Personal Development: Are You Writing Because You Love It Or for the Reward That Follows?
Written by William Ballard, Professional Writer and Author
Psychologists believe there are two reasons people choose their behavior: They are motivated intrinsically or extrinsically.
Intrinsic Motivation means a person chooses a behavior simply because of interest or enjoyment. The act of doing the behavior is itself the reward. One researcher defined intrinsic motivation in terms of what people will do without external inducement.
When you do behaviors because of intrinsic motivation, you feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement. For me that would be why I write, research, study, and shoot photographs.
Extrinsic Motivation means you do something because of factors outside yourself. For instance, you want your parent’s approval, a trophy, or a treat. Or perhaps you want to avoid the disapproval of others. The reason for the behavior comes not from the love of the activity, but from the reward that follows the activity.
Dr. Phil says,
“If you are always rewarding your child with material things, he/she will never learn how to motivate themselves with internal rewards like pride. They also will never learn to value things because there are so many things and nothing is special.”
Which motivation is better? Sometimes you have to use extrinsic motivation to get someone to try a behavior. Moreover, sometimes extrinsic rewards can be helpful for achieving a goal. For instance, when I finished my AA Criminal Justice I was given an opportunity to have a very substantial increase in my income at a local security firm that I worked for. That idea of having that bonus is what kept me pushing through the hard times.
Yet sometimes, extrinsic motivation can actually dampen a person’s interest in a behavior. I have a friend who is an incredible pianist. She is a virtual Beethoven. She is intrinsically motivated by playing the piano. In fact, her whole body lights up when she has the opportunity to play. If my someone began offering her $10 to practice, it would de-motivate her.
Which leads me to a discussion of Self-Determination Theory. The premise behind this theory is that people have three innate needs:
The developers of this theory, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, say that when people feel competent, related, and autonomous (or “self-determined”) they will be intrinsically motivated and seek what interests them.
That correlates well with my belief: Being intrinsically motivated correlates with maturity, and having a strong sense of self. No longer are you doing a behavior for the crowd’s applause, a parent’s approval, or society’s rewards. You are doing something because it brings you great joy.
I believe many adults are unhappy because they are doing behaviors because of extrinsic motivation.
Did you know that doing what you love and doing a lot of it is a secret to happiness? Bestselling author and researcher Marcus Buckingham was surprised with the research he did at Gallup that showed that women’s happiness had plummeted over the last forty years-the exact opposite of men.
He devoted himself to figuring out what made the happiest women happy. He found that the happiest women tended to focus on the few areas where they excelled. If a woman loved marathons, she did not waste her time on home decorating. If she enjoyed studying rocket-science, she did not focus on entertaining friends. You get the idea.
Not only did she do what she loved, she did something Buckingham calls “catch and cradle;” she noticed herself doing what she loved. For instance, when I am with my writing friends, sometimes I sit back in my seat, sipping coffee, and really pay attention to how much I enjoy writing and being with my writing friends.
Sometimes I even take a picture of the magic moment. Whether your snapshot is real or tucked away in your memory, taking an occasion to savor what you enjoy is a vital step in self-care.
So, what about you?
Question: Are you mostly motivated by the joy and love of an activity, or by the external rewards, which come from doing it? When has intrinsic or extrinsic motivation hindered or helped you? Answer in the comments below.