If you set up some goals (or resolutions) for yourself at the beginning of the year, you may have also set up some sort of reward. After all, if you put in all that work, shouldn’t you get something out of it?
This kind of reward system is referred to as “external motivation”, meaning you’re relying on something beyond yourself to motivate yourself to do something. We’re all pretty familiar with this form of motivation, and we’ve all engaged in it to some degree throughout our lives.
Most commonly, we remember it from our school days, when a teacher might give us a sticker or other small reward for a job well done on a paper or extra minutes at recess as a class reward for engaging in a certain behavior or participating together in an activity. But we also encounter it at work when we receive gift certificates or T-shirts for reaching certain goals. It’s a tangible reminder that we did something right.
You can set up your own personal external motivators, too. If you’re working toward a healthier lifestyle, you might reward yourself with a small dessert for eating healthy or new music for completing your exercise routine for a certain number of days in a row. You give yourself a small, tangible present related to the goal you’re working on. Or, more commonly in this day and age, you might give yourself permission to binge watch a show to celebrate completing a project you’d been avoiding. Whatever you choose, you’re still giving yourself a reward for working hard.
When we start talking about external motivators, people feel awkward because it seems silly to keep rewarding yourself with these things past school. But some of us work better if we have something to aim for. The real problem with external motivation is that it can build a kind of dependency. If the reward comes from someone else, we run the risk of changing our goals to meet what the other person wants in order to keep getting the rewards. If the reward is something we’re giving ourselves, we can start making excuses for why we should be rewarded more often for work that we initially would never have considered rewardable.
It’s a fine line, and definitely something to keep in mind. But if you can keep everything in perspective, external motivation can be a great way to push yourself through a tough project or help keep you on track to a major goal.