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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

What Is External Motivation and How Can You Use It?

What Is External Motivation and How Can You Use It?
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If your boss gave you a 50% raise, would you be more driven and motivated to prove yourself? What about the situations when you go to the store and are able to cash in your credit card points? Does this make you more likely to keep spending? If you answered yes to these questions, you’re beginning to understand external motivation.

The above are just a few extrinsic motivation examples. According to studies, external incentives can’t quite measure up to their better half—the internal kind. This is what we are constantly being told by virtually everyone, from psychologists to coaches, gurus, career advisors, entrepreneurs, and the like. It still does the job to get us moving, but not quite at the same level as its twin, and not for long.

Simply put, extrinsic rewards don’t hold up for long, we keep hearing.

And yet, there is also no denying that external motivation works. This is why it’s still widely used today. It’s quick, tangible, it can often be specifically measured and adjusted (think bonuses), and it provides a decent push in the right direction.

Therefore, it can be rather successfully used to get things done, reach our goals, and even get us to take action.

What Is External Motivation?

Let’s take a quick step back and agree on what external motivation is and how it works.

External motivation (also known as extrinsic motivation) means that we do something not for the sake of inner fulfilment (because we want to), but to gain a reward or avoid a punishment. It may feel like more of an obligation rather than an activity that will bring you enjoyment or fulfilment.

External motivation comes from outside to motivate people. It stems from things like money, recognition, fame, or praise. For instance, a student who does their homework because they fear parental sanctions is motivated extrinsically. In contrast, if they do it because they find it interesting or believe that this will help them practice and improve their skills, they are internally driven.

Both types of motivation work to get us moving, but the intensity, desire, and quality of our outcomes can be different.

You can find out more about the different types of motivation here: 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams

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How Well Does It Work?

Research confirms over and over that internal motivation is the preferred way to go if a person wants to have a consistent drive to complete tasks, perform better, or improve themselves.

So, intrinsic incentives seem to be the winner, no doubt, but this doesn’t mean that we should abandon external rewards as being ineffective. External motivation is a good performer in its own right. When used properly, it can also deliver, but you need to read the fine print.

Firstly, external motivators are susceptible to the so-called Hedonic treadmill (aka Hedonic adaptation).[1] It simply means that we quickly get used to the good stuff.

Research tells us that if you get a promotion, more money, a new car or a designer purse, the “high” has a very short life span. Soon after, you need a new push to get to that top-of-the-world feeling. It’s never ending, exactly like running on a treadmill.

There is also some research to attest that when we are extrinsically driven, the quality of our performance, persistence, and creativity are not just as good as with the intrinsic motivators.[2] It likely has to do with the “want to” vs. “must” state of mind. You start from a different mindset, and you end up with a different result.

Finally, studies tell us that extrinsic motivation can interfere with the internal ones and actually decrease it. It’s a phenomenon called the “overjustification effect.”[3] Simply put, if you enjoyed doing something and started to get rewarded for it, your inner drive to do it will progressively go down.

Regardless, external motivators can still cause you to take action. After all, not everything you do can be highly enjoyable and fulfilling, right? However, if you need to accomplish something that you may not quite feel like doing, extrinsic rewards often can push you through that extra mile you need to get to the finish line, especially when it comes to the areas of academia (think grades) and work (job, salaries, and recognition).

If you want to know if external motivation would work for you, you can check out Lifehack’s Free Assessment: What’s Your Motivation Style?

Examples of Extrinsic Rewards

1. Money

When you’re listening to the radio, have you noticed that many talk shows offer monetary rewards for “calling in” or participating in this or that activity? This is an example of a reward causing external motivation to increase your interest in playing.

You can also see this is the raise you’re trying to get to get at work. The idea of that extra money is likely motivating you to work harder and impress your boss.

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2. Prizes

How much money do you spend at fairs or carnivals trying to win those silly little prizes the game booths offer? What about the fun prizes your friend offered for winning the games at her baby shower? Prizes are often great external motivators.

We can use this to our advantage by promising to buy ourselves something nice if we complete a certain task or activity.

3. Grades

This is one of the most common sources of external motivation and one we will all recognize. Even if you weren’t necessarily motivated by the possibility of getting good grades, your parents probably were.

