To Inspire, Translate Extrinsic Motivation to Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation Does not Exist

Motivation can be activated and manipulated in another person with the effect of altering his/her behavior and achieving shared objectives.

In a previous article, I have elaborated that motivation is derived from incentives (or disincentives) that are founded either externally or internally, through extrinsic or intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivations arise from within—for example, doing a task for its own sake. In contrast, extrinsic motivations propel you to seek external rewards or avoid threatened punishments.

Extrinsic Motivation Doesn’t Exist

One could argue that extrinsic motivation doesn’t exist—that all human behavior is motivated by intrinsic needs alone. In support of this viewpoint, Professor Steven Reiss of Ohio State University observes, “Extrinsic motivation does not exist as a separate and distinct form of motivation” and elaborates,

When I do something to get something else, ultimately I am seeking something of intrinsic value to me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. I go to work to support my family, and I value my family intrinsically. Some seek wealth so others will respect them, and they value their status intrinsically. In a means-ends chain of behavior, the end is intrinsically motivating, and it is the source of motivation for the means. The motive for the means is the same as for the end; it is an error in logic to assume that means are motivated by a different kind of motivation (extrinsic motivation) than are ends (intrinsic motivation.)

Try to imagine a chain of purposive behaviors that do not ultimately lead to some intrinsically valued goal. You can’t do it because such a chain has nothing to motivate it and, thus, never occurs. All behavior is motivated by an intrinsically valued goal.

Only Intrinsic Motivation Exists

Extrinsic motivation is nothing but a trigger for intrinsic motivation. Suppose that I ask you to refrain from smoking for a week in return for a $100 cash reward. Originally, you do not intend to refrain from smoking for a week, even if you acknowledge that smoking is harmful. In other words, you have no intrinsic motivation to refrain from smoking for a week. Therefore, the $100 offer acts as an extrinsic motivator. Upon further analysis, recognize that even though the $100 appears to be an extrinsic motivator, it capitalizes on your intrinsic desire to take the $100 to perhaps enjoy an evening out, take a loved one to dinner, or buy yourself a present. The $100 thus acts on an element of your intrinsic motivation.

A Case Study: How Xiang Yu Motivated Troops during the Battle of Julu

Commander Xiang Yu Chu Dynasty In ancient China, during the Battle of Julu in 207 BCE, Commander Xiang Yu led 20,000 of his Chu Dynasty troops against the Qin Dynasty. Yu’s troops camped overnight on the banks of the Zhang River. When they woke up the next morning to prepare for their attacks, they were horrified to discover that the boats they had used to get there had been sunk. Not only that, but their cauldrons (cooking pots) had been crushed and all but three days’ worth of rations destroyed.

The Chu troops were infuriated when they learned that it was their commander, Yu, who had ordered the destruction of the boats, cauldrons, and supplies. Yu explained to his troops that this maneuver was to motivate them to mount a spirited attack on the enemies. They had no chance to retreat and were thus forced to achieve victory within three days. Otherwise, they would die trapped within the walls of an enemy city without supplies or any chance of escape. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Yu’s motivated troops defeated the 300,000-strong Qin army and scored a spectacular victory within three days.

Xiang Yu cleverly translated extrinsic motivational devices at his command (viz. lack of boats, cauldrons, and supplies) to instigate a powerful intrinsic motivator of survival and success in his troops.

Idea for Impact: To Motivate Another, Always Lever Elements of Intrinsic Motivation

When trying to motivate a person who lacks intrinsic motivation for a certain behavior, first understand what truly motivates that person—i.e. his/her other elements of intrinsic motivation. Then translate the levers of extrinsic motivation (rewards, salary raise, fame, recognition, punishment) at your disposal through one of the other’s elements of intrinsic motivation.

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