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Published on November 12, 2019

5 Ways to Make the Best Use of Extrinsic Motivation

5 Ways to Make the Best Use of Extrinsic Motivation

If your boss gave you a 50% raise, how would you feel? Will this make you happy? How about 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? Did this make you more likely to keep spending, so you can keep collecting points?

Most people would say “yes” to the above questions. And that’s a perfectly fine answer. After all, there is nothing wrong with being appreciated and rewarded for your hard work and effort, isn’t that right?

These types of recognition or inducements are just few examples of what’s known as external motivators (extrinsic motivation).

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 likes. 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. Quite well, in fact. This is why it’s still widely used today. It’s quick, tangible, it can often be specifically measured and adjusted (think bonuses) and provides a decent push in the right direction.

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

What Is Extrinsic Motivation?

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

Extrinsic motivation (as opposed to intrinsic) 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’s often that you don’t want to do something, but you must do it. It may feel more of an obligation rather than an activity that will bring you enjoyment or fulfilment.

External motivation comes from outside. It’s stems from things as 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 will be internally driven.

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Both types of motivation work to get us moving. But the intensity and the desire, and most importantly—the quality of our outcomes, can be a tad different.

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 “do stuff,” to perform better, to improve themselves. In a previous post Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It), I wrote at length about why internal motivation generally tops external.

So, intrinsic incentives seem to be the winner, no doubt. But this doesn’t mean that we should abandon external rewards as being somehow “second-hand” or ineffective. Because this will be untrue. Extrinsic motivation is a good performer in its own right. When used properly, it can also deliver.

However, it comes with a small 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. No big surprise there.

Finally, studies tell us that extrinsic motivation can interfere with the internal one and actually decrease it. It’s a phenomenon called “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. You won’t feel the same inspiration.

Regardless, external motivators can still spring you to action. After all, not everything you do can be highly enjoyable and fulfilling, right? But 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).

5 Ways to Make the Best Use of Your Extrinsic 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.

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It’s called immediate gratification and it ties to a concept in psychology and behavioral economics, known as “hyperbolic discounting.”[4] 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.

Same applies to motivation—although internal incentives can give us much more (including tangibles) in the long run, there is still 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. And one of the best ways to achieve exactly this is…to give them a compliment. It can be in the form of a positive feedback or praise. But it’s an immediate reward that can work wonders on people.

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. Which, 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 move 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 drive for many of us because of the many perks it brings to the table.

But 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 less stress and worry (about money). Or consider all the less fortunate people you can help if you had a little extra to spare—that can be a strong and the right incentive to go after more money.

4. Recognition and Kudos Are Not That Bad Really

Sometimes, our jobs require us to work long hours. And we often do it because we “have to”—be it because one has a deadline and needs to finish a project, to get recognized, get promoted, or simply—to keep your job. All of these are external reasons.

On the surface, it seems that the additional work is pulling you away from your free time, from the things you actually enjoy doing, from the people you want to be with. But that’s only one way to look at it.

What if you used the extra time on the job to focus on improvement—on honing your skillset, on perfecting your craft, on building knowledge? You can become good at what you do, the best even, without having to love every second of it.

Work, for all of us—regardless if you are an entrepreneur, a teacher, an accountant, or Bill Gates—will always have an element of obligation and having to push ourselves some days to get through the day or a difficult task.

But if you refine your competencies, there is a good chance you will also be recognized, promoted and respected. And who doesn’t want their work to be acknowledged after all?

5. Carrots and Sticks

The good-old carrots-or-sticks debate goes back probably few centuries back. Both are probably the most recognized and widely-used external motivator in the workplace.

“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 but, 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 even the best way to motivate people.

There seems to be more evidence to support the rewards camp,[9] which includes all the things we discussed so far—money, recognition, positive feedback. 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 an unfavorable feedback at your annual review, you will try to perform above average during the year.

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

The point I’m trying to get across is that 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 internal ones are the 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. And 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 the two types of motivation—internal and external. That is, enjoy what you do and reap the benefits of recognition and respect.

A piece in Aeon magazine beautifully sums it up:[10]

“Success does not require recognition, but it is better on the whole that people hear your music, read your words, taste your food, than not. Moreover, though we should not place too much emphasis on the opinions of others, to have no regard for them whatsoever is supremely arrogant. Recognition is a kind of success, even though it is not the ultimate measure of it.”

More About Motivation

Featured photo credit: Candice Picard via unsplash.com

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More by this author

Evelyn Marinoff

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

What Is an Existential Crisis and How to Cope with It What’s the Purpose of Life? A Guide to Help You Live with Meaning 5 Ways to Make the Best Use of Extrinsic Motivation How to Improve Self-Control and Be the Master of Your Life Midlife Crisis for Women: How It Makes You a Better Person

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

5 Steps to Cultivate a Positive Mental Attitude

5 Steps to Cultivate a Positive Mental Attitude

Cultivating a positive mental attitude starts with a realization — a realization that you’re not the only one who has struggled, who has survived, and who has started over again. You are not alone, and there is a way through the darkness. There is simple wisdom, which can be relied upon, to help.

