What is motivation? Simply defined it is: The act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something. Extrinsic rewards for a performance.

Pretty simple yet ohh so complicated. I’m sure some of you right now are looking for motivation to continue with your new year’s resolutions, or to complete that project that is due tomorrow, heck just to complete your homework or get out of bed in the morning. In my time as a coach, athlete, student, human being on this planet I have found that it is our emotional connection to something that motivates us! Before we get to emotionally involved let’s look at the facts.

Why do we do the things we do? What is it that drives our behaviors? 

Psychologists have proposed some different ways of thinking about motivation, including one method that involves looking at whether motivation arises from outside (extrinsic) or inside (intrinsic) the individual. Both types are important and have different effects on behaviors and how people pursue goals. 

What Is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation occurs when we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment. In this case, you engage in behavior not because you enjoy it or because you find it satisfying, but in order to get extrinsic rewards in return or avoid something unpleasant.

  • Participating in a sport to win awards
  • Cleaning your room to avoid being reprimanded by your parents
  • Competing in a contest to win a scholarship
  • Studying because you want to get a good grade

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation involves engaging in a behavior because it is personally rewarding; essentially, performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward. Essentially, the behavior itself is its own reward.

  • Participating in a sport because you find the activity enjoyable
  • Cleaning your room because you like tidying up
  • Solving a word puzzle because you find the challenge fun and exciting
  • Studying a subject, you find fascinating

Carrot on the stick

Many people use the carrot on a stick method or extrinsic motivation. If you want people to perform better, you reward them! Right…??

There have been many studies that show rewards narrow our focus and concentrate the mind and dulls our thinking and blocks creativity. They work well for tasks that are routine, have a clear set of rules and a single solution. How many things do we do in life that are like that? Most tasks have mystifying rules, and non-obvious surprising solutions. When tasks even call for rudimentary cognitive skills, a larger reward leads to poorer performance.

Perhaps most importantly, research suggests that providing physical rewards, undermines the development of any internal, or intrinsic motivation to do the very same thing.

carrot on a stick
Organic vegetables. Healthy food. Fresh organic carrots in farmers hands

Using Extrinsic Rewards Carefully

If someone already enjoys doing something, then it must mean that rewarding them for the behavior would make them like it even more, right? In many cases, the answer is, no. Rewarding people for doing things they are already intrinsically motivated to do can backfire. Doing the task is its own reward. 

Outcomes & Achievements

When we create outcomes and achievements as our motivating force for taking actions in our lives, we just want the carrot. The problem lies in when we get those carrots the feeling lasts for like 15 seconds, what happens in the 16th second? We get another carrot, creating a new outcome and achievement to motivate us. That process does not lead to a very happy individual as you are continuing to strive for the next outcome and achievement. 

What does this all mean? Rewards don’t work all the time for motivation. Chasing outcomes & achievements only lasts for that 15 seconds of fame when we catch the carrot. That brings us to what truly causes motivation or inspires us to do something.

Daniel Pink tells us in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us that working is as natural as playing and resting and that, under the proper conditions, humans will accept and even seek this kind of responsibility. In the long term, intrinsically motivated people are more successful than those who only seek rewards, because they have strong inner desire to control their lives. They also tend to have higher self-esteem and better relationships.

Three Key Components to Intrinsic Motivation

According to Pink, intrinsic motivation is based on three key factors: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Let’s look at each factor in more detail:

  1. Autonomy is the need to direct your own life and work. To be fully motivated, you must be able to control what you do, when you do it, and who you do it with.
  2. Mastery is the desire to improve. If you are motivated by mastery, you’ll likely see your potential as being unlimited, and you’ll constantly seek to improve your skills through learning and practice. Someone who seeks mastery needs to attain it for its own sake.
  3. Purpose- Why are you doing what you are setting out to do? You set out to do ‘X’. What is the reason you want to do ‘X’? Go deep with this one. Find the purpose and you will find the emotional connection to keep you going. You will become that story and see yourself as the person already. This wins not only in your mind but in your heart!

Going Even Deeper – Inspiration

Culturally we are motivated not inspired. Motivation is of the ego and it forces us to keep up with others, compete against others and measure ourselves to others. Motivation compels us to act, to do, give, expend, push past limits, and push the envelope. 

Inspiration is defined as: Something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create. Inspiration is of the soul. It is about understanding who you are or want to be and as a natural byproduct you accomplish things that, previously, were not thought possible. So, inspiration is something that you feel on the inside, while motivation is something from the outside that compels you to take action. Inspiration is a driving force, while motivation is a pulling force. 

Inspiring Minds Want to Know

Motivation is tenuous in nature; it ebbs and flows. It’s because our desire for safety and comfort is in a perpetual tug of war with our desire for growth and meaning and contribution.

Things that are inspiring align with your core values and hold deep personal meaning that you connect with on a deep emotional level. Most people want to look better or have more money, but you must go beyond superficial desires and connect with what truly matters most to you.

Whatever you resolve to do, get really clear about why it really matters and the personal price you’ll pay if you put it off any longer. If your resolutions don’t come with a big burning Why you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to keep your resolve at the first temptation to ditch it. Looking at the things that inspire you. They give you a chill, or feeling in the center of your chest, or tingly all over or something to that affect. This isn’t in the head it is what are your soul wants. In order to find out what that is, we need to step back and ask a ourselves some questions:

  1. Am I the kind of person who…?
  2. What is the reason you want to do this?
  3. What is the reason for that?
  4. What is the reason for that?
  5. What gives you the satisfaction of a job well done?
  6. What makes you feel good about yourself?

Find that tingly feeling. That chill running up your spine.

Be mindful as you embark on this new adventure whether in love, career, health, etc…Always remain conscious of how you feel before during and after. Your feelings will let you know if inspiration or motivation is dictating the execution of your plans. If inspiration is guiding your steps, then continue and be assured that the outcome will be magnificent. Inspiration is autonomy, mastery & purpose all rolled into one.

What inspires me to spend hours on an article? It is the story I tell myself each day to be the change I wish to see in the world. Maybe someone will read this, and it may affect them in a way to change. What is your story?