Published on August 4, 2021

What Is Competence Motivation And How To Use It

What Is Competence Motivation And How To Use It

You must have come across “Employee of the Month” boards in stores and workplaces that feature the best employee in a specific period. Indeed, it is a form of appreciation for the employee’s hard work. But can’t preference be given privately instead? So, why announce it to even the customers? That’s right—to motivate the other employees to work harder by triggering their competitive side.

In my previous article focusing on intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, I covered two sources of motivation that drive an individual towards productivity. This article extends the prior write-up, providing a new perspective on motivation and utilizing competence motivation to reap maximum benefits.

Why You Don’t Always Need Incentives

You don’t always need incentives to realize what is truly needed. Susan Fowler, in her book “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging,” writes,

“Outdated terminology—such as driving for results or incentivizing behavior—leads you down the wrong path if you are looking for motivation that generates productivity without compromising positive and enduring energy, vitality, and well-being.”

Productivity attached with incentives is a short-term motivating stimulus. In such a way, the mind is trained to seek incentives in any activity, the absence of which could severely impact the quality of performance.

The Idea Behind Motivation Is Empowerment

We need an inexhaustible power source within us that drives us to get out of bed every day and get things done. That empowering force comes from within—urging us to look beyond paychecks, cheat days, bonuses, and other incentives that distract us from the goal. Interestingly enough, that power source is also the insatiable kind, so you become unstoppable.


In 1959, Robert W. White published an article entitled, “Motivation Reconsidered: The Concept of Competence,” where he proposed “effectance motivation.”[1] The idea behind the concept stems from the innate instinct to strive for improvement and growth. White claimed that competence does not exist to fulfill a biological need. Instead, it helps an organism improve itself. And that is precisely our experience with competition—we see it as an opportunity to strengthen our ability through practice and experience.

Motivate Your Competence

When your competence is motivated, you are never aimless—you always have a goal.

Unlike thirst and hunger, the desire to compete and excel does not go away after a single objective is met. Instead, we find new goals, and our competitive side sets in, urging us to obtain them. Thus, depending on the degree of our desire to excel, there are two kinds of competencies:

  • Enhancing existing skills: Our existing skills, if honed continuously, can equip us with mastery and competence.
  • Mastering new skills: The desire to work hard and explore better opportunities drives us to learn new skills.

While the first kind of competence makes us feel good about ourselves, it’s only mastering new skills that can help us advance towards success. By letting our competence motivation take the lead, we enhance productivity, improve performance, become more energetic, and have increased chances of attaining satisfaction.

Lao Zou says, “He who masters others is wise. He who masters himself is enlightened.”

When we master ourselves, we become liberated from illusory beliefs and ideas that are imposed upon us. These beliefs are called domestication, a system of behavior control based on reward and punishment, which—according to Author Don Miguel Ruiz—is the biggest obstacle to personal freedom for human beings. Domestication is essentially the belief system and incentives of others telling you what you should do and how you live your life. Thus, it is living your life according to the system instead of what you think is important.


When we live a life of mastery instead of living on others’ terms, we pursue what we want. So, it’s no longer about incentives, but it’s all about becoming a better version of yourself and having such a strong belief in what you are focused on that you can’t help but spread the word to others!

The Psychology Behind Competence Motivation

A psychological take on competence motivation reveals plenty about how our mind functions and the choices we make. With a deeper understanding of our psyche, we can better equip our competence and motivation to use.

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat. Curiosity is one of the most driving competence motivators as it pushes people to explore, discover, and learn. You could either be:

  • Exploring generally without a specific goal in mind;
  • Or conducting focused research with a particular goal in mind or to fill a “knowledge gap.”

No matter your intention, you’re bound to find something interesting to help you move closer to your goal.

Putting the Pieces Together

The famous Greek expression “Eureka!” speaks volumes about the joy humans seek from discovery and invention. We find pleasure in solving math equations, reaching the climax of novels and movies, coming up with a ground-breaking business idea, learning a new skill, and the list goes on.

We love unwinding complexities and acquiring new knowledge. The joy that settles in after completing such a pleasurable activity can inspire us to improve ourselves personally and professionally.


We Love a Good Challenge

On the path to self-discovery and improvement, we get to decide the difficulty level of the tasks we will take up, just like in a video game. These three levels challenge our competencies, and we decide accordingly.

