The things that motivate us can differ from person to person, but regardless of how you get motivated, there are ways to make motivation work for you.
Have you ever wondered why the promise of another pay bonus doesn’t increase your productivity anymore?
Or why do your kids not care about bad grades as much as you do?
Think about why some people are always motivated while your motivation is short-lived.
How to make motivation work for you
If you have, you’re not alone.
And if you really care about achieving your goals, whatever they are, keep reading.
Because I will reveal some motivational secrets that will help you keep your motivation up.
Motivation is an indispensable ingredient of success.
Want to improve your writing skills, lose weight, live a happier life, or get a better job?
You need motivation.
You need it to live meaningfully and be open to change.
Master the ability to keep going when the going gets tough.
Motivation drives us through life.
Without it, our life would be just a series of urges and impulses.
But not all motivations are made equal.
The first and most important difference is that there are two major types of motivation: external (extrinsic) and internal (intrinsic).
Understanding their differences is crucial to being and staying motivated throughout your life, whatever you do.
1. The most obvious difference and why it matters
Let’s start with the most obvious difference between external (extrinsic) and internal (intrinsic) motivation; where it comes from.
External factors drive extrinsic motivation, including:
- relationships with other people
Simply put, extrinsic motivation is driven by rewards – material or not.
Most often, it’s money, awards, accolades, etc.
But it’s also about being praised, respected, and appreciated.
The flip side of rewards – punishment, and avoidance of punishment are also powerful extrinsic drivers.
People avoid penalties (e.g., for paying bills too late or submitting your assignment after the deadline) or conflict.
We often do things we would not otherwise do because we want to keep other people happy or just avoid their anger (e.g., getting good grades for your parents or staying up late to finish a report on time so that your boss doesn’t get angry).
Intrinsic (internal) motivation comes from within you
It’s your own desire to achieve enjoyment, fulfillment, or simply experience fun/pleasure.
According to Daniel Pink, there are three main types of intrinsic drivers:
Mastery is about self-improvement, the urge to improve and develop yourself, your skills, and your knowledge.
Autonomy is the desire to direct your own life, be the master of your destiny, and your own boss.
Purpose is about the need to do things for reasons that are bigger than yourself, help others, and build a better world.
This extrinsic/intrinsic difference is crucial to understanding how to stay motivated because these two types of motivation work differently and are helpful for different goals.
2. The lasting effect (Making motivation work)
Let’s go back to that question about the monthly bonus that used to motivate you to get extra work done but is not any longer.
It is the same reason people keep parking in the ‘no parking’ slots despite fines, and kids are erratic in their chores even if you pay them.
Extrinsic rewards, often called carrots and sticks, can work well, but the longer or, the more you use them, the less effective they become.
Sadly, although effective at first, rewards don’t create lasting commitments.
They just temporarily get us to do things (behaviors) that are desired.
Intrinsic rewards (mastery, autonomy, and purpose) create a long-lasting effect because they come from within you.
If the activity brings you joy, fulfillment, or a sense of meaning/purpose, you’re more likely to engage in it repeatedly, whether or not anyone pays you for it.
That’s why in psychological experiments, in the longer run, children who expected rewards drew much less than those who did it for pleasure.
This is also why some people can work on pet projects or practice their favorite sport for hours, even when tired.
The effect of extrinsic rewards is short-lived, while intrinsic drivers last much longer, often – throughout the life span.
3. The role in goal setting and achievement
We set goals because we want to achieve them.
Motivation is an important element of the process, from the beginning to the end.
But different motivational drivers will lead to different goals set.
If you want to create a lasting change, such as breaking bad habits or developing healthy ones, you need to fuel it with intrinsic motivation.
Any major personal change is best driven internally by your desire to self-improve, gain autonomy, or serve a higher purpose.
The same applies to any goals or plans that are long-term or multi-stage.
If it is to last, it has to come from within.
But if your goal is short-term, like finishing a report on time, or making sure you file your tax return by the deadline, extrinsic rewards/avoiding punishment may just do the trick.
4. The application in day-to-day life
Just as with goal setting, extrinsic and intrinsic motivators differ regarding the day-to-day execution of your plans.
When making motivation work gets hard, most self-improvement goals fail.
The brutal reality of trying to implement lasting changes daily, particularly when things aren’t going smoothly, workloads pile up, and stress levels are through the roof.
Trying to remind yourself of your aspirations to become a better version of yourself or help those in need may come in handy.
However, a material reward may have a faster and more powerful effect on the spot.
Just think about all those times when the only thing that helped you survive those hectic days at the office or boring meetings filled with conflict was the thought of a nice hot bath and a glass of wine (or chocolate).
While intrinsic drivers work best for long-term projects, extrinsic rewards get you through hard days, particularly if you feel there is nothing left in the tank and you still need to get stuff done.
5. The role in building healthy habits
S. Weinschenk, a behavioral scientist, gives an excellent tip for using various types of motivators when establishing good habits.
Obviously, the best way to set a goal of building good habits is to power it with an intrinsic desire.
The point of a habit is for the behavior to become automatic.
And the best way to kick it off and keep it going before it runs on autopilot is to reinforce the behavior extrinsically: with rewards, even a symbolic (or literal) pat on the back, a tick in your diary, or a golden star on your child’s chart.
6. The wearing-off effect (Motivation stops working)
Nothing lasts forever, they say, and it’s no different with motivation.
Motivation fluctuates naturally throughout the day, week, and life.
I’ve mentioned above that the effect of extrinsic motivators wears off with time.
But intrinsic motivation is not eternal either.
Although internally driven desires are more likely to last, as we grow and change our needs and wants change, too.
The same happens with our life and environment.
Sometimes, you find yourself at a life crossroads with a motivational driver that’s no longer rings true to you.
Or a purpose that no longer lights your fire.
Even intrinsic motivation can dwindle and die.
7. Use it but don’t abuse it
Sadly, combining the two types of motivation may sometimes work against you.
Using extrinsic rewards to boost a desired behavior that’s driven internally is a dangerous situation.
Yes, giving your kids sweets for practicing a skill they enjoy improving on may initially give them an extra boost, but the drive to keep doing it will quickly drop.
Over-justification effect (motivation crowding theory) is why people who enjoy doing stuff for fun stop enjoying the same thing once they get paid for it.
If you think yourself lucky to get a job where you’ll pursue your passion and get paid a lot of money and other perks, you may be in danger of losing that sense of enjoyment and fulfillment.
Be mindful of how your motivation works and monitor your extrinsic rewards, so they don’t overpower your internally driven joy.
Making motivation work is tough
Motivation fluctuates and changes, sometimes irrespective of what we do or don’t do with it.
But with a better understanding of how, when, and why different motivations work, you’re prepared for your next battle.
Now, you know how it works, so make it always work for you.
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