By Sheri Hall
Much of society today is focused on striving—for better grades, a raise or promotion, fitness achievements and more. Teachers, business managers and even community leaders are looking for ways to motivate people.
As my children get older, I find myself spending more time thinking about how to motivate them to make good choices. Should I pay them for their chores, or just expect them to pitch in around the house? How do I inspire them to do their best on their schoolwork?
The same questions apply in the workforce: Does extra compensation encourage employees to perform better? And at the gym: What’s the best way to encourage people to stick to an exercise routine? And at the community level: Should we incentivize people to recycle?
The answers to these questions are complicated of course. But the research does draw some clear conclusions about motivation.
Let’s start with two definitions. First, intrinsic motivation is when you do something because you find it gratifying, such as reading a novel because you enjoy the story. Then there’s extrinsic motivation, which happens when your behavior is driven by a reward such as collecting 10 cents when you return a soda can at the grocery store.
There are reams of research about the benefits of and interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Let’s take a look at some of the meta-analyses on this topic:
While complex, there are some clear take-home messages here. External rewards can motivate people to a point, especially over short periods of time or when the focus is on quantity over quality. But intrinsic motivation is always a factor, and inspires more quality in performance.
So how do we encourage more intrinsic motivation? Through emotional support, respecting people’s perspectives and offering appropriate challenges and productive feedback.
That brings me back to my kids. Based on the research, I’m going to skip the payment for chores and do my best to teach them to want to help. It will probably mean that fewer chores get done now, but I’m betting it will pay off in the long run.