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Last Updated on February 25, 2020

What Is External Motivation And How to Make Good Use of It?

What Is External Motivation And How to Make Good Use of It?

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 motivation (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 External Motivation?

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

External 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. External 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 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.

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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 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.

How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life How to Define Your Personal Values and Live By Them for a Fulfilling Life What Is External Motivation And How to Make Good Use of It? Is There a True Measure of Success? How to Define Your Own Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It)

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Last Updated on April 6, 2020

What Is Self-Worth and How to Recognize Yours

What Is Self-Worth and How to Recognize Yours

There are a ton of articles on the internet on one’s “self” topic or another. It’s possible that you’ve read some of them before this one, and you’re wondering how this article might be any different from the rest.

The truth is that self-love, self-esteem, self-empathy, self-regard, and all the other ‘self-’ words are indeed great and unique qualities to be instilled. Still, the most crucial concept of them all is self-worth.

What is Self-Worth?

Self-worth is simply defined as the level of importance you place on yourself. It is an emotional outlook that determines how and what you feel about yourself in comparison to other people.

Self-worth is a fundamental part of our being, and it controls the way we see ourselves. Everything we think about, all the emotions we feel, and even the way we act is a product of what value we place on ourselves by ourselves.

Self-worth is an entirely sensitive topic. So, here are a few recommended steps to recognizing your true self-worth.

    The Theory of Self-Worth

    To most people, self-worth only comes after a feat has been achieved or when in competition with another person. This is the theory: that a person’s life goal is self-recognition and that this recognition is a product of their accomplishments. This theory also holds capability, determination, performance, and self-esteem as its model elements.

    These four elements cooperate with each other to contribute to how we regard ourselves. It may be relatable, but should we really be placing so much importance on our accomplishments just to determine our self-worth? Is outdoing the next person the only way we can hold ourselves in high regard? What really determines one’s sense of value?

    Factors That Define Self-Worth

    The four elements from the theory above are not the only benchmarks used by people to determine self-worth. Many other things can inhibit how a person recognizes their self-worth. For some, it might be childhood trauma, low grades, or even bullying.

    The following are more common ways people measure their self-worth:

    1. Sphere of Contact

    Many times, people are weighed (or weigh themselves) by the number of prominent people they are close to and know.

    2. Physical and Emotional Appearance

    We find ourselves passing judgments just by regarding a person’s outward look – what they wear, how they speak, or how the society feels about them.

    3. Occupation

    This is another yardstick that people use to measure self-worth. Someone can be mean to a waiter and friendly to a doctor, for example, because they feel the latter is more successful than the former. Career choices often add positive or negative importance to one’s life.

    4. Possessions

    This is a common factor used to measure self-worth. It can be anything from the size of your paycheck to the kind and number of cars you own. It is usually material assets.

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      What Self-Worth Is Not

      The truth is that status or material things should never measure self-worth. There are many misconceptions about self-worth that have sadly shaped the minds of people into thinking less of themselves when they are, in fact, more.

      Self-Worth Is Not Your Career

      Your occupation should not determine the value you place on your life.

      There have been cases where experienced and trained professionals have had to settle for menial jobs because they couldn’t get hired. If this doesn’t take away their qualifications, why then should self-worth be measured according to career choices? The only thing that should be a concern is how gratifying the job is.

      Self-Worth Is Not About Your Accomplishment

      Achievements are great, but what you do or achieve shouldn’t affect the importance you place on yourself. No label, certificate, or plaque should measure your worth for you.

      Self-Worth Is Not Your Age

      I don’t mean to sound cliché by telling you age is nothing but a big number, but I will tell you this: how old or how young you are does not determine how prepared you are for anything.

      You only need to be willing and dedicated, and the world will be at your feet.

      Self-Worth Is Not Your Love Life

      It is tempting to try to feel good about yourself just because someone feels good about you. What if they leave?

      Single or not, do not make a relationship the basis for your self-worth.

      Self-Worth Is Not Your Grades

      Are you the least smart person in your class? Know that you are just as valuable as a straight-A student because you have individual gifts and might excel at something else that an A-student will flunk terribly.

      Self-Worth Is Not Your Health Status

      Do you have an illness that’s lowering your spirits? It is safe to say that positive people heal more quickly, so stay optimistic.

      Self-Worth Is Not Your Finances

      Too much or too little money does not define a person. As long as you are satisfied and have enough to survive, then there’s nothing to worry about.

      Self-Worth Is Not About Your Preference

      Do people think you’re old-school or too sophisticated for this generation? Their opinion doesn’t matter as long as you’re okay with who you are.

      Self-worth is only about you!

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        What Self-Worth Really Is

        It can be somewhat overwhelming to see yourself for who “you surely are” without the assets or dream job or friends. For some people, it can be agonizing, and they would do anything but come to this stage of awareness. There also exists a high possibility for one to become afraid of becoming self-aware.

        It is natural for humans to be elusive of this sort of fear or pain. This process is necessary for the discovery of self-worth and should never be avoided. Beyond every seemingly painful emotion is an eternity of freedom, and the first step on this journey is self-awareness. This is the key to finding self-worth.

        Everyone has a mental picture of who they want to be. Sometimes this person is not who he or she is. It’s okay to have ambitions and life goals, but never let your dreams make you deny yourself. Self-denial is an enemy to self-worth. This is why it is painful to become self-aware. Most people will never want to let go of who they think they are and embrace their true selves for who they indeed are.