  • Easy: We all love easy things because they don’t require a lot of effort, but after a while, it gets boring and monotonous.
  • Moderate: Also known as the optimum level of complexity in psychology, these activities are neither too difficult nor too easy. We are generally inclined towards this difficult level.
  • Challenging: A challenging but conquerable task looks good once in a while, but it can be a huge turn-off when faced repetitively.

Depending on our taste, we are motivated to take up tasks in life that help us evolve into better beings. And if you like things easy, then you might just be stuck at level one forever!

The Sentimental Value of Our Goals and Dreams

The sentimental value of a dream keeps us focused in life. We all want to do different things in life, and each goal holds a lot of meaning for us.

However, chasing dreams isn’t entirely about fulfilling one’s desires and meeting needs. Somewhere, a part of us wants the world to reflect the change we have witnessed in ourselves after achieving something. This realization comes with the cognizance of what’s at stake in making certain decisions and choosing or abandoning a different course of life.

Dreams can become real when you are focused on building on your competency.

Many of us believe that the great turning points and opportunities in our lives happen by chance—that they’re out of our control. But Dr. Christian Busch, author of “The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck,” spent a decade exploring how, if acted upon, unexpected encounters can expand our random social encounters can enhance our worldview, expand our social circles, and create new professional opportunities.


Serendipity is usually about connecting dots that have previously remained elusive. Busch’s findings suggest that Good luck isn’t just chance—it can be learned and leveraged. When you are perceptive, curious, open-minded, and eager to see opportunities, others might see only negatively. If you notice something unusual but can connect that bit of information with something else, you are in the right mindset for achieving serendipity.

The first step is to dream. Imagine the possibilities of creating something deeply personal and fulfilling. But, of course, a dream is just that if you don’t take steps to make it a reality. This leads us to the belief stage.

Next, to believe is to define and document your dream—what it is and isn’t and how it works to meet your personal needs. But it also needs to work for other people.

Finally, aligning your dream and belief connects your dream and reality with others. If you set realistic and unrealistic goals, embrace uncertainty, and stay positive, you will be setting yourself up to achieve.

Dream + Believe + Align = Achieve

Final Thoughts

Only you can choose the goals you set. Motivation is critical in meeting your goals. But choosing goals is not enough—you need to select the right goals and define a plan that keeps you accountable for meeting your goals.


All of the above accounts for competence motivation because we give meaning to life through our little and significant actions. Competence motivation is about finding a purpose in life and sticking to it. It’s the vision for a better future for ourselves and the world around us that keeps us motivated.

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Featured photo credit: Victoire Joncheray via


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Jay Mandel

Jay is an Entrepreneur and the Founder of Your Brand Coach

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Last Updated on January 19, 2022

What Is Fear-Based Motivation And Does It Work?

What Is Fear-Based Motivation And Does It Work?

If you’ve ever thought or said something like this, then you are using fear-based motivation:

  • “If I don’t get that promotion, I’m going to be seen as a failure so I better stay up all night to work on this proposal.”
  • “If I speak up for school reform, the internet trolls are going to get me, so I better be quiet even though I care a lot about this issue.”
  • “If I don’t exercise enough, I’m going to look like crap, so I better go to the gym six days a week, even if my body is killing me.”

Fear-based motivation is exactly what it sounds like—getting yourself and others to do things out of fear of what will happen if you don’t do it and do it well.

What you might not know is that while fear-based motivation might work in the short term, it can have long-term detrimental effects on your performance, relationships, and well-being.

Is Fear-Based Motivation Helpful?

If using fear as motivation comes naturally for you, you aren’t alone. Our brains use fear to keep us out of trouble. Normally, you want to move away from what feels harmful towards what feels safe.

This brain function is important when there is a genuine threat to your well-being, like if there is a rattlesnake on the hiking trail. Your brain will use fear to motivate you to move away from the snake as quickly as possible. But when you use fear-based motivation to accomplish your life and career goals, the constant state of fear puts unnecessary stress on your mind and body and can end up working against you.

The Darkside of Fear-Based Motivation

Take, for example, when your trainer at your gym motivates you during your workout by yelling things like, “Bikini season is coming! You don’t want your cellulite to be the star of the show!” or “Burn off that piece of birthday cake you ate last night!”


Sure, you might be motivated to do ten more burpees, but what is going on in the back of your mind? You probably have an image of a group of people standing around you at the beach laughing at you in your bikini, or you feel guilty about eating that piece of cake and criticize yourself for not being able to control yourself.