Find support, but also learn self-care in how you treat yourself which is what positivity is all about. That self talk, that perception, that attitude you choose changes you and changes those around you.

According to New Stanford Study: A Positive Attitude Literally Makes Your Brain Better by Jessica Stillman,[1] Stanford researchers studies how the brain was impacted in achievement and learning when one felt or was positive about a subject. The result? Outcomes were much more favorable for that student.

We do well in areas we are positive about. But what if we can choose to be positive about, well, anything? That would change everything.

Positivity is not about just being happy, which is often the misconception. In fact, acknowledging a range of emotions is healthy. Positivity is persistence while using positive thinking strategies. It is sitting with your feelings; it is acceptance of what is; it is holding onto what makes you happy; it is purpose found in pain.

And the reasoning behind choosing to be positive — you get what you give. You receive what you believe.

Here’re 5 steps to cultivate a positive mental attitude. In part, they detail why it’s important to be positive as an understanding assists in the pursuit as much as the adoption of the mindset.

1. Know That You Can Change Your Attitude

There’s a Maya Angelou quote that goes:

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

When you choose positivity as your attitude, you select an attitude far more destined for resilient behavior than the alternative.

When you have a negative attitude, your brain gives itself permission to develop negative thinking patterns and in turn, difficult and dark emotions. You spend all your days ruminating, or worrying about the same thing over and over again, thinking that will solve it. Doing this will cause you to miss the answers rather than make the most of the moments in front of you.

In actuality, the first thing you need to do is calm yourself. It feels counterintuitive, but that means to release your troubled mentality. When you release what is bothering you, you choose a safer attitude. One that helps you to accept your emotions, accept what is happening and accept that you don’t have all the answers. You’re less afraid of that fact.

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Attitude is everything. It’s how we heal ourselves. It’s how we stay positive. It’s how we secure things. It’s how we overcome.

Without a positive attitude, we cannot persevere. Perseverance is the point of positivity.

A positive attitude is how we fuel willpower. Willpower is how we fuel positivity. It goes in a circle. They are interchangeable.

Positivity denotes willpower. You can be standing in a storm and feel completely calm when you use positivity. You stay grounded. You stand firm. You do not fall over. And you know what? Even if you do, you get back up again.

There is a Japanese proverb, “Nana korobi ya oki” which means fall seven times, get up eight. This means you do not stop; you keep going. You make it through the hard times to find the good.

A positive attitude is about understanding you have power over your problems. Once you understand that, you can change your attitude. You have to choose positive thinking first in order to reap its benefits. Once you’ve chosen to be positive, you can do anything.

2. Find Your Unique Meaning in Life

When you have lost it all, a positive attitude can help you regain it or to regain your strength. It’s the best way to live. It’s the best way to learn from life and love. When you are positive, you have a power that circumstance nor others cannot take from you.

Recognizing the power you have to carry on, to make the best of things, to keep going when everything inside you wants to quit is worth everything.

You can’t always have it all, but you can always have a positive attitude. This in itself helps you stand out, helps you to shine. It’s enough to save yourself (and others potentially) with. That power keeps you grounded and safe.

For example, say you lost someone to a disease. Instead of just thinking about the loss and seeing it as the end, a positive person may decide to contribute to a cause dedicated to that disease. In doing so, the positive person becomes a beacon of hope. They become a voice for something which in turn gives them power over their hardship.

This is how people keep going: Meaning. Meaning creates a power over our emotions, over our loss so that they do not define us.

According to the Mayo Clinic, positivity affects one’s stress levels and overall health.[2] It is that powerful. When you are positive about a situation, you are less stressful and more calm and able to reason better to solve the very problem in front of you.

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Cultivating this power is about realizing a sense of meaning can be derived from all circumstances, even senseless tragedies. People often contribute to something greater than themselves when they are searching for meaning, for purpose, for positivity, for power.

You don’t always have to have a reason for why something happens, but you can use whatever happens for a greater cause. It’s subjective, changing from person to person. That’s why no matter how much you want to derive meaning from an event, there are no outright answers about how to do that.

So, what do you do? Meditate. Listen.

“Whatever purifies you is the right path, I will not try to define it. Let go of your mind then be mindful. Close your ears and listen.” — Rumi

3. Be Absolutely Present

In life, you have control over your ability to be present in the moment, even if not control over everything. You have the moment.

Positivity is telling yourself that this moment is what matters. You can’t regret the past or see the future. The only way to be positive is to be here. What do you have right in front of you? Suddenly, your life shifts to gratitude.

Gratitude serves us in letting go of what we do not need. Listing what makes us happy is one way to stay present. What do you have right now that you can use? You have the tools to be positive.

Some techniques to getting there are through meditations or mantras. For example, “Nothing bad is happening right now” is an easy one to incorporate. Your past traumas can’t trip you when you ground yourself in the present, and your ability to reason further develops to the point that even if you can’t see the future, you know it will play out like this– with you empowered and in the moment, using all your wisdom and tools and positivity to persevere. That’s all you need.

