining from the task.
Another possible culprit could be when an external reward — or threat of punishment — is offered for a behavior someone is intrinsically motivated to perform, the person can feel coerced, which makes them second-guess her own desire to engage in the behavior at all.
What is Extrinsic Motivation?
Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from pressures or desires existing outside a person, and while there can be joy and satisfaction in extrinsically motivated behavior, the joy and satisfaction is not derived from the task or job itself. Rather, it is derived from what accomplishing the task or job will get the person. This category of motivation includes pay scales, grades, avoiding running extra laps, stock options, and the like.
Even receiving praise for a job well-done — if that’s the reason the job was performed to a certain set of specifications — is an external motivation, and most people require a healthy dose of it on a day-to-day basis.
The Balance of the Two
While most people enjoy being intrinsically motivated to do a job and do it well, the reality of human life is some things require external pressures or we would never bother doing them. From memorizing dates for a history exam in order to get a good grade to sitting through yet another meeting where our attendance is required if we want to keep our job, external motivation is part of regular life.
However, if someone’s motivation is entirely extrinsic, it’s possible the old system of rewards and punishment used to motivate behavior will eventually fail to work. In the same way, being only intrinsically motivated can have harmful effects — even brilliant painters need to do the dishes or clean the bathroom, if only to keep a roommate or spouse happy.
While it may seem intrinsic and extrinsic motivation form an uneasy alliance in a person, the truth is most of us need both to function well in our lives and work. From parenting to the boardroom, accomplishing goals and taking care of business is part of life. How we motivate ourselves is a complex and vital part of all of it.
What techniques do you use to get motivated at work?
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