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Not all motivation is created equally

Motivation is a subject that gets people nodding in agreement when you mention its importance. This is because there is a consensus that motivation is good. Unfortunately, that is missing a key nuance. Let me explain.

The research shows that there is a crucial difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivators are internal- we do it for ourselves. Extrinsic motivators are from outside- something or someone else influences us.

This graphic provides a helpful frame of reference. Because we opt-in to intrinsic motivators, they have a supercharge effect. Achieve and feel great. Miss and feel bad. This becomes a powerful reason to stay the course.

Extrinsic motivators can have a real impact, but the research shows that they are usually short-lived. Offering financial reward is a good example- most people will respond initially, but the impact wanes over time. This is because it is the reward that motivates us and not the action. Over time, we start to ask ourselves if it is worth it. In fact, extrinsic motivators can quickly become negative influences as well. Take losing weight. Motivation is often high at the beginning. You map out a plan- what to eat, exercises to do- and dive in. We commonly aim for perfection: gym every day, chicken and broccoli for meals…and after a few days or weeks it becomes tiring. Those beers and burgers are even more appealing because they are forbidden fruits. You decide to skip the workout and you quickly remember that the previous lifestyle was more fun. You’ve created a (false) dichotomy of two extremes. Most people pick the “easier” one.

Compare this to an intrinsic motivation like learning Spanish to communicate with your in-laws. You want to be able to express yourself and understand (especially if they speak about you 😄). It makes the experience much more enjoyable vs just sitting there without a clue. If you’re learning outside the country, there’s a lesson learned in the rhythm. You have a burst of motivation, you start taking courses (once a week), you go back and notice your progress. This feels you with a sense of pride. You are then motivated to continue the cycle.

Therefore, it is important to understand the different types of motivation. You can select all the extrinsic motivators you want, but they will likely lead to failure. It often starts to impact your happiness both directly and indirectly. You start to dislike the behaviour and even if you stop doing it, you can feel a sense of guilt. This isn’t worth it.

Like many things in life, a combination is often ideal. The research shows that you are more likely to achieve your goals with a combination of the two. You will be much happier if you identify your intrinsic motivation(s) and map out an achievable plan to accomplish your goals. For example, a social component (doing something with a friend) is a great complement to your intrinsic motivation.

Your experience with Slope starts with motivation and builds from there. We start with intrinsic motivation and add in extrinsic motivation over time. We support you via both the Motivation IQ program and 1-1 coaching. This provides you with the tools and support you need to succeed for the long-term.

You can find out more on our website or by downloading the app in the App Store or Play Store.

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