Extrinsic Motivation – What are the Pros and Cons?

It’s all about the grades—that’s the motto of my friend Rica. No I am not exaggerating here. She spends the longest hours studying what’s like the most mind-numbing novels just to be exempted for the finals in our English literature class. When all our neurons have given up on a Calculus problem, Rica will waste precious nerve impulses and hours just to get the additional merits. She jumps at every opportunity to be the class beadle-the most ‘deadly’ job ever but unfortunately a job meant extra credits in Psychology. What is even more amusing is that Rica doesn’t even like English lit, Calculus and Psychology (sorry Rica, I accidentally read your journal! Peace!). Her passion for good grades rivals her desire for popularity.

The one and only org Rica isn’t a member of is the Boys’ Society (and the reason is pretty obvious why she’s not in it, isn’t it?). And even if our class schedule is already roasting us alive, it never ceases to amaze me how Rica can never forego her duties as the head of all her orgs. But then again: how can she be president of the Dog Lover’s Society when she is allergic to dogs (is it because the moderator of the Dog Lovers’ Society is our college dean?); how can she be a member of the IT club when she even wrote an essay attacking technology? Is it because the IT club is the most popular org in the campus?

Grades and popularity are two sources of extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is anchored to an external stimulus-something outside the individual. Extrinsic motivation exists even if satisfaction and pleasure in performing the task is absent. Even if the person has a small amount (or even none at all) of interest in the task, once she has extrinsic motivation from outside sources, he/she will persist on doing the task because of the promised reward and satisfaction.

Extrinsic motivation is the secret behind many of man’s activities ranging from education to the workplace. The variety of forms of extrinsic motivation-money, fame and recognition, awards and prizes, status and privileges, and even bribery, threats and punishments-have been used by man from all age and sizes, for different reasons and in different types of circumstances.

Is extrinsic motivation effective? Let the following things help you find the answer:

1) Extrinsic motivation does stimulate an individual to perform a certain task even if there is no interest in it. However, it is not right to say that the person does not get satisfaction from working or completing the task. In fact, the person does get gratification-only that the external reward extends the duration of the anticipated reward even if interest is long gone.

2) Extrinsic motivation is an avenue for the individual to set goals. By aiming for the prize, the individual will consort to playing by the rules and even develop persistence towards getting that reward.

3) Extrinsic motivators can be a means to break away from stress. The lack of extrinsic motivation can distract a person from the din of living.

4) Extrinsic motivation is not sustainable. As long as there is a reward (or a promise of a reward), there is action. Withdraw the punishment or reward, adieu motivation!

5) Extrinsic motivation gives diminishing returns. Motivation gradually fades away when the punishment or reward stay at equivalent levels. More motivation means bigger reward.

6) Extrinsic motivation highlights over justification and hurts intrinsic motivation. When you punish or reward people for doing something, their innate desire to do it on their own disappears. YOU may initially love doing something, but when you ceaselessly receive punishment or reward for it, sooner or later that love for the thing/task will be transformed for the love of the reward or the fear of the punishment (over justification). “If a reward-money, awards, praise, or winning a contest-comes to be seen as the reason one is engaging in an activity, that activity will be viewed as less enjoyable in its own right.”

I have presented to you the pros and cons of extrinsic motivation.
But just a reminder: extrinsic motivation may have restrictions as a motivator but it is still indispensable in so far as motivation is concerned. Still, extrinsic motivation is what keeps us moving when the going gets rough. Extrinsic motivators keep us doing/acting when the interest or drive is long gone.

Lastly, the power of extrinsic motivation as a form of motivation lies in the ability to keep it in balance. Lean too much on rewards and you end up becoming mediocre to meet your needs. On the other hand, deny the external merits of things like money and you will live the life of a drifter– stressful and constantly changing.

Frank Liz is a successful entrepreneur excited about stimulating others to recognize their inner power and take action to achieve their goals. At SelfMadeMiracle.com you’ll find articles on Extrinsic Motivation and more. Try our FREE Personal Power Course – Twitter @selfmademiracle

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