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“Outdated terminology—such as driving for results or incentivizing behavior—leads you down the wrong path if you are looking for motivation that generates productivity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.

More Tips for Boosting Your Motivation

Featured photo credit: Victoire Joncheray via


More by this author

Jay Mandel

Jay is an Entrepreneur and the Founder of Your Brand Coach

What Is Competence Motivation And How To Use It What to Do If You Find Yourself Making Slow Progress Towards Your Goal Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation: Is One Better Than The Other? 3 Important Metrics to Gauge and Measure Attainable Goals How To Write A Personal Mission Statement (A Step-By-Step Guide)

Trending in Staying Motivated

1 6 Friday Motivation Tips to Help You Stay Motivated 2 How to Improve Employee Motivation in the Workplace 3 20 All-Time Best Motivational Books to Inspire You 4 21 Powerful Words That Will Give You Life Motivation 5 Drive Theory Of Motivation Explained (With Examples)

Read Next


Published on September 3, 2021

6 Friday Motivation Tips to Help You Stay Motivated

6 Friday Motivation Tips to Help You Stay Motivated

You know the feeling—that “I still have another whole work day to get through” feeling? It sucks. The worst part is knowing that you have to get up, get to work, and be productive when you feel checked out, unmotivated, and would rather go back to bed. The trickiest part about it is that even though you may know intellectually that you’re not the only person who has ever felt that way, at the moment, it can feel very lonely.

If you feel the Friday funk and want to shake it off, try these six tips to lift your Friday motivation.

1. Eat a Solid Breakfast and Plan to Eat Lunch

The first thing you can do to lift your Friday motivation is to eat a solid breakfast. We have all heard the phrase, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” It turns out that it wasn’t just something our parents were telling us to get us to eat before school. Studies have shown that eating breakfast can help with improved memory, recall, mood, and visual-motor functions.[1]

However, researchers have found evidence that the benefits of the micronutrient boost provided by breakfast do wear off after a while. Just like a car with a full tank of gas that runs out after a long journey, the body needs to be refueled. Therefore, planning to eat breakfast and lunch on a day when you are not feeling your best could give you that extra boost you need to get through the day. Skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar, which can leave you feeling weak and tired.[2] If you are already struggling with feeling motivated, not eating is only going to make you feel more sluggish and less inspired to get anything done.

2. Prioritize What’s Urgent

I have always been a fan of the cheat sheet. No, I’m not a cheater, but I love knowing what needs to be done. No one wants to waste any precious energy trying to figure out what should be done when you are already feeling unmotivated.


No matter who you are, there is a high probability that by Friday, on any given week, you have at least one or two items that were supposed to be completed earlier in the week but just didn’t get done. Here is my quick trick for figuring out what’s urgent.

Just ask yourself these three questions:

  • Are there any projects with deadlines that have passed already but are still due?
  • Which of those projects is the most overdue?
  • Of the overdue projects, which will take the least time to make significant progress or complete?

This should help you to easily identify at least one task that you can spend time working on diligently, knowing that you are getting something important done.

3. Tackle the Low-Hanging Fruit

Another way to refresh your Friday motivation is to tackle the low-hanging fruit. There is nothing wrong with doing the easy stuff first. Maybe you are so burned out and the urgent tasks will take too much energy. There is nothing wrong with knocking out the obvious easy things. Emails, filing, data entry, document reconciliation, follow-up calls, editing or revising written work, and research are all low-hanging fruits—these are all straightforward tasks.

Getting these easier tasks done will give you a sense of accomplishment. You can leverage this sense of accomplishment to help you tackle some harder tasks or get all the easy tasks done so the following week, you can dedicate your time to the harder projects.


4. Give Yourself at Least Two Scheduled Breaks

Give yourself at least two scheduled breaks during the workday. Life is stressful. Feeling like you have to work when you don’t feel up to it is stressful. Let’s not compound it by forcing yourself to sit in front of the computer all day with no breaks. The days of believing that “lunch is for punks and working 80 hours a week is what you should be doing” are fading away—if not already a distant memory for some.

In fact, scientists discovered that, although “taking short breaks throughout the working day may not have as obvious an impact as taking a holiday, research has found significant benefits. Studies have found that breaks can reduce or prevent stress, help to maintain performance throughout the day and reduce the need for a long recovery at the end of the day.”[3]

Before you sit down in front of your desk for the workday, set three alarms—two 20-minute breaks and one lunch break. You aren’t proving anything to anyone by forcing yourself to be miserable in front of your computer. You deserve flexibility and compassion. Let these breaks be a radical act of self-care.

5. Listen to Some Upbeat Tunes

Another way to improve your Friday motivation is to listen to some upbeat tunes. Music is medicine. It is not a mystery that the vibrations of sound can affect our mood. Ancient communities knew this and embraced it through practices like chanting, the use of singing bowls, chimes, bells, and other sound instruments as tools for healing. Practices like Kirtan and Bhakti yoga use chanting to heal and shift energy. The Hindu and Buddhist religions use bells and chimes in many of their spiritual healing rituals. Throughout the modern world, we have adopted the use of signing bowls for energetic healing.

Most people could recall at least one moment in their lives when music or sound has helped shift their mood. Music has been shown to have a direct effect on the listener. Studies show that listening to music while you work can lead to an “increase in both mood and quality of work”.[4]


If you are feeling super unmotivated, the solution to your problem may be throwing on your favorite album in the background while you try to get a few things done. If you can’t work while listening to music with words and you do not like classical music or traditional jazz, explore genres like Trip hop, house, ambient, Beach House, JamBand. You may also enjoy artists like Bonobo, Thievery Corporation, and Grammatik.

6. Give Yourself Something to Look Forward To

As a yogi, I’m all about being present in the moment. But sometimes, the present is a little too intense, and being super present is not going to help to improve your mood. In those moments, tapping into the power of positive anticipation can be your secret weapon because “knowing that something good is coming your way pushes you to accomplish those tasks you may not necessarily want to do.”[5]

We all love to be rewarded, especially when we are doing something we don’t want to do. Giving yourself something to look forward to is the way to guarantee that you will be rewarded for the hard work of getting through the day.

The reward doesn’t have to be immense. It can be something small like getting ice cream, going for a walk, spending time with friends, or vegging out with your phone on do not disturb for a few hours. I used to employ this trick a lot when I was in boarding school. The time between semesters in new England would feel so long especially in the winter that my friends and I would let ourselves get excited about little things like drinking lime rickeys at Brigham’s. Believe it or not, it worked.

Try it the next time you get the hit with the Friday funk. Think about something you can look forward to no matter how small, and notice how it shifts your energy.


Final Thoughts

As the adage says, “this too shall pass.”

Friday is just a day like every other day before it will end. One thing you can count on is that time waits for no one, so despite how difficult it may feel to get through, know that the time is on your side.

No matter what, Friday will wind on. The best thing you can do to improve your Friday motivation is to make sure that your body has the micronutrients it needs to power through the day, identify what’s urgent, tackle low hanging fruit, give yourself time away from the desk, throw on your favorite tunes, and think about the fact that you have the entire weekend to look forward to.

You got this!

More Tips on How to Improve Your Friday Motivation

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via



Read Next