4. Promotions/Recognition

When it comes to extrinsic motivation examples in the workplace, the chance of getting a promotion at work is a huge source of motivation at our jobs. We like the idea of being recognized for the work we do and feeling appreciated at something that can feel drawn out when we’ve been working somewhere for a while.

5 Ways to Utilize Your External Motivation

Here is how to get a better use of the external drivers to enhance your performance, reach your goals and improve your life.

1. A Quick Hit to Make Yourself Do Something

How many times have you told yourself: “If I do X, I will treat myself to Y”? For instance, “If don’t cheat on my diet this week, I’ll allow myself a piece of cake on the weekend” or “If I work hard and get that promotion, I’ll buy a nicer car.”

The truth is, when we see the “carrot” close in sight, it can make us more determined to get it.

It’s called immediate gratification, and it ties into a concept in psychology and behavioral economics, known as “hyperbolic discounting.”[4] When it comes to human behavior, it’s our tendency to gravitate toward immediate rewards (I’ll take $50 today) vs. benefits expected sometime in the future ($100 in 6 months). In experiments, people consistently take the “now” option over the choice to have more but later.

The same applies to motivation—although internal incentives can give us much more in the long run, there is still a level of uncertainty because you often have to play the long game and wait for your passion to pay off, especially financially. There is also the question as to whether you can feel truly fulfilled to do things solely for your own gratification, even when no one recognizes your efforts, skills, or accomplishments.

2. Make Others (or Yourself) Do What You What

Convincing other people to do what we want is undeniably a priceless skill. One of the best ways to achieve exactly this is to give them a compliment. It can be in the form of positive feedback or praise, but it’s an immediate reward that can work wonders on people through external motivation.

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According to research, compliments have a similar effect on the brain as receiving cash and can improve performance.[5] Therefore, they are equivalent to a powerful motivational shot.

Studies tell us that receiving acclaim can also improve performance.[6] In addition, it can make you more productive, engaged, and likely to stick around with your company a bit longer.[7]

So, regardless if you are a manager who wants to give your employees a push, or to ask a friend to do you a favor, or even perhaps to make yourself do something you’ve been postponing—pay a compliment.

Of course, if you are always fishing for compliments or give yourself one too many, it may mean that you have a bit of a narcissistic streak running in your personality. This, of course, will make you very vulnerable to the Hedonic treadmill trap.

Alternatively, if you are trying to make others do what you want by playing to their soft side, you may be overstepping in the dangerous territory of Machiavellianism.

So, when you give others or yourself compliments, and receive them, make sure there is some truth in them. Unearned praise can backfire, research has discovered.

3. Show Me the Money

Remember this epic phrase from the movie Jerry Maguire? Money is a controversial motivator, a multitude of studies tell us. We all have heard of the magic $75K number[8] —the threshold after which more money doesn’t bring us more satisfaction and fulfillment.

Or, to put it in Arnold Schwarzenegger words:

“Money doesn’t make you happy. I now have $50 million, but I was just as happy when I had $48 million.”

And yet, money is still a powerful driver for many of us because of the many perks it brings to the table.

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Instead of focusing on a number (“I want to have a million dollars in the bank”), think in terms of the benefits from enhancing your financials—mainly, the freedom it will give you and the reduced stress and worry.

4. Carrots and Sticks

“Carrots and sticks” simply means that in order to go above and beyond at what we do, employers use rewards (increase in salary, bonuses, recognition, positive feedback) or punishment (negative feedback, pay decrease, demotion). It’s been a hot topic with organizational psychologists for a while now as to what works better and if the rewards-punishments approach is the best way to utilize external motivation.

There seems to be more evidence to support the rewards camp,[9]. These get better results as far as external motivators go.

But punishment also works. For instance, you are afraid you may fail your test, this may push you to study harder. If you are scared of getting unfavorable feedback at your annual review, you will try to perform above average during the year.

You may not be happy or feel joy in doing these things, but the point is that you will likely do them anyway. Scaring yourself a little can be beneficial—as in “If I don’t study hard, I will flunk the test” or “If I don’t start eating healthy, I may have a heart attack.”

Although not the most pleasant ways to seduce ourselves into doing what must be done, punishment can also do the trick when it comes to motivation.