        Self-worth is not a bad thing. It only makes you accept your weaknesses while you learn to focus on your strengths. Some of this strength lies undiscovered, and until we become self-aware, we will be unable to bring them to light.

        On self-worth, you can either be your own best friend or your worst enemy. If you keep evading self-awareness, you will only keep delaying your freedom and healing. Self-worth truly comes when you fully understand who you are and what strong potential you possess.

        The Importance of Self-Worth

        The best part about recognizing self-worth is seeing the practical impact it has on your behavior. Self-worth affects the things you do and the choices you make consciously. You start rejecting anything that has a negative effect on your outlook on life, and you become more open to things crafted to make you a better person.

        Self-worth is what keeps you satisfied even if all your achievements, assets, and possessions are taken away from you. The moment you reach healthy levels of self-worth, life becomes much more meaningful.

          How To Recognize Your Self-Worth

          So, you’ve finally become self-aware, but you don’t feel good about yourself. Nothing excites you about you. You think you’re just an average person, coursing through life with nothing special to offer.

          You start to feel like you need validation from determining your self-worth. You want to achieve a task or even take a quiz to measure your self-worth. What you should know is that self-worth first comes from within.

          To reiterate the opening paragraph of this article, it is the level of importance you place on yourself; by yourself! By merely existing, you are sufficient.

          Finding Strength

          Strength in self-worth comes from finding qualities you excel at. These qualities will be a constant reminder whenever you start feeling like you are not worthy enough.

          Little things like a list of your talents, things you like about yourself that make you stand out, challenges you’ve won at, how you’ve helped other people, and other great reflections are examples of questions you should have answers to. Your strength lies in those questions.

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          The Dangers of Linking Self-Worth to Things and People

          You make unhealthy decisions when you keep looking for validation in things and people. You never get to see yourself for the potential-filled and robust person you are.

          Looking for external validation will only frustrate you. You set yourself up for a chain of disappointments. Place your worth on your insides. It is the key to leading a healthy life.

          How To Start Increasing Your Self-Worth

          Now that you’ve seen the vacuums that continuously drain your self-worth, it’s time to learn ways to increase, strengthen, and sustain it. You can start by highlighting the things you previously found your worth in and substitute them for more productive activities.

          Here are some examples.

          For the One Who Found Self-Worth in Excelling at School or at Work:

          Take some time off from all the excessive reading. Engage in an activity that you really like. Learn a new skill, like how to play an instrument or how to dance salsa. Read an unusual book.

          For the One Who Sought Validation from Social Media:

          Go offline for some time. Attend hangouts with physical people. Take long and reflective walks. Be intentional about your words and actions. Show your relations and friends that you care for them. Show up physically for people. Be there for them.

          On your journey to recognize self-worth, never compare yourself to anyone. By comparison, you rob yourself of self-awareness and block your chances of seeing your strong potential. Comparison only measures your worth by other people’s standards. How about creating some rules on your own?

          With time, it becomes easier to free oneself from the weight that comes with no self-worth. It is easy to do things you believe in than otherwise. Never doubt the process. Reassure yourself that your journey to self-worth will be the most rewarding experience of your life.

          Let’s take a look at some practical ways to boost self-worth:

          1. Do a Talent or Skill Inventory

          Everyone has something good to offer. Humans possess and can learn mind-blowing abilities.

          What can you offer? Take stock of your skills and gifts.

          What are those cool things you do effortlessly? When you identify your abilities, you suppress your weaknesses and give voice to your strength.

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          2. Pardon Yourself

          You have to forgive yourself for all your shortcomings. Learn from all your past mistakes. If you keep feeling guilty or ashamed, you will never have a healthy sense of self-worth.

          3. Take Risks

          The only reason you haven’t done something great for yourself is that you are still wondering whether or not you should do it. Never be afraid to take risks to become a better version of yourself. Stop doubting your abilities and go.

          If you don’t succeed on your initial try, you would only have learned how not to fail next time. Get up and do great things.

          Try these 6 Ways to Be a Successful Risk Taker and Take More Chances.

          4. Self-Love

          Accept yourself for who you are. If you have negative qualities, work on becoming a better person. Never make the mistake of living in denial. You would only be delaying your freedom.

          Here’re 30 Ways To Practice Self-Love And Be Good To Yourself.

          5. Surround Yourself with Healthy People

          Healthy attracts healthy. Healthy habits can rub off as much as negative ones do.

          Surround yourself with the change you want to see. Be with people who have overcome the doubts they had about themselves and, like you, are also on a journey to recognizing self-worth.

          Take a look at this article and learn How to Surround Yourself With Positive People.

          It is crucial for everyone to lead healthy lives physically, emotionally, socially, mentally, and otherwise, by evaluating our self-worth. We have to consciously take steps to build and develop our sense of regard for each other and, more importantly, for ourselves. Healthy self-worth is a source of deep and lasting satisfaction in life.

          Final Thoughts

          It is worthy to note that you will begin to lose friends on your journey to recognize your self-worth.

          People with low self-worth find solace in each other’s company and so your new-found confidence might become threatening. It’s okay. Ensure your growth process inspires them, but do not hesitate to keep a distance from anyone who does not support your growth.

          More Tips to Improve Your Self-Worth

          Featured photo credit: Erik Lucatero via unsplash.com

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