Focus on the moment. In a blog about Mindfulness, Courtney Ackerman writes that one such exercise is to live in the moment to reduce worrying.[3] Think about the past and future in small, manageable doses. But focus mostly on the present, what is happening right here and now. This will reduce worrying and therefore stress as well as other negative emotions significantly.

This will allow you to be positive.

4. Practice Self-Love

Self-talk is the core of self-love, the core of what positivity is all about. Positive self-talk leads to self-love. And when our own cup is empty, we can pour into another’s. We have to help ourselves first before we can help others.

What we say to ourselves is how we practice positivity or put it into action.

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For example, there’s a children’s book called The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper where the train thinks, “I think I can, I think I can” the whole way through its travels. The result? It could because it told itself that it can.

Such a simple concept for a complex world. And yet, it works.

This is also how self-love works. What you tell yourself is powerful and makes its mark. Here are examples of things you could tell yourself to practice positivity:

  • I am enough.
  • I am worthwhile.
  • I can do this, I just have to hold on.
  • I will make it through this.
  • I am powerful.
  • I am unstoppable.

Here’re more examples for you: 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life. Add to this list with your own!

When you write these positive mantras, you start to feel them. If you write “I am positive about this situation” enough times, you will start to feel that positivity seep in.

Loving yourself is not going to be easy nor come overnight. There will be a mess of feelings, regrets, negative self talk and more that you will have to carefully tip toe through to hold your own heart. Your heart needs love, and often, we deny what it needs in pursuit of purposeless pleasures such as external rewards rather than internal motivation for a life well lived. We live for what others think of us, say about us, and sometimes, losing it all or going through hardship can teach us what we really need: ourselves.

Loving yourself needs to come from an authentic place, not a “fake it til you make it” mentality. It needs to be real. It needs to include those flaws and all. That’s all you can do to become positive about yourself. You have to start within and do the work necessary to heal and be healthy.

Try these 30 Ways To Practice Self-Love And Be Good To Yourself.

5. Avoid Toxic Positivity (Unhealthy Positivity)

Avoid the white knuckling type of positivity where you don’t acknowledge your struggles or pain (as they also serve you). You don’t just want to tell yourself to move on because that equates to repression.

Emotions are part of positivity. You want to sit with your feelings. You want to acknowledge them, give them a voice. Instead of telling yourself to move on, you let your emotions lead to a breakthrough that helps you cope with the changes of life.

The greatest misconceptions made about being positive is assuming one does not have to feel in order to change. Throwing away hurt, anger, grief, sadness, all those emotions we associate with being “negative” only thwart our growth and power. Positivity is USING these things to better yourself or the world around you because you’re not going to give in to them. They do not become you or your identity.

You don’t have to be the white knuckling soldier you’ve always been. You say your emotions, then follow up with a use or outlet for them. That makes your positivity profound.

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Positivity is not about wearing a mask; it is the opposite of a mask. It is freedom from negative thinking strategies such as jumping to conclusions, black or white thinking, worst case scenario assumptions and more. It’s acknowledging that there may be more strength or ability in you than previously assumed. And it’s worth it to find out.

Toxic positivity may suggest you simply put a smile on and act fine. That’s not real positivity. Healthy positivity is about showing up when you’re tired; loving when you are feeling loss; healing when you want to cling to your hurt. It’s realization that you are worth it, not worth writing off. And you care about the outcome, so you stay to sort it out. You don’t abandon or jump ship. You hold on. That’s healthy positivity.

So that one day you may say to others, “I see you. I feel you. I understand you,” because you have been where they are and got through it. It’s acknowledging the dark as much as the light.

It’s living so others may live; it’s all you need. It’s not an exact formula everyone can replicate, and no one can copy you either. Your story is important. You are meant to be here. You are meant to do well. It will be those thoughts that get you to the finish line. Thriving.

Final Thoughts

In every moment, you’re not going to want to be positive. There will be times when you want to throw in the towel. But even then, choosing your attitude, recognizing the power of positivity, being absolutely present, practicing self-love and avoiding toxic or unhealthy positivity will better your days and assist through your trials.

Being positive isn’t easy, but it’s worth it to see what is going to happen next. Just around the corner may be the change you need, but you’ll never know if you don’t hold on to find out.

Positivity is about being curious enough to stay for the outcome because you simply believe, hold onto and trust in yourself and some goodness in this world. That’s enough to keep one going, and enough to help them go from surviving to thriving which is where you want to be.

Everyone has low moments. There’s nothing to be ashamed of for that. You can feel negative emotions though without shaming yourself for them by practicing healthy positivity. These steps are how to cultivate a positive mental attitude.

That way you don’t live with regret. You live in the moment. You make the decision how.

You can start at anytime. Positivity can be like a switch of perception. Once you uplift yourself, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish. And soon, you’ll be onto uplifting others which helps even more.

Positivity is contagious. It spreads like sunlight over the darkness. You can be the source of that sunlight. All you have to do is simple: Believe you can.

Good luck!

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Featured photo credit: Court Prather via unsplash.com

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