Over the last two decades numerous studies in the field of psychology has observed the relationship between external rewards and internal motivation.
The findings are fascinating, and consistent, and they have a direct application to building a business or a career.
In essence the more you focus on external rewards (the pay, the title, the status, etc.) of an action (working on your business, or in your career) the less likely you are to remain internally motivated to pursue that action over the long run. In the short run you will work like crazy to get the reward, but over time, especially after you have achieved a reward or two, your internal drive will decrease.
Author Daniel Pink, in his book “Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us“, describes this relationship as follows:
“Try to encourage a kid to learn math by paying her for each workbook page she completes – and she’ll almost certainly become more diligent in the short term and lose interest in math in the long term. Take an industrial designer who loves his work and try to get him to do better by making his pay contingent on a hit product – and he’ll almost certainly work like a maniac in the short term, but become less interested in his job in the long term.”
There is also evidence that people who are able to maintain their intrinsic motivation in their are jobs or businesses are better able to withstand the trials, discouragements, setbacks and hard times that are inevitable in any business or career. They will stick with their job or career if they like it however, and they like what they do, even if they had to take a pay cut, or experienced economic setback. As a result, they are more likely to achieve the status of a “master” in their field (and receive the associated benefits). Meanwhile, someone who is solely externally motivated is less likely to take the hard road to mastery, particularly if it involves economic setback.
So how does this apply directly to your business or career?
I’m not telling you to get rid of your short term goals, many of which are “external rewards” based. This would be inconsistent with the postings I have done in the past.
What I’m saying is that you should also integrate some internal motivations into why you are doing what you are doing.
It can’t be about the money alone. It can’t be about the title alone. It has to be about something more. Something that will keep you going through the times where it slows down, or you work your best and you don’t get your goal.
Here are some ideas:
– I love my business because of the freedom of being self-employed. It is not just about the $ to me. I love the freedom and I will continue to pursue it, even if it slows down because I intrinsically value freedom;
– I love helping others. This business gives me a chance to help others. I get to contribute in a real way and add value to others. So even if I don’t get a specific goal (external reward), I still love my business because I am helping others.
– I love pursing mastery of a subject. Mastery involves knowing every detail. It involves pure education. You can only receive pure education through failure. It is the process of trial and error. Setbacks are necessary because you can only learn when you are outside of your comfort zone. Therefore if I have a set back and I don’t get an external reward I am not discouraged because I am on the path to mastery.
– Meghann loves the social side of our business. She loves making relationships, being a mentor, and a support to others. This motivation is more important to her than the financial side of the business.
We are constantly setting short term goals (external rewards); however, Meghann and I have built in these internal rewards (and many others) into our motivation. These are the keys to our long run success. These are the things that allow us to enjoy the moment, no matter what reward we receive.
When we focus on these, then each day running our business can be a positive one because we are not solely focused on “rewards” as our motivation. We are internally focused. We do things because we want to, and they bring us value.