Book review
intrinsic motivation

How to be more motivated

I want to keep Amanda’s story momentum and talk a little bit more about what else impacts our motivation, especially in the work environment (but you can use the knowledge for your personal life), because it is what I’ve studied previously.

I got my Master’s in Production Engineering, but my thesis was mainly about psychology. I can explain it: PE is all about increasing productivity and, in a world where innovation is vital, I read some disturbing articles on how our current model of rewards and punishment didn’t work to stimulate creative behavior and thinking.

So my goal was to study that: motivation for innovation.

I promise this won’t get too technical, but I have to build some conceptual layers now, ok?

The first thing I want you to understand is that we can divide our tasks into two categories: 

  1. Algorithm tasks – there is an instruction that can be followed to execute it. There is only one way from start to finish.
  2. Heuristic tasks – there is not a “formula” to solve it. You have to create a solution based on possibility, trial, and a lot of thinking.

Innovation, as you can imagine, involves a huge amount of heuristic tasks.

What the research shows is that the “stick-and-carrot” way of motivating (what we will call extrinsic motivations) works super well for algorithm tasks, in other words, it has a correlation with increased performance on those repetitive tasks. But the same type of reward has no association (or even negative correlation in a lot of cases) to heuristic tasks.

That means that whenever you are required to perform a complex task, extrinsic motivation won’t do it. People won’t be more creative if you give them more money or if you threaten them.

For complex tasks, what works is intrinsic motivation. What is the intrinsic motivation? It’s when you are motivated to do the job just because of it. You feel satisfaction. Like composing a song just for the sake of it.

If only everything could feel like our passion. Doing the activity just for the sake of it…
Illustration by @andresidarta

So on one side, we have the extrinsic motivation and on the other side, intrinsic motivation. That does not help a lot because most of life situations are somewhere in between.

To explain these nuances, we can consider there is a continuum between extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. 

For instance, if you are motivated by guilt or other internal feelings, we would call it an “introjected motivation”. It’s still 100% related to external outcomes, but these outcomes also relate to feelings inside of you.

Or you might even experience an “identified motivation” – which is a big leap towards a more self-determined behavior – because you recognize the value of that task, so you personally endorse it. 

At the end of the continuum, right before the intrinsic motivation, is the integrated motivation. That means you are still motivated because of the outcome (not the activity itself), except that not only you recognize the value of that task, but it resonates with you more profoundly, with life values and goals, totally congruent to who you are.

To be clear, we are not saying you always have to navigate this continuum, nor that one is the evolution of the other. You might just want to motivate people to do the same algorithm activity faster. Still, if you’re going to increase the motivation for complex tasks, you should know to run this internalization process to get more close to the intrinsic motivation as you can.

“The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road. Indeed, most of the scandals and misbehavior that have seemed endemic to modern life involve shortcuts.” 

Daniel Pink – Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

And how to do that?

The 3 aspects that drive us from one side of the continuum to the other are:

1) sense of autonomy – you have enough independence in your actions, you feel like you have some amount of choice;

2) sense of competency – you have the right amount of challenge and confidence considering your current abilities and knowledge;

3) sense of relatedness – this is about respect, reliance, but most of all, to feel connected to a mutual goal.

It’s not easy for managers to implement that. In a corporation, you gotta do what you gotta do, right?

Not really.

And here are a few tips:

  • You might want to let your employee decide the date, the team or vendor he will work with, how he will execute. There is always a way to give some level of autonomy.
  • Make sure your employee is up to the task. If he is not ready for it, you can either provide guidance/mentorship, a course, or even a team or a specialist consultant to help for a period.
  • This is my favorite because of its simplicity. The research shows that number 3 is soooo affected by communication. To feel connected to a mutual goal in everyday life is to be aware of why you are doing what you are doing; in other words, to have PURPOSE. Sometimes bosses don’t offer the big picture, and that’s a downer. 

And remember that motivation has several layers: to do a task but also at a global level, you have motivation towards the work environment as a whole. So you might want to use those tips, especially for algorithm activities.

You probably won’t have a day-to-day life solely based on intrinsic motivation, but you sure can help yourself (and your employees or colleagues) to put a little bit more of themselves (mind and heart) when you are willing to take care of those aspects.

“We have three innate psychological needs—competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy.” 

Daniel Pink – Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

P.S.: Make no mistake. None of these concepts are mine. I’ve tried to be concise, explaining a few things, and giving a practical piece of advice for you to use in your daily life. If you want to know more about the self-determination theory and other motivation topics (and I strongly recommend you do), please read/watch:

Author : Fernanda Sarmento

Fernanda Sarmento is the owner of @mindingwithin, a self-development addicted, writer and digital marketer. With a bachelor in Social Communication and Media Studies and a master in Production Engineering she regards herself as both a meditation and ice cream junkie.

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