Advertising

Last Updated on April 19, 2021

What Is External Motivation and How Can You Use It?

Advertising
What Is External Motivation and How Can You Use It?

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

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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

Trending in Staying Motivated

1 What Is Incentive Motivation And Does It Work? 2 6 Friday Motivation Tips to Help You Stay Motivated 3 How to Improve Employee Motivation in the Workplace 4 20 All-Time Best Motivational Books to Inspire You 5 21 Powerful Words That Will Give You Life Motivation

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Published on September 27, 2021

What Is Incentive Motivation And Does It Work?

Advertising
What Is Incentive Motivation And Does It Work?

We’ve all needed a bit of inspiration at some time in our lives. In the past year or two, that need most likely has grown. Who hasn’t been trying to shed those extra pounds we put on during the pandemic? Who hasn’t felt the need to fake a little enthusiasm at joining yet another Zoom call? Who hasn’t been trying to get excited about trekking back into the office for a 9 to 5 (longer if you add in the commute)? Feeling “meh” is a sign of our times. So, too, is incentive motivation, a way to get back our spark, our drive, and our pursuit of the things we say we want most.

In this article, I’ll talk about what incentive motivation is and how it works.

What Is Incentive Motivation?

Incentive motivation is an area of study in psychology focused on human motivation. What is it that gets us to go from couch potato to running a marathon? What spurs us to get the Covid vaccine—or to forgo it? What is it that influences us to think or act in a certain way? Incentive motivation is concerned with the way goals influence behavior.[1] By all accounts, it works if the incentive being used holds significance for the person.

The Roots of Incentive Motivation

Incentive motivation’s roots can be traced back to when we were children. I’m sure many of us have similar memories of being told to “eat all our veggies” so that we would “grow up to be big and strong,” and if we did eat those veggies, we would be rewarded with a weekend trip to a carnival or amusement park or playground of choice. The incentive of that outing was something we wanted enough to have it influence our behavior.

Advertising

Growing up, incentive motivation continues to play a major role in what we choose to do. For example, while we may not have relished the idea of spending years studying, getting good grades, pursuing advanced degrees, and graduating with sizeable debt from student loans, a great many of us decided to do just that. Why? Because the end goal of a career, a coveted title, and the associated incentives of financial reward and joy in doing something we love were powerful motivators.

One researcher who believes in the power of incentive motivation is weight management expert, co-author of the book State of Slim, and co-founder of the transformational weight loss program of the same name, Dr. Holly Wyatt. Her work with her clients has proven time and again that when motivation fizzles, incentives can reignite those motivational fires.

“Eat more veggies, exercise, keep track of my weight: These things and more DO work, but bottom line, you gotta keep doing them. Setting up rituals and routines to put your efforts on auto-pilot is one way. And along the way, the use of both external and internal motivators helps keep people on track. External motivation sources are those things outside of ourselves that help to motivate us. They’re powerful, like pouring gasoline on a fire. But they may not last very long. Internal motivators are more tied into the reasons WHY we want to reach our goals. In my State of Slim weight loss program, we spend a lot of time on what I call ‘peeling back the onion’ to find the WHY. I think the internal motivators are more powerful, especially for the long-term, but they may take longer to build. They’re the hot coals that keep our motivational fires burning.”

Examples of Incentive Motivation

In the way of incentive motivation, specific to the external motivators, Dr. Wyatt challenges her clients to commit to changing just one behavior that will help them reach their weight loss goals. Clients must then agree to a “carrot” or a “stick” as either their reward for accomplishing what they say they will do or as their punishment for falling short. Those incentives might be something like enjoying a spa day if they do the thing they said they would do or sweating it out while running up and down the stairwell of their apartment building a certain number of times as punishment for not following through.

Advertising

Whatever they choose, the goal must be something they really want, and the incentive must be something that matters to them enough to influence their behaviors in reaching those goals. Some people are more motivated by some sort of meaningful reward (a carrot) whereas, other people are more motivated by some sort of negative consequence or the taking away of a privilege (the stick).

Another example of incentive motivation is playing out currently with companies and government entities offering perks to people who get the Covid vaccine. Nationwide, offers are being made in the way of lottery tickets, cash prizes, concert seats, free admission to events and discounts for food, and even free drink at local restaurants and bars. The list of incentives being offered to the public to increase vaccination rates is pretty extensive and quite creative.[2]  These incentives are financial, social, and even hit on moral sensibilities. But is this particular incentive motivation working?

Remember that a key to incentive motivation working is if the individual puts importance on the reward being received on the ultimate goal. So, not all incentives will motivate people in the same way. According to Stephen L. Franzoi, “The value of an incentive can change over time and in different situations.”[3]

How Does Incentive Motivation Differ from Other Types of Motivators?

Incentive motivation is just one type of motivating force that relies on external factors. While rewards are powerful tools in influencing behaviors, a few other options may be more aligned with who you are and what gets you moving toward your goals.

Advertising

Fear Motivation

In many ways, being motivated by fear is the very opposite of being motivated by incentives. Rather than pursuing some reward, it’s the avoidance of some consequence or painful punishment that sparks someone into action. For example, married couples may “forsake all others” not out of love or commitment but out of a fear that they may be “taken to the cleaners” by their spouses if their infidelities are revealed.

Another example wherein fear becomes the great motivator is one we’re hearing about more and more as we’re coming out of this pandemic—the fear of being poor. The fear of being poor has kept many people in jobs they hate. It’s only now that we see a reversal as headlines are shining a light on just how many workers are quitting and refusing to go back to the way things were.

Social Motivation

Human beings are social creatures. The desire to belong is a powerful motivator. This type of social motivation sparks one’s behavior in ways that, hopefully, result in an individual being accepted by a certain group or other individuals.

The rise of the Internet and the explosion of social media engagement has been both positive and negative in its power to motivate us to be included among what during our school days would be called “the cool kids” or “cliques” (jocks, nerds, artsy, gamers, etc.). We probably all have experienced at one time or another the feelings associated with “not being chosen”—whether to be on a team to play some game or as the winning candidate for some job or competition. Social rejection can make or break us.

Advertising

Before You Get Up and Go…

Know that, especially during these challenging times, it’s “normal” and very much “okay” to feel a lack of motivation. Know, too, that external motivators, such as those we’ve talked about in this article, can be great tools to get your spark back. We’ve only touched on a few here. There are many more—both external and internal.

Remember that these external motivators, such as incentive motivations, are only as powerful as the importance placed on the reward by the individual. It’s also important to note that if there isn’t an aligned internal motivation, the results will more than likely be short-lived.

For example, losing a certain amount of weight because you want to fit into some outfit you intend to wear at some public event may get you to where you want to be. But will it hold up after your party? Or will those pounds find their way back to you? If you want to be rewarded at work with that trip to the islands because you’ve topped the charts in sales and hustle to make your numbers, will you be motivated again and again for that same incentive? Or will you need more and more to stay motivated?

Viktor Frankl, the 20th-century psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, and author of the best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is quoted as having said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” As important as external motivators like incentives may be in influencing behaviors, the key is always to align them with one’s internal “why”—only then will the results be long-lived.

Advertising

So, how might incentive motivation influence you and your behavior toward goals? Knowing your answer might keep you energized no matter what your journey and help to further your successes.

Featured photo credit: Atharva Tulsi via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Britannica: Incentive motivation
[2] National Governors Association: COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives
[3] verywellmind: The Incentive Theory of Motivation

Read Next