Here’s What Really Motivates You



I learned a lot from Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

For any job that requires thought, creativity or problem-solving, Pink doesn’t recommend a focus on concrete rewards and punishments. He feels there are three elements we must provide to workers in this category:

  • (1) Autonomy—”the desire to direct our own lives;”
  • (2) Mastery—”the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters; and”
  • (3) Purpose—”the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”
On the other hand, if “the assignment neither inspires deep passion nor requires deep thinking. Carrots, in this case, won’t hurt and might help. And you’ll increase your chances of success by supplementing…with three important practices:”
  • “Offer a rationale for why the task is necessary.”
  • “Acknowledge that the task is boring.”
  • “Allow people to complete the task their own way”
Here are some other key quotes from the book:



  • The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.
  • Only contingent rewards—if you do this, then you’ll get that—had the negative effect. Why? “If-then” rewards require people to forfeit some of their autonomy.
  • Rewards do not undermine people’s intrinsic motivation for dull tasks because there is little or no intrinsic motivation to be undermined.
  • Any extrinsic reward should be unexpected and offered only after the task is complete.
  • In other words, where “if-then” rewards are a mistake, shift to “now that” rewards—as in “Now that you’ve finished the poster and it turned out so well, I’d like to celebrate by taking you out to lunch.”
  • Likewise, Amabile has found in some studies “that the highest levels of creativity were produced by subjects who received a reward as a kind of a bonus.” So when the poster turns out great, you could buy the design team a case of beer or even hand them a cash bonus without snuffing their creativity. The team didn’t expect any extras and getting them didn’t hinge on a particular outcome. You’re simply offering your appreciation for their stellar work. But keep in mind one ginormous caveat: Repeated “now that” bonuses can quickly become expected “if-then” entitlements—which can ultimately crater effective performance.
  • When people use rewards to motivate, that’s when they’re most demotivating.
  • Do rewards motivate people? Absolutely. They motivate people to get rewards.



  • “that enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver.”
  • the single greatest motivator is “making progress in one’s work.” The days that people make progress are the days they feel most motivated and engaged. By creating conditions for people to make progress, shining a light on that progress, recognizing and celebrating progress, organizations can help their own cause and enrich people’s lives.
  • What’s more, graduates with profit goals showed increases in anxiety, depression, and other negative indicators—again, even though they were attaining their goals. “These findings are rather striking,” the researchers write, “as they suggest that attainment of a particular set of goals [in this case, profit goals] has no impact on well-being and actually contributes to ill-being.”
  • Expending energy trying to motivate people is largely a waste of time,” Collins wrote in Good to Great. “If you have the right people on the bus, they will be self-motivated. The real question then becomes: How do you manage in such a way as not to de-motivate people?
  • The people in the group reminded of the personal benefit of working in a call center were no more successful in raising money than those in the control group. But the people in the second group, who read about what their work accomplished, raised more than twice as much money, through twice as many pledges, as the other groups. A brief reminder of the purpose of their work doubled their performance.


Success and satisfaction

  • Herzberg’s research found that what he called “hygiene factors”—such as salary, security, and status—were crucial for avoiding job dissatisfaction, but had little impact on job satisfaction. Satisfaction depended on “growth or motivator factors”—things like interesting work, greater responsibility, and the opportunity to grow. Organizations that tried to boost performance by using hygiene factors—say, by offering bonuses or holding out the prospect of a promotion—were playing a game they couldn’t win. The better approach, he argued, was to focus on job enrichment and make the work itself more challenging and meaningful.
  • The best predictor of success, the researchers found, was the prospective cadets’ ratings on a noncognitive, nonphysical trait known as “grit”—defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” The experience of these army officers-in-training confirms the second law of mastery: Mastery is a pain.
  • “Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the results of intense practice for a minimum of 10 years.” Mastery—of sports, music, business—requires effort (difficult, painful, excruciating, all-consuming effort) over a long time (not a week or a month, but a decade). Sociologist Daniel Chambliss has referred to this as “the mundanity of excellence.” Like Ericsson, Chambliss found—in a three-year study of Olympic swimmers—that those who did the best typically spent the most time and effort on the mundane activities that readied them for races. It’s the same reason that, in another study, the West Point grit researchers found that grittiness—rather than IQ or standardized test scores—is the most accurate predictor of college grades.
  • “One of the reasons for anxiety and depression in the high attainers is that they’re not having good relationships. They’re busy making money and attending to themselves and that means that there’s less room in their lives for love and attention and caring and empathy and the things that truly count,” Ryan added.


An interesting exercise to try:

Set a reminder on your computer or mobile phone to go off at forty random times in a week. Each time your device beeps, write down what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, and whether you’re in “flow.” Record your observations, look at the patterns, and consider the following questions:
  • Which moments produced feelings of “flow”? Where were you? What were you working on? Who were you with?
  • Are certain times of day more flow-friendly than others? How could you restructure your day based on your findings?
  • How might you increase the number of optimal experiences and reduce the moments when you felt disengaged or distracted?
  • If you’re having doubts about your job or career, what does this exercise tell you about your true source of intrinsic motivation?

If you found this interesting you might want to check out the book for yourself: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

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