Money and recognition have always been popular offerings when trying to create motivation for great work, but nowadays making real progress could be a significantly greater factor.
Photo by Big Rock Point Power Plant
When it comes to creative work, external motivations are just not cutting it. Money doesn’t inspire better performance. Personally, while I definitely enjoy having money, I’ve found that it’s an extremely poor motivation to do better work. When I’m not doing something I really enjoy — even in the instances where I’ve been overpaid to do it — money’s never been able to motivate me and no (realistic) amount could. Research is showing that this is actually a pretty normal reaction. (Phew!) The study went down like this:
The first group was told to prepare for an anagram-solving task by thinking, for one minute, about whether they would work on anagrams. This is the ‘Will I?’ condition, which the scientists refer to as the ‘interrogative form of self-talk’. The second group, in contrast, was told to spend one minute thinking that they would work on anagrams. This is the ‘I Will’ condition, or the ‘declarative form of self-talk’. Both groups were then given ten minutes to solve as many anagrams as possible.
The “Will I?” group ended up solving more anagrams, whereas the other group solved fewer:
We are intrinsically motivated when we are doing an activity for ourselves, because we enjoy it. In contrast, extrinsic motivation occurs when we’re doing something for a paycheck or any “extrinsic” reward. By interrogating ourselves, we set up a well-defined challenge that we can master. And it is this desire for personal fulfillment – being able to tell ourselves that we solved the anagrams – that actually motivates us to keep on trying.
What’s the takeaway from all of this? That’s maybe more of a personal thing, since you can’t really control external motivators. Nonetheless, when thinking about the work you have to do, consider thinking about the actual task, what you can learn from it, or even how you could do it better. While the worst of tasks are always going to suck no matter how much you’re paid, in some cases the right outlook and reflection might help motivate you to do better.
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