According to Dr. Ed Deci, there are two types of motivation, autonomous and controlled. One will make you much more productive than the other.
Most of us, however, think of motivation only in terms of quantity: If you reward your children for doing their homework, they will usually respond by getting it done. But is this the most effective method of motivation? No, says psychologist Edward L. Deci, who challenges traditional thinking and shows that this method actually works against performance. The best way to motivate people—at school, at work, or at home—is to support their sense of autonomy. Explaining the reasons why a task is important and then allowing as much personal freedom as possible in carrying out the task will stimulate interest and commitment, and is a much more effective approach than the standard system of reward and punishment.
Dr. Deci, University of Rochester professor and former Science and Health Editor for the New York Times, is an expert on motivation. He believes the type of motivation that pushes you forward makes a huge difference. Autonomous motivation—pursuing a goal for its own sake, or for your own sake—makes you work harder, do a better job, and feel happier than controlled motivation.
Controlled motivation, on the other hand, will probably keep you productive but anxious, and can backfire so badly that you end up doing less work, doing it badly, or even rebelling. What is controlled motivation? Well, pretty much anything involving rewards and punishments. Which, unfortunately, are most people’s go-to tactics for motivating others. Dr. Deci believes you need to change your strategy if you want to optimize your results.
People have a need for autonomy, and resent being controlled. Supporting autonomy (autonomy support) is the opposite of control.
Control can take the form of rewards as well as punishments.
Rewards can still be employed, but simply as an acknowledgement of accomplishment, rather than to control behavior.
Similarly, competition can be employed as long as you don’t pressure people to win. Simply encourage them to do their best and try to finish first.
The real function of competition is to provide a challenge and in the process to have fun.
Autonomy support means taking the other person’s perspective and working from their. Actively encouraging self-initiation, experimentation, and responsibility through encouragement, not pressure.
Autonomy support does not mean permissiveness. You can still set limits, but those limits should be based on reason, not fiat. For example, rather than telling children, “Keep everything neat,” you can instead say, “I know that sometimes it’s really fun to just slop the paint around, but please try to keep the materials and room nice for the other children who will use them.”
Intrinsic motivation is its own reward (see: Flow). But it also leads to better performance and results.
Intrinsic motivation is associated with richer experience, better conceptual understanding, greater creativity, and improved problem solving (all demonstrated by controlled studies).
Extrinsic motivations can mask symptoms, but not the cause. Giving kids pizzas for reading doesn’t make them want to read; it makes them willing to read to get pizza. A better approach is to find ways to help them actually enjoy reading.
Motivation requires that people see a relationship between their behavior and the desired outcome. That’s why capitalism works better than communistic central planning.
There must be clarity about what behaviors are expected, and what outcomes will result from those instrumental behaviors.
People must also feel competent at the behaviors to be motivated. The desire for competence is another fundamental human need, just like the need for autonomy.
Competence without autonomy is not enough–being a competent puppet does not nourish humanness.
The feeling of competence results when a person takes on, and in his or her own view, meets optimal challenges (not too easy, not impossible).
Praising males increases their intrinsic motivation, but praising females decreases it.
Providing negative feedback: Start from the other person’s perspective. Ask them what they think.
The key to living autonomously is whether or not you feel, deep within yourself, that your actions are your own choice. Whether you comply with or defy controls, you are not being autonomous because your behavior depends on the controls.
Neither compliance nor defiance represents authenticity, and neither represents responsibility. To defy what authority says, just because authority says it, is to be irresponsible. But to comply with what authority says, just because authority says it, is also irresponsible.
We all need to internalize certain values–otherwise we would be psychopaths. There are many times when we have to do uninteresting or unpleasant things. But there are two different forms of internalization: Introjection, which simply replaces external control with an internal nagging voice, and Integration, which involves digesting the input and deciding what part of that input should be a part of the self.
If the benefits to supporting autonomous motivation are even half of what Dr. Deci’s experiments suggest, it’s well worth giving his techniques a try. Begin with yourself. What do you really want to accomplish? Why? And most importantly, how does the task at hand move those internal goals forward?