External Rewards Can Cripple Your Motivation

Financial Productivity Incentives

Being productive requires a lot of motivation: you need to be motivated to stay on top of things, to complete implied (but necessary) tasks, and to power through the things you don’t want to do. There are all sorts of tricks to motivate yourself through different types of work. I’ve even recommended some ways to incentivize your productivity. However, creating external rewards for your success may not always been the best option.

There is a school of thought that believes when work you find intrinsically rewarding is met with extrinsic rewards (like money), you will become less motivated to complete that work. This idea is called cognitive evaluation theory, and several studies’ worth of findings support it.

Explanations Behind the Theory

While the experience of decreased motivation is documented, there is no firm agreement as to why it happens when you are offered external rewards. It may be because you feel you’ve yielded some control over what you’re doing to someone else (if the reward comes from them), or it may be because you need to find a way to explain to yourself why you do what you do—and the answer that you do things because you enjoy them in spite of external factors is more satisfying.

Cognitive evaluation theory is only a theory, but it’s something to consider if you’ve recently found yourself to be less motivated to do your work and be productive. Have you recently started receiving or giving yourself rewards for work you previously enjoyed? If so, it may be worth the effort to ditch your external motivators, will yourself past the brick wall, and see if you can reclaim the internal satisfaction and motivation you had before.

Rediscovering Motivation

A key outgrowth of cognitive evaluation theory is self-concordance. When you have a high level of self-concordance, your reasons for pursuing certain goals and doing the things you do are in line with your personally held interests and values. The more in line you are, the more motivated you are to continue whatever it is you’re doing. When your reasons and your values are out of sync, you don’t feel motivated anymore. So if, at your core, you value creative effort, but you’re doing something for the money, you’re going to have a hard time feeling motivated.

How should you combat this? If you find yourself struggling with decreased motivation in the shadow of external rewards, you might want to spend some time soul-searching. You don’t necessarily need to get rid of your external motivations altogether, but if you’re doing work you used to enjoy and be motivated to do, rediscover what made you love your work. Find the creative spark that gave your efforts life. Focus on that, and you’ll have a lot easier time staying motivated to achieve goals that are in line with your values. Save the incentives for the stuff you can’t find any reason to enjoy.

Image by PANPOTE via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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