Post No.: 0705
We don’t do hobbies for the extrinsic rewards – we do them for the intrinsic or inherent pleasures of doing them. We don’t normally get paid for doing the activities we enjoy and would do anyway, but usually get paid for doing the things we don’t and wouldn’t.
Because of this association, introducing extrinsic rewards like money can, at least occasionally, reduce the enjoyment of a hobby or desirable activity and de-motivate us from wanting to do that very task i.e. play turns into work. The hobby starts to feel more like an obligation rather than voluntary and one must be professional at all times and stick to a schedule. Pressure and stress are thus introduced. It could diminish the basic love of doing an activity, as it’ll be viewed as a means to an end (e.g. to gain money), not as an end in itself. Therefore offering extrinsic rewards to perform something that’s otherwise fun may make it less attractive to do.
If intrinsic motivation is absent, better extrinsic motivators for getting someone to want to repeatedly perform a task are small and/or surprise rewards after the completion of an instance of that task, praising the efforts of their labour and/or dispensing feel-good comments in their direction. This is similar with training a dog. Good boy – woof! (Except with a less patronising tone!)
If you’re rewarding yourself then a small and spontaneous reward for your good efforts (as long as it doesn’t conflict with your overall goal e.g. a binge when you’re trying to lose weight) after completing a meaningful step along the way can give you a sense of pacing, progress and achievement.
Discretionary, unexpected rewards given after a good effort are nice motivators because they don’t externally impact the motivation to do something in the first place. Intrinsic motivation – the love of an activity itself – is a precious thing and mustn’t be usurped by the influence of external diversions. Financial rewards shouldn’t mean that social rewards like regard, respect, praise and admiration for doing things should be overlooked either. Another problem with expected rewards (including positive feedback) is that if these incentives are later removed or comparatively reduced then motivation can immediately plummet too.
It’s therefore most ideal if you happen to intrinsically love what you do in its own right rather than because of external leverages or the consequential results. The most highly motivated individuals do things because they love doing it and not for any other reason in the world. They might still get paid highly but they’re not doing it for the wealth or fame. So don’t keep your eye on the prize too much that you take your eye off the ball of enjoying the moment and doing well with a present activity. Don’t obsess about the money or adulation otherwise your joy and performance on the job will drop due to the external mental distractions.
Offering external rewards can work as a very short-term motivation. Threats might temporarily work too. But for those who ought to be self-motivated in their role otherwise they shouldn’t really be doing it (e.g. athletes) – threats like ‘don’t come back home unless you bring the trophy’ only add pressure and distractions. Punishments generally only achieve short-term results, especially when people can find ways to loaf or escape with pretending to be working! This means that it’s most effective and ideal for people to stop doing something (including addicts) because they personally want to or have found a strong personal reason to – not because someone else is exerting duress on them. Forbidding something can even inadvertently make it more desirable. ‘Carrots and sticks’ therefore only have limited effectiveness compared to doing things simply for the inherent pleasure or virtue of it. So try to make whatever you want others or yourself to do more fun!
Intrinsic motivation is thus the best kind of motivation. We do things without being told to either because we feel good when doing them or when they have a personal significance. So in order to cultivate an intrinsic motivation in one’s work – ask yourself ‘what do I find most rewarding about my work?’ Is it a sense of achievement, the pride of doing good work, the enjoyment of something in itself, a sense of responsibility, the personal growth and/or advancement? They are almost entirely psychological reasons. Material stuff can be quite motivating but deeper fulfilment lies with aims that are more meaningful in your life. Post No.: 0514 discussed how purpose and meaning links with intrinsic motivation. Therefore to motivate oneself – psychological, more than physical, rewards or punishments are the most effective. So devote the time to answer what you get on a personal level for doing what you do? Understand yourself better and answer what positives you get out of it personally? That’s what will drive you and give you enrichment. How does your work also play to the strengths of your positive qualities and capabilities?
One’s capability and opportunities affect one’s motivation, and these three components affect one’s behaviour. (Although it must be mentioned that one’s opportunities affect one’s capabilities too because we need the chances for education, training and experience – like in the vicious cycle of ‘you have no experience so I won’t give you this job to help you build up your experience’. So opportunities matter greatly, and this is an issue for organisations to ensure the equity of.)
Do things for the learning and to get good at an activity in its own right – to master it. Yearn to improve with less emphasis on proving. Therefore don’t shy away from challenges and the risk of failing what one will ultimately survive from – it’s about development and having a ‘growth mindset’!