Final Thoughts

External motivation does quite well in certain situations and with certain people. It can be used to spring ourselves into action or make others do what we want them to. It can also yield rather predictable outcomes.

What’s more—it’s not shameful to be driven by extrinsic rewards. Of course, the intrinsically rewarding sources are better and more sustainable in the long run, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your goals if you rely on external incentives. Because they seem to be more straight-forward and can bring foreseeable results, we all can and should use them to our advantage.

You simply have to be mindful that doing something purely for the glory, fame, or money is not going to last. Remember the hedonic treadmill?

Maybe true success can only be found at the crossroads of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. That is, enjoy what you do and reap the benefits of recognition and respect.

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More Tips for Finding Motivation

Featured photo credit: Candice Picard via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Evelyn Marinoff

A wellness advocate who writes about the psychology behind confidence, happiness and well-being.

Is There a True Measure of Success? How to Define Your Own 30 Practical Ideas to Create Your Best Morning Routine Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It) What Is External Motivation and How Can You Use It? How to Define Your Personal Values and Live By Them for a Fulfilling Life

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Last Updated on July 29, 2021

How to Get Motivated Every Day When You Wake Up

How to Get Motivated Every Day When You Wake Up
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It’s Monday morning. The alarm goes off. Do you know how to get motivated at that moment? What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you open your eyes? 

Are you excited to get up and go to work, or are you dreading the day and week ahead?

Whatever your response may be, ask yourself this question:

“What is it that makes you feel unmotivated?” What’s driving you to feel negative or positive about your Monday ahead? If you want to know how to get motivated, keep reading.

The Two Types of People

You likely know of people who have been doing the same thing for years and seem to not have any problem staying stagnant. Whether it be in their marriage, job, or personal endeavors, they seem to be getting along just fine without progressing towards anything “better.”

On the other hand, I’m sure you also know of individuals who focus on the positive, goals setting and are constantly pushing themselves to greater heights. Be it promotions at work, building a family, celebrating marriage milestones, traveling more, or going to school again, these individuals seem to constantly progress towards something that improves or enhances their life.

So what’s the difference between these two types of individuals?

What you feel capable of doing comes down to one thing: motivation. It’s the force, or lack of, that keeps driving you forward to overcome challenges and obstacles to achieve your goals.

Without motivation, you’ll give up after a few failed attempts, or even on the first tough challenge that comes your way. Or you’ll just remain where you are: unhappy yet not doing anything to progress ahead.

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What Is Motivation, Really?

Whether you realize it or not, motivation is a huge force in your life, and it needs to be harnessed in order to excel and actually enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing on a daily basis. If you find yourself thinking, “I need motivation,” there are specific steps you can take.

Unfortunately, many overgeneralize the word motivation. We think of being either motivated or unmotivated as a simple “yes” or “no” state of being.

But motivation is not a switch. As discussed in the Fast Track Class – Activate Your Motivation, motivation is a flow. To feel motivated, you need to dive beyond the surface. Just reading a motivational quote, being encouraged by your friends or mentor, or writing out a short to-do list won’t help you build sustainable motivation in the long run.

You can think of the motivation that we want to achieve like the Sun (self-sustaining and long-lasting), which supplies a constant influx of energy to all life on Earth. Just like the Sun, your “motivation engine” has different layers, starting from the core and spreading out to the surface. The surface is what you see, but the real process is driven from the core (your internal motivation); and that’s the most important part.

If you can create a self-sustaining motivation engine, you’ll be able to find more meaning in your life and enjoy every minute of what you’re doing, which will make your roles and responsibilities less of a chore. 

Let me help you understand this motivation flow better by breaking down the motivation engine into 3 parts:

  1. Core – Purpose
  2. Support – Enablers
  3. Surface – Acknowledgement

The Third Layer: Surface

The outermost layer, also known as Acknowledgement, encompasses any type of external recognition that might give you motivation. It may come in the form of respect or recognition, such as compliments and praise.

Or it could be emotional support through encouragement, feedback, and constructive criticism. It could also be affiliation, where you have mutual companions or buddies sharing the same goal or burden with you.

One recent study pointed out that “rewards had a positive impact on work motivation but no significant relationship existed between reward and job satisfaction”[1].

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Therefore, it’s important to recognize that rewards will motivate you, but they won’t necessarily make you happier in an undesirable situation.

