When you get out of bed in the morning, what gets your motor running? Are you full of creative good ideas about what you hope to experience that day? Or, are you more focused on what you need to do in order to fulfill the day’s obligations?
The question confronts the issue of motivation — that which energizes, directs and sustains our behaviors. Psychologists remind us that there are two distinctly different types of motivation.
Intrinsic motivation stems from an innate, internal desire to perform particular tasks. Intrinsically motivated people do certain activities because it gives them pleasure, develops a skill, or brings them personal satisfaction.
Extrinsic motivation stems from factors that are external to the individual and sometimes even unrelated to the task that they are performing. Examples include money, good grades and other rewards.
The primary difference between the two types of motivation is that extrinsic motivation arises from outside of the individual while intrinsic motivation arises from within.
Too many outside motivators
Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are out of balance today, and they have been for decades. The realities of the imbalance are far reaching if you consider how the imbalance began.
Frederick Taylor is known for being the father of scientific business management. His theory in the early 1900′s was that in order to motivate workers they must have extrinsic incentives. He proclaimed that if workers were not compensated adequately, that they would be lazy and not be hard working.
Taylor also thought that workers just need to show up, do their job and get paid without much need for taking pride in their work. This drive toward industrial efficiency devalued intrinsic motivators such as creativity, meaning, purpose and personal satisfaction. Thus was the birth of the imbalance of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
As this became the cultural norm in the workplace, schools and sporting events, an incredible imbalance in the two types of motivation accelerated. At present, studies indicate that eight in ten Americans are primarily extrinsically motivated. This means that any type of external stimulator, if attractively packaged, can morph behavior. This is the carrot and stick analogy. People chasing paychecks, scholarships, promotions, glamour and “whatever” in order to feel fulfilled. We have become a classically conditioned nation of Pavlovian dogs.
Motivation to deal with climate change and peak oil
Facing massive challenges in energy and environment, this can’t create a good society.
In order to emerge into a healthier culture, intrinsic motivation must be re-valued. Unless intrinsic rewards such as a sense of meaning, personal choice, an experience of competence and sense of personal fulfillment aren’t stirred into the mix, people lose important motivational elements. As workers, students, athletes, and family and community members lose motivation, the whole societal structure suffers.
This, to my mind, is one of the tasks that loom large as we strive to build more resilient, sustainable communities with a new paradign. Reassigning value to the subjective and intrinsic experiences in life is critical. We can begin to do this on our own, thus setting precedents for employers, teachers, government and others. We can do things that bring us pleasure — instead of just money or “stuff” — as a part of our regular routines. Making art, spending time in nature, reading or music can be enjoyed for their own sake, instead of for the sake of any end goal.
Any activity can be engaged in for the sake of itself and nothing more. If people began to think and live this way, it would change communities from the ground up. Instead of being cogs in an exteriorized, conditioned wheel, we would operate from an internal locus of control. This is the heart of freedom.
— Sherry Ackerman, Transition Voice