I was recently talking with a friend about the contrast between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and offered to send him an email with some of the inspiring things I've been reading about this topic lately. Having just blogged about mutual inspiration, and how blogging provides a channel for telling the stories we make up about our selves (which may serve to inspire others to post comments or post their own blog entries -- perhaps with trackbacks -- in which they tell the stories they make up about themselves), I decided to post this annotated list here on my blog ... and I'll send him a link via email, because I know he doesn't read my blog (although he also isn't too attentive to email, either ... I may have to call him).
Synchronistically, Yochai Benkler has some interesting insights to share on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivations in his book, The Wealth of Networks (which was another major theme in my last post), in a section on Motivation in Chapter 3, The Economics of Social Production, including some definitions of these terms:
Extrinsic motivations are imposed on individuals from the outside.
They take the form of either offers of money for, or prices imposed on, behavior, or threats of punishment or reward from a manager or a judge for complying with, or failing to comply with, specifically prescribed behavior.
Intrinsic motivations are reasons for action that come from within the person, such as pleasure or personal satisfaction.
He then goes on to note the tension between these:
Extrinsic motivations are said to "crowd out" intrinsic motivations because they (a) impair self-determination - that is, people feel pressured by an external force, and therefore feel overjustified in maintaining their intrinsic motivation rather than complying with the will of the source of the extrinsic reward; or (b) impair self-esteem - they cause individuals to feel that their internal motivation is rejected, not valued, and as a result, their self-esteem is diminished, causing them to reduce effort.
The first aspect evokes an image of "circle the wagons": a defensive reaction to the perception of external threats, in which people cling all the more tightly to what they consider precious (in the physical, intellectual, emotional or spiritual realms) when they believe it may be taken away. I know that I have all kinds of attachments: being a packrat (not wanting to throw things away, just in case I may need them in the future), caring for and feeding all my pet theories, enjoying a good bout of righteous indignation from time to time, and believing that I have a purpose (or Goal) in life. I'm not sure how externally driven these attachments are, but I certainly agree that all of these attachments impair my ability to choose my thoughts, feelings and actions wisely.
The second aspect, impairment of self-esteem, is at or very close to the core of all of my defects of character. My desire to please others often overrides my desire to please my self, and the threat of rejection, or anything that may create an opportunity for me to feel un[der]valued, is, I'm embarrassed to say, one of my biggest fears. Fortunately, much of the time, I find that what others want and what I want are closely aligned ... but in typing this, I'm wondering whether this alignment is due to internal or external considerations (do I simply change what I want to align better with what others want ... or do others, who may also suffer impairments of self-esteem, adjust what they want to what [they think] I want?).
James Ogilvy also has insights to share about motivations, in a book I read and blogged about recently (Living Without A Goal: Finding the Freedom to Live a Creative and Innovative Life). He encourages us to indulge in extravagance, wild exuberance, luxurious squandering and profligate consumption as we artfully create our selves ... without much (or perhaps any?) regard for extrinsic factors. Just as art and beauty are ends in themselves, if my life is a work of art, then I ought to apply the same kind of aesthetic principles in its creation. As information, experiences and other intangible aspects of life become more prominent, he suggests that "the old possessiveness may be the greatest enemy of the new wealth". [Interestingly, Ogilvy raises a number of the same issues Benkler explores in his book (which was published 10 years later), e.g., noting that "information is inherently sacrificial" ... but I digress]
Don Miguel Ruiz, whose book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom has also been the subject of several previous blog posts, also addresses the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. In the process of domesticating our selves (and our children), "we keep doing what others want us to do in order to get the reward ... we start pretending to be what we are not, just to please others, just to be good enough for someone else ... Eventually we become someone we are not". [Thus], in describing his fourth agreement ("always do your best"), he says that "doing your best is taking the action because you love it, not because you're expecting a reward ... if you take action just for the sake of doing it, without expecting a reward, you will find that you enjoy every action you do".
In her book, The Dance: Moving to the Rhythms of Your True Self, Oriah Mountain Dreamer - another author whose work I've blogged about several times in the past - writes that "Money is always a stand-in for something else, often a convenient stand-in ... each of us has our own fears about our worthiness, our own fear that we will not be enough" and asks "What would you do if you knew you were enough just as you are today ... how would that trust affect your choices about how to take care of business, how to get and spend your money?"
James Carse's book "Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility" (also a [sub]theme of several previous blog posts) is, essentially, all about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. As he notes early on, "finite games are externally defined, infinite games are internally defined" and goes on to reveal new perspectives (for me) on titles, names, power, property, society, culture and sexuality. When we are driven by extrinsic motivations -- or try to drive others through extrinsic motivations -- we (and/or they) become, in effect, machines ... and it doesn't matter who is driving, because "to use the machine for control is to be controlled by the machine ... we not only operate with each other like machines, we operate each other like machines" ... and war is the ultimate machine ... but I don't want to go down that path (here or now).
Lightening up [a bit] and returning to Benkler's book, he describes a number of theoretical and empirical studies exploring the economic, social and psychological dimensions of motivation, and the way these dimensions sometimes conflict. My favorite example is his [presumably] hypothetical scenario of leaving a fifty-dollar check on the table after being invited to dinner at a friend's house, and how this injection of economics may have negative repercussions on the social and psychological aspects of the relationship. He then notes
[W]ell-adjusted, healthy individuals are rarely monolithic in their requirements. ... We spend some of our time making money, some of our time enjoying it hedonically; some of our time being with and helping family, friends, and neighbors; some of our time creatively expressing ourselves, exploring who we are and what we would like to become.
So, maybe it's OK, after all, to be extrinsically motivated some of the time ... er, which as I write this, I realize I've written about this notion before, twice ... perhaps more than twice ... another self-reminder that lessons are repeated as often as necessary ... and I'm still not sure I get it ... and so I'll probably keep blogging about it from time to time.