This is generally what you see on the surface when you look at other people. You see the external acknowledgement, respect, and recognition they’re getting.

The Second Layer: Support

In essence, the second layer of the motivation engine (also known as Enablers) is what supports your goals. They can magnify the motivation core you have, or speed up the momentum that you build. Basically, they create favorable circumstances for things to go smoothly.  

If you want to know how to find motivation, positive enablers are key. This could include friends and family, or any support network you’ve created in life.

The Innermost Layer: Core

But what’s most important, and the true driving force behind your motivation flow, is the innermost core, your Purpose. Your purpose is what differentiates the motivated from the unmotivated, the achievers from the underachievers, the happy from the unhappy.

Your motivational core is your Purpose, and it is sustained by two things: having meaning, and forward movement. With these two as a foundation, you’ll have a power source that will feed you motivational energy indefinitely.

If you want to learn more about the Motivation Flow, join our Fast Track Class – Activate Your Motivation for free now!

How to Sustain Your Purpose

Having meaning is simple. If you want to learn how to find motivation, just ask yourself a question: Why?

Why are you pursuing a certain goal? If the reason is vague or unclear, then your motivational energy will be the same. While motivation provides you energy to do something, that energy needs to be focused somewhere. So without meaning, there is no direction for your energy to focus.

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Yet, having a meaningful objective doesn’t mean you have to change the world or have a huge impact on society. The secret to meaningful work is simple: it should contribute value to something or someone that matters to you.

One study suggested creativity as one possible path to meaning, saying: “Many of the core concepts in work on the meaning of life, such as the needs for coherence, significance, and purpose or the desire for symbolic immortality, can be reached through creative activity”[2].

Next up is gaining forward movement. In short, this means to just keep moving. Like a snowball, motivation from having progress creates momentum. So to keep this up, you have to keep moving.

The good news is, your progress doesn’t have to be huge for you to recognize it. Small amounts of progress can be just as motivating, as long as they keep coming. Like driving a car, you may be really impatient if you’re at a complete halt. But, it lessens if you’re moving forward, even if you’re moving slowly.

Creating a simple progress indicator, like checklists or milestones, is a great way to visualize your small (and big) wins. They trigger your brain to recognize and acknowledge them, giving you small boosts of motivational energy.

This is why video games are so addictive! They’re full of progress indicators everywhere. Even though the progress is completely virtual, they’re still able to trigger the motivation centers in your brain.

Find out What Drives You Today

Why not take some time today and do a quick reflection of where you’re at now? Take one aspect of your life that you’d like to progress further in.

For example, it may be your current job. Start with your why. Write down your reasons for why you’re in the job that you’re in.

Then, think about your Motivation Core: your Purpose. Write down what it is within your job that gives you meaning, and what are some things that will help push you forward in life.

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Once you have those points, it’s time to do a comparison. Does your current job help you make progress towards that purpose that you’ve written?

If it does, you’re on the right track. If it doesn’t, or if you’ve realized your life isn’t going where you want it to, don’t panic. There’re tools that can help you get through this. The Actionable Motivation On Demand Handbook is one of those effective tools that can help you always stay motivated. Get your own handbook and never lose motivation again!

Do your best to not focus on the negative. Review your goals and aim yourself in a positive direction, even if it means that you start small.

Final Thoughts on Staying Motivated

Happiness doesn’t need to be a vague term or illusion that you’re constantly chasing after with no end in sight. By finding your true motivation, you’ll be one step closer to realizing your happiness and finding meaning in everything you do.

You may have tried many solutions to help you stay motivated and found that none of them really have any impact. That’s because they bring about incremental changes only, and permanent change requires a holistic approach. It requires more than just focusing on one area of your life or changing one part of your routine or actions.

You want to make a fundamental change, but it feels like big, unknown territory that you can’t afford to venture into at this point in your life.

The truth is, taking your life to the next stage doesn’t have to be this complicated. So, if you’d like to take the first step to achieving your life purpose, the time to learn how to find motivation is now!

More on How to Find Motivation

Featured photo credit: Candice Picard via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] European Journal of Business and Management: Impact of Reward and Recognition on Job Satisfaction and Motivation
[2] Perspectives on Psychological Science: Finding Meaning With Creativity in the Past, Present, and Future

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