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“When the reward is the activity itself–deepening learning, delighting customers, doing one’s best–there are no shortcuts”

What would you do if someone gave you a never-ending paycheck? Someone asked me that at a cocktail party once, and it turned into a great discussion.


Because it’s about intrinsic motivation.  If you don’t have to work, you spend your free time doing “work” that you are intrinsically motivated to do. As Daniel Pink puts it, “the reward is the activity itself”.  People and companies are always wondering how to motivate themselves, or their employees.

Actually, it’s more simple than we’d think.

Intrinsic Motivation: What Works?

I’m just about finished his book on the topic. It’s 10 years old, but it’s still eye-opening.  He shows us how most workplaces are rewarding people the wrong way, and how the “carrot & stick” approach of positive and negative reinforcement only works in some situations. Just because there’s a straightforward consequence or benefit (like an increase in pay) to something, doesn’t always make us want to work harder. 

In fact, some of the research out there that Pink cites shows us it’s actually the opposite.  

That’s right, you could be demotivating yourself, your students, or your employees by giving them a “carrot and stick” reward. Rather than helping them find meaning in activities, and creating activities they’d like to do, we attach marks and grades to specific outcomes.

Just this morning, I came across this Physics PhD student’s winning entry to a Science/Dance competition that may have stemmed from an intrinsic desire to foster learning.  Yes, that’s right – it’s a competition to show a scientific principle using dance.

How fun is that?  

It made me think of the “deepening learning” part of Dan Pink’s quote. If they taught more math and science like that, I think I’d know a whole lot more than I do 😉


The Candle Problem: Internal Drive & Creativity

Wait a second, what do candles have to do with motivation?  Well, it’s a little puzzle experiment that researchers carried out years ago, and has been replicated every time. I won’t ruin the experiment for you (watch the TED below), but let’s just say that rewarding people by paying them to complete a task only works for tasks with a simple solution. 

For bigger, more complex tasks (especially those that use creativity and problem-solving skills) we need to be intrinsically motivated or driven to really do the task well. In fact, if you give us “carrot and stick” rewards for jobs we already enjoy, we are likely to start enjoying them less. 

At first, it sounds crazy. However, as I got more into the book I realized that there were many ways in which this applied to my own life. The tasks I love doing the most are the ones that I’ll do for free (at times), work harder for, grumble less about when I have to work extra, unpaid hours, etc.

Check out Daniel Pink’s TED Talk on Drive, simply by clicking the video below. It’s definitely worth the ten minutes of your time!


3 Ways To Find Your Drive

Not sure what “drives” you?  Pink talks about Autonomy, Mastery and Competency as three key drivers to fulfillment.  

I have a personal anecdote about a time when a company I worked for gave, and then took away my autonomy – and immediately lowered my motivation. In one of the companies I worked at during my corporate marketing years, we discovered that going off-site for a few hours each week (let’s say, two afternoons) really fostered our creativity. We had a couple team meetings off-site (at a coffee shop).  I later asked if I could do some individual work that way too, and we found that without all the distractions of a busy office, the work I produced was great and happened in less time than we thought.

I felt the autonomy, and the road to mastery…and then… they took it all away. Management wanted to be able to “see someone in the office” when they walked by those two afternoons, and not encourage off-site work. 

Needless to say, my productivity (and my work, and motivation) went down the drain.

Here are my three tips to find out what drives you:


1. Remember What You’re Good At

Motivational Monday 65 Ask for Help

Actually, I keep coming back to this one myself. Reigniting my childhood passions and trying to find more of the work I’m great at. Likewise, slowly getting rid of the work I’m not so good at. 

2. Ask Yourself The Neverending Paycheck Question

Remember the question from the beginning of this post?:

What would you do if someone was giving you a never-ending paycheck?  No strings attached. Money to live on for life.  Where would you go? What would make you truly happy? How would you spend your days?

This may help you find your drive!

3. Find Role Models To Help

As always, don’t be afraid to ask for help!  Role models can help us truly understand the possibilities that lie ahead, and what opportunities we can take advantage of.  Find someone you admire and find out how they got where they are today.


Finding Work That Drives You

Perhaps even harder than that, is finding what drives you in your current work.  That’s the struggle I definitely have at this point in my PhD. In my opinion, PhDs are projects that are much too long, and should really be a collection of shorter pieces worked on in collaborations with others. That’s what the real world is like, and the disconnect to it stifles my drive and creativity.Motivational-Monday-113-Why

So, finding the drive to finish mine is tricky.  My accountability buddies are definitely helping keep me on track. However, to change my mood from depressed misery to excited, I think I’m going to have to go back to the beginning and remember my why 

That is to say, not the specific details of a study I now know I should have done so difference, but what drove me to start the PhD. How I truly wanted to contribute to language education and make a difference for second language learners. Or open a language school using what I’ve learned from my experience testing study abroad learners.

That could be a driving force for me. 


What drives you?  Is your current career allowing you to reach your full potential? Comment below and let me know! 🙂 

Have a lovely and productive week!


P.S.Photo fans, the photo for today’s post (and poster!) is one I took in Croatia in 2017

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