Reliance on Negative Thinking

For most of us, this type of thinking causes stress and can bring down our energy levels and mood. The reliance on negative thinking is the problem with fear-based motivation. It forces us to put our attention on what is wrong or what could go wrong instead of anticipating and celebrating what is right. This, in turn, narrows our focus and prevents us from seeing the bigger picture.

When your brain senses a threat, whether it’s a rattlesnake hiding in the grass or the possibility of being laughed at in your bikini, your brain will move you into a protective stance. Your vision narrows and you prepare to fight, flee or freeze.

You can probably imagine what this looks like in the case of a rattlesnake, but how does this impact your bikini experience?

The High Cost of Fear-Based Motivation

Imagine that you plan a beach vacation with your friends three months from now. The first thing you picture is sitting on the beach with your tummy rolls and cellulite. You immediately sign up for three months of boot camp classes at the gym and banish all sugar and booze from your diet. You are determined not to make a fool of yourself on the beach!

Will the fear of not looking like a supermodel under the beach umbrella motivate you to get in shape and eat better? Possibly. But at what cost?

For three months, every time you picture yourself looking “less than perfect” in your bikini, you feel fear of being ashamed. Shame makes you want to hide, and that makes it harder to find the motivation to go to the gym instead of sitting on the couch eating ice cream.

You become so focused on how you are going to look on the beach that you lose out on all the fun and joy of life. You pass up on going shopping with your friends for new outfits because you aren’t at your goal weight yet. You stop doing the things you love to do to spend more time at the gym. You avoid family gatherings where you will be confronted with tempting food. You over-train to the point of hurting yourself.

The Healthier Alternative to Fear-Based Motivation

Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good in your bikini! If that’s important to you, keep your goal in mind but change the way you motivate yourself. Instead of using the fear of feeling ashamed to motivate you, try using love-based motivation.

Love-based motivation uses love instead of fear to lead and inspire you. It comes from a different part of your brain than fear-based motivation. Love-based motivation comes from the part of your brain that is responsible for joy, creativity, and passion.

5 Questions of Love-Based Motivation

There are many ways to deploy love-based motivation. The trick is to use one or all of the following to motivate you towards your goal: empathy, curiosity, innovation, vision, and heart-centered action.

Here are five questions you can use to motivate yourself using love-based motivation.


1. What Would You Say to a Friend?

Chances are that you talk to your friends in a much kinder way and with more empathy than you talk to yourself. You wouldn’t tell a friend, “you better starve yourself and hit the gym three times a day to look good in that bikini!” Instead, you would probably say something like, “I’m so excited to go on this vacation with you! I can’t wait to spend time catching up while sipping margaritas on the beach.”

Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your friend.

2. What Are You Curious About Learning That Might Help You Get to Your Goal?

More often than not, achieving our goals is more about the journey it took us to get there than the goal itself. Curiosity makes journeys more fun. Perhaps you are curious about doing a triathlon but you don’t know how to run. If you spend three months learning to run, you would get into better shape and learn something new.

3. How Can You Get to Your Goal in a Way That Feels Good?

Using the “Yes, And” game is a great way to come up with innovative ideas for working towards your goals. If your first instinct is to go to the gym six days a week but you aren’t jazzed about it, find something that you like about that idea and make it better.

For example, if what you like about going to the gym is that you work up a sweat, what if instead of the gym, you join a dance class where you can learn some new moves to show off on your vacation?

4. What Is Important to You About Your Goal?

When you dig into your goal, chances are that you’ll find a deeper meaning. If your goal is to “look good in a bikini,” ask yourself why that’s important to you.


For example, “I want to look good in my bikini because I want to have fun on vacation.” Then, ask yourself how much having fun on your vacation depends on how you look in your swimsuit.

5. What Heart-Centered Action Can You Take That Will Help You Reach Your Goal?

Whether your goal remains bikini-focused or changes to ways of having a good time on your vacation, choose an action that you can take that feels like it is coming from a place of love instead of fear.

For example, suggest to your friends that you take scuba diving classes as a group before vacation. It will get you moving and bring your friends together.

Long-Term Happiness and Satisfaction

Fear-based motivation may help you achieve your goals in the short term, but it won’t lead to long-term happiness and satisfaction. Fear isn’t designed to be used for long periods, and you will eventually tire of the fear and give up on your goals. Love, however, is designed for longevity.

Finding your motivation in a place of love will fuel you to reach your goals, whether your goals are about feeling good in a bikini, getting a promotion at work, or speaking up for what you believe in.

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