An Insight Into The Power of Intrinsic Motivation 1

The implication for motivation is vast and just as Newton’s principles can help us explain our physical environment, motivation principles can enable us to understand our social surroundings and a basic human nature to be curious. 

The Tom Sawyer effect was discovered over forty years ago – ‘the hidden costs of rewards’. The drive to do something because it’s interesting, challenging and absorbing is essential for high level creativity and high order thinking. By neglecting the ingredients of motivation – autonomy, mastery and purpose – we limit what each of us can achieve.

An Insight Into The Power of Intrinsic Motivation 2

Positive feedback and useful information has an enhancing effect on intrinsic motivation. 

  • Feedback on specifics (such as; good use of resources, or techniques).
  • Praise based on effort and strategy rather than outcome.

Many theories about behaviour pivot around particular psychological needs;

  1. Competence – application of skills and knowledge
  2. Autonomy – Performance and practice
  3. Relatedness – amalgamation of creative thoughts

When these needs are satisfied – we are motivated, productive and happier.

Imagine for a moment great artists; Picasso, Lowry, Banksy. No one ordered them to create in a certain way, with a specific team of others, or at a specific time. The art of autonomy empowers them to engage fully and relate to their work.  Most people want to be accountable and by having control over techniques and time, enables us to competently follow the pathway to intrinsic motivation. 

The opposite of autonomy is control. Control leads to compliance and autonomy leads to engagement. This distinction leads us onto the desire to improve something. Engagement can produce mastery, which is often a dominant driver within us. Too often the word ‘empowerment’ wafts around the corporate world and yet the modern workplaces often lack engagement and awareness of mastery within.

An Insight Into The Power of Intrinsic Motivation 3

Mihaly Csikszentmihayli discovered the theory of ‘flow’ and how combined competence, relatedness and autonomy drive us to achieve mastery. During his research at the University of Chicago Csikszentmihayli in the late 1950’s he observed painters and others that gravitated to heightened success. He watched their trance like state as they crafted and went on to develop a methodology known as the Experience Sampling Method. This conceptual framework enabled Csikszentmihayli to collect and assemble the feelings, actions and human experiences over seven days and conclude that the most satisfying experiences were when a person was in ‘flow’. This previously unacknowledged mental state evidenced a degree of focus and satisfaction that stretched the body and mind in such a way that made the effort itself the most delicious reward. 

A technique to improve intrinsic motivation

To identify when you might be in a state of ‘flow’, set a reminder on your phone to go off 8 times a day over a week. Each time your device goes off, note down what you are doing, and how you are feeling. You should be able to identify that the best moments usually occur when the body or mind is stretched to the limit in voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

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