The wrong kind of Motivation and how to fix it.
So, you’ve turned the activity you love the most into your full-time job. Congratulations!
And now you’re likely reading this because things are not the way they used to be. Did you start resenting your former passion? Are you stuck? Only doing it for the money? The joy is gone…? I get it.
And so do many other freelancers and researchers whose main focus is human motivation.
You see, our work, especially if it pertains to the artistic kind, requires constant fuel. Motivation is a critical part of it. Whether you are just starting out as a writer, content creator, or painter, or whether you’ve been doing this for years, you know by now that you always need to have a satisfactory response to “Why am I (still) doing this?”. It’s this why that keeps us moving forward, that informs our main decisions and helps us get over inherent difficulties and blocks, regardless of their nature — creativity or productivity-related, or relational.
Knowing why we do the things we do is not enough though. Some motives work better than others when it comes to keeping us on the desired track.
Maybe this whole article will make more sense to freelancers and those who have turned their artistic side into a full-time job, but the principles apply to anyone who successfully managed to monetize their passion.
This sounds like a dream situation. Right?
You love writing or painting or creating videos and you decide that you want to turn this activity into your job. And lo and behold, countless projects later, it works. You’ve reached your goal.
However, as time goes by, the more you write, paint, or create videos, you realize that the joy you feel while creating project after project is significantly diminished.
Maybe you even reach a point where you feel stuck and creativity eludes you completely.
Well, more often than not, the culprit is a change in your Motivation.
You may think level of but it is more likely that the answer refers to the type of Motivation.
Let me explain.
As a general term, Motivation is the cluster of factors that activate, direct and sustain the behaviors that help us achieve our goals.
In addition, motives are the driving force behind our behaviors. They explain why we do what we do.
There are many different types of motivation and motives, but the most important ones, and the ones that likely explain why we start hating our job even though it used to be our passion, are Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation.
Intrinsic Motivation refers to a task’s qualities. We participate in an activity because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable. When we engage in an activity that we like, we feel free, independent, and competent.
Extrinsic Motivation produces results that can be separated from the activity itself. Behaviors linked to this type of motivation generate a sense of external pressure and control.
Depending on the type of Motivation that pushes your activity forward, the way you feel about your work and the results that you get may vary greatly.
So, what’s the problem?
Most of the time, Intrinsic Motivation is considered the type of motivation that leads to better outcomes. Research in fields such as sport, education, and general work environments, proved the importance of Intrinsic Motivation in quality performance and positive outcomes.
Maintaining high levels of Intrinsic Motivation regarding the activities involved in your job represents a key factor in achieving your goals and doing what you like for long periods of time without allowing frustration, procrastination, and blocks to take over the whole process.
Sometimes we start disliking an activity because it is the natural development of things — we do too much of a good thing and in the end, we lose interest. But the problem occurs when we still have positive feelings connected to it but we no longer reap the emotional benefits that used to come with performing a certain task.
So, how do we maintain high levels of Intrinsic Motivation over long periods of time? What factors enhance it and which undermine it? And is extrinsic motivation always a bad thing?
Let’s take a closer look at the factors that either facilitate or undermine intrinsic motivation.
Factors that enhance Intrinsic Motivation include the following:
- Competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Setting realistic goals, having the skills needed to achieve them, as well as understanding the essence of a goal when set by an external source — all of these elements will create an increased sense of perceived competence and efficacy. Autonomy or freedom from external control and pressure increase the positive emotions related to intrinsically motivated behaviors. When a goal is set by an external source, intrinsic motivation can be elevated if there exists a feeling of belongingness and connectedness to the persons or group that first set it.
- Positive performance feedback. Positive feedback regarding one’s achievements increases the quality of an experience or activity.
- Choice and opportunity of self-direction. Having the freedom to choose between options, and the context in which one can regulate their own motivation and behavior are elements linked to the concept of autonomy or independence, mentioned before.
What you can do to maintain high levels of Intrinsic Motivation:
- Set realistic goals and make sure you have the proper skills to achieve them.
- Keep external influences to a minimum and protect your autonomy.
- Make sure you understand and agree to the goals you set together with your clients or collaborators.
- Surround yourself with supporters, acknowledge and take pride in your achievements.
- Maintain a bird’s eye view on your opportunities and options and assess your motivational state from time to time, to make sure that you are still doing the things you like because you like them, and not because an external element guides you in a certain direction.
Factors that undermine Intrinsic Motivation include the following:
- Tangible rewards. Tangible rewards reduce intrinsic motivation for tasks that interest us. The effects remain even when the external reward is offered as a sign of good performance. Tangible rewards make people take less responsibility for regulating their own motivation and behavior.
- Negative performance feedback. Negative, unjustified feedback undermines intrinsic motivation by generating negative emotions. This type of feedback is to be differentiated from justified criticism or constructive criticism, a form of feedback that allows a person to optimize their skills and generate better results.
- Surveillance, evaluation, threats, deadlines, directives, and competition pressure. These are all generators of negative emotions. Even though deadlines, competition, performance feedback, and guidance can have a positive influence on one’s activity, they all also present unhealthy, toxic versions that undermine intrinsic motivation and either delay or cancel satisfying outcomes.
Even more things you can do to maintain high levels of Intrinsic Motivation:
- Obviously, your career is also based on external rewards — income, social proof, and praise, among them. To maintain optimal intrinsic motivation levels, make sure these elements do not become your primary motive for doing an activity. It may seem like bad advice, but lower extrinsic rewards may keep you in the game happier, longer.
- Avoid paying attention to unjustified criticism. Focus on what can help you grow: positive feedback and constructive criticism.
- Assess your progress and achievements in an objective manner.
- Set realistic deadlines that keep you accountable, but do not generate unnecessary levels of stress.
- Compare your results to those of your competitors only when the action is required for optimizing your strategies. Learn from them.
- Engage in healthy competition. Healthy competitive actions are those that lead to the improvement of an activity field and help the growth of all parties involved. Win-win situations.
Identify your Type of Motivation
Ask yourself periodically why you do the activities that are core to your career. Using the information mentioned before, try to understand if the force that moves you from goal to goal is rather internal, or external. And when you find yourself moving from internal to external motivations for activities you know you usually enjoy, try to limit and reverse the motivational slider.Keep in mind that intrinsically motivated behaviors do not necessarily lack rewards and that extrinsic rewards are not always a bad thing for your creativity and overall work.Try to observe when you move from one type of motivation toward the other and remind yourself why you are doing the things that you are doing. Do you need more external pressure? Think of rewards such as earnings. Creativity flow is blocked? Try and remind yourself what exactly is the enjoyable part of your job and do more of that for a while. For example, you can work for free, or with no specific project in mind.
In the end, remember that maintaining joy when your work is based on your passion depends on finding a balance between intrinsically and extrinsically motivated behaviors. This reliable strategy will also push you forward toward achieving your goals and will preserve and even boost your emotional and psychological well-being.
Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125(6), 627–668. doi:10.1037/0033–2909.125.6.627
Nevid, J. S. (2013). Psychology: Concepts and applications. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54–67. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020