Since our hobbies are usually things we voluntarily pay to do (e.g. we pay to play collectible card games) whilst work is usually things we get paid to do (e.g. we get paid to collect rubbish) – you could consider paying to do a job you don’t like? This is probably a step too far however(!)
Or how about combining an unattractive task with an even more boring and unattractive task? This could make the former appear more relatively appealing. Certainly (especially if you work from home) don’t distract yourself by having more appealing alternative activities nearby, like having the TV on in the background – make nothing more interesting to do in your immediate environment than what you need to do.
Putting the time and effort into something – and the more the better – can make us personally love it more (e.g. cooking our own food, building or customising something, raising our own children), but only if the task gets satisfactorily completed. Labour leads to love. The most treasured victories are the hard-fought ones rather than the cakewalks. Others may not appreciate what you’ve accomplished but you will. It’ll demonstrate your competence. If you constantly use or see something that you’ve personally crafted then you’ll continually rekindle the joy and satisfaction you received from making it too.
This is also related to the ‘not invented here syndrome’, where people take pride in their own ideas more than other people’s. People generally devalue ideas from others (especially from outgroup members) if they didn’t come up with these ideas themselves. People are more reluctant to acknowledge the work of others, and can be jealous of other people’s input, particularly in competitive contexts. The solution when it comes to trying to convince others to take on a particular position is to try to lead them to arrive at the same idea themselves, instead of directly preaching one’s position to them. Loving our own ideas means we’ll put in the time and effort to explore them further. Albeit we shouldn’t insularly ignore the ideas of others or be unable to ditch lost causes stemming from our own ideas.
Upbeat music tends to make us feel more positive about tackling a tough task, and vice-versa with downbeat music. (That’s probably why Eye of the Tiger just works as a boxing ring entrance song!) Our emotions evolved to tell us whether something is an opportunity or threat – a happy emotion is like a green light and an unhappy one is like a red light – hence our emotions shape our perceptions and in turn thoughts and behaviours.
Unhappy and unmotivated people can sap the energy from others. Offering to pay people to not take a job can therefore whittle out those who aren’t intrinsically motivated enough to do it. This’ll also mean that those who stay will be aware of giving up a worthwhile lump sum to take the job, thus they’ll likely justify it by rationalising that the job must really be brilliant!
Role models can show us what’s possible. But focusing on a role model isn’t so effective when it comes to motivation, nor is thinking about the disastrous things that’ll happen if you fail, trying to suppress unhelpful thoughts, relying purely on willpower, or fantasising about your ideal life if you achieve your goal.
Detailed feedback will help motivate students because it’ll show that you’ve read their work fully and therefore the work was worth completing. There’s almost nothing worse for one’s motivation than doing something just to find out it was unappreciated or immediately undone again, like building things just to see them immediately dismantled again.
Pulling things towards you is associated with liking something, and vice-versa – so try pulling at your work desk when you want to work, or try repeatedly pushing away sugary drinks so that over time the association with rejection reinforces.
In terms of reducing the motivation to do something that’s undesirable – focusing people’s minds on what not to do (like ‘don’t smoke’) will only focus them on that very thing (the smoking in this case). So focus them on what to do instead (e.g. a new habit or hobby). It’s not so simple to stop people from doing something they personally like to do – you must offer them an alternative activity that’s at least as attractive. So you cannot just simply tell people to stop committing a certain lucrative crime – you’ve got to offer them an attractive alternative career path (i.e. increase the number of legitimate and respectable jobs in their town), otherwise they’ll just return to crime as a way to earn a crust. If you want to encourage people to live a healthier lifestyle, it’s better to make physical activities and healthier meals more enticing than use fear to scare them into a change from their existing unhealthy habits. Threats only have a limited efficacy (e.g. graphic health warning labels will reduce the number of cigarette purchases by smokers who are lower in nicotine dependence but will have no effect on smokers who are higher in dependence).
So if you want someone to do something – talk about what they should do and sell that something as interesting and exciting, more than constantly remind them of what not to do and how bad that thing is. Tell them about how good they could be rather than how bad they currently are too, which could create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And successful people do. The hardest part motivationally is the start, but once you get going – and then the more you do something – the more energy you’ll feel to do more and the easier that activity will get. It’s about building that momentum, routine and sense of progress. People often notice this with physical exercise when they compare themselves when they hadn’t exercised in a while with when they’ve gotten into a rhythm or regular routine. The first attempts at a task present uncertainties and are the worst performance-wise but you’ll naturally get better and better the more you do it. So just make a start without promising to do anything more. You’ll then often find that you can easily just continue for a bit longer. This is the timeless trick.