Thursday, December 23, 2010

Motivation Part 2 - Would You Do It For a Medal?

This is the sequel to another post on motivation. To read it click here or scroll back one day.

There is a contingent of people out there who roll their eyes and assume that some women make certain birthing and mothering choices for some sort of medal or badge of honor -- or a new diamond ring, which in Beverly Hills they call a "push prize." Any of us who have given birth naturally or made other pregnancy and birth choices that are counter to the current culture know that extrinsic motivation has nothing to do with it. In fact, if you are interested in some cool facts about extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation, 40 years of studies have proven that a promise of rewards actually has a negative impact on results. What? Yes it's true--in cases that require any amount of creative problem solving.

Here's the experiment that has been repeated for 40 years now: Scientists gave a group of people a problem to solve and told them they would be timing them for norms. They gave another group the same problem and told them that they would be timing them and if they finished in the top 25% they would give them a substantial monetary reward. The group given an incentive took 3 1/2 minutes longer that other group. Sadly, this fact, though well known among social scientists is not widely known in business. If you want to watch a very interesting and entertaining talk on this by Dan Pink you can click here.

I tend to agree with social scientists and Dan Pink when it comes to business, skilled labor, and also pregnancy and birth. True success (whatever that means to you) is most frequently achieved with intrinsic motivation. Specifically, motivation that revolves around three ares:

Autonomy-- The urge to direct our own lives.

Mastery - The desire to be better and better at something that matters to us.

Purpose - Yearning to do what we do in service to something larger than ourselves.

I believe that behind all towards motivation is one of these three values, and I would like to see what readers think. How can you see these motivations at work in your life? Please comment and pass this post on if it is interesting to you.


  1. That makes sense. I can see autonomy, mastery, and purpose to some extent or another in my motivations both in house cleaning and in birth preparation. Thanks for writing this series!

  2. This post reminds me of a conversation I've had with a friend. She said that she was thinking of having a natural birth with her first, but during labor her CNM (or was it a nurse) used this line - "You're not going to get a medal if you don't get an epidural." So she did get an epidural & she lost any desire to have a natural birth later. So her motivation was all external. My response was to talk about motivations for a natural birth - some are external and usually don't lead to a natural birth. Others are internal - like mine would be the desire for an active birth (like I said in the last motivation post) or it would be trust in the process (and ultimately in God).

    That study is interesting, but I wonder how well it applies to things other than birth. The subjects in the two groups were probably both intrinsically motivated to do the task - that's why they had signed up for the study; it would be a waste of time to not be motivated. I'd guess that the group promised a reward was distracted by the offer - then they spent extra mental energy monitoring their progress during the course and if their progress wasn't satisfactory then discouragement made them slower. Birth is similar - in general all women are intrinsically motivated to some degree - they chose to keep this child, and there's no other way - every pregnant woman must give birth. Women whose intrinsic motivation is relatively low (and feel some external motivation) would be more susceptible to discouragement because it's not going the way they want it.

    But other than birth, people actually have a choice to just not do it. In cases like that, an incentive increases the number of people who actually complete the task.Don't all parents use this principle to get a child to do something - regardless of what specific tactic they use?

    I hope this post makes thoughts still feel preliminary.

  3. I wrote a comment then I the Internet suddenly going really slow & I lost it, so here's a shortened comment.

    A friend was told this (that there's no medal for natural births) during her first labor when she was hoping for a natural birth. It must have made quite the impression because I think it's now her attitude towards natural birth. I tried to explain to her what some intrinsic motivations for a natural birth would be.

    One reaction to that study is that the so-called externally motivated group probably weren't motivated completely externally. They must have been intrinsically motivated in some way to even sign up to participate. It'd be hard to design a study where the subjects didn't have any intrinsic motivation.



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