Got Motivation?

I’m not sure if you’ve already seen the clever (and very funny) Field Guide to Procrastinators by Twenty Pixels, but it’s certainly worth a visit.


So exactly what kind of a procrastinator are you?  Personally I’m a combination of Panicker, Listmaker, Sidetracker, Internet Researcher, and Perpetuator, but I can certainly identify with almost all of these stalling tactics, especially when I need to complete time-sensitive tasks that I don’t inherently enjoy doing at all.  However, when it comes to doing “research on the internet”… then down the rabbit hole I fall!

Now I’ve written about procrastination before, but I wanted to take a closer look at why we do things from another angle in today’s post.  Namely what is it exactly that motivates us to do certain things (and in the case of procrastination, what actually makes us get things we don’t enjoy doing, done?)

For me to complete undesirable tasks, I‘ve found that unfortunately the most effective personal motivator is often panic, fear, or guilt, or some lovely combination of this unholy trifecta.  I’m one of those poor souls motivated by the stick and not so much the stupid carrot.  So at some point before a total meltdown (or completely running out of clean underwear and the threat of “going commando” in the case of not doing and folding laundry,) a spurt of productivity may (or may not) sink in, and I (sometimes) miraculously finish the Herculean task of doing laundry, cleaning out a room, or organizing a closet, etc… If only I was The Cleaner/Organizer type of procrastinator!  Then my American Taitai household chores would be easily and often completed!

Which got me to thinking about what motivates us.  Why is it that I’ll gladly spend hours researching things on the interwebz (like the pros and cons of a certain household purchase,) whereas you’ll never catch me folding clean laundry on the day I do it.  It sits in a large pile or in the hamper, undisturbed for at least a few days until everything is sufficiently wrinkly-but-clean.

And of course instead of doing what I actually needed to do today, I spent the time researching what different types of motivation exist!  And to my surprise, I found that there are many different motivators.

Before we dive in, let’s define the term “motivation.”  According to this Lifehack article, there are 6 different types of motivation, where the author defines motivation as: “the force that compels us to action.  It drives us to work hard and pushes us to succeed.  Motivation influences our behavior and our ability to accomplish goals.”  The author goes on to say that because there are so many different types of motivation, different motivators work for different people:  “No single type of motivation works for everyone.  People’s personalities vary and so accordingly does the type of motivation that is most effective at inspiring their conduct.”

I guess I would go on to say that different tasks and goals require different types of motivation.  Organizing your email inbox at work (um, who does that?  Isn’t that what the search function is for?) or going through your closet and throwing away old clothes requires a different type of motivation than applying to graduate school or in changing careers.

So here are 6 different types of motivation, according to Lifehack:

1) Incentive: The knowledge you will be rewarded in some manner for achieving a certain target or goal.  Bonuses and promotions are good examples.

2) Fear: Punishment and negative consequences are a form of fear motivation. Commonly used to motivate students in the education system and also frequently in a professional setting to motivate employees.

3) Achievement: The drive to prove our competency both to others and to ourselves.  Generally intrinsic in nature, but positive feedback from both our peers and our superiors helps too.

4) Growth: The need for self-improvement and desire to increase our knowledge of ourselves and of the outside world.  Sometimes it’s also the need for change.

5) Power: The desire for autonomy or other desire to control others around us.  We want to have choices and control over our own lives.

6) Social: A desire to belong and to be accepted by a specific peer group.  We all have the need for acceptance and affiliation.

If this all sounds a little complicated, there’s also a easier distinction between different types of motivation.   The division is simply between extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation.  In this article about the psychology of motivation, extrinsic motivation “occurs when we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity in order to earn a reward or avoid a punishment.”

This contrasts with intrinsic motivation, which “involves engaging in a behavior because it is personally rewarding; essentially, performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward.”

Basically, extrinsic motivation arises from outside of the individual while intrinsic motivation arises from within. Researchers have also found that the two type of motivation can differ in how effective they are at driving behavior.  If we look at the list of 6 different types of motivation, I suppose you could categorize numbers 1), 2), 5) and 6) as more extrinsic motivators, whereas numbers 3) and 4) are inherently more intrinsic and internally-driven motivators.

So let’s go back to my example of time spent doing household chores versus time spent writing this blog post.  While I haven’t quite gotten to the laundry (or the dishes, or the vacuuming, for that matter,) I have managed to research, write and edit this post, which took a fair bit of time this morning.  But researching, writing, and blogging is something that I personally intrinsically enjoy, even though I’m not getting paid to do it.  In fact, one could convincingly argue that the opportunity cost of the time I’m spending writing this post rather than finishing the household chores and errands that ought to/need to eventually get done is too high, and that I should just be doing my chores.  But because I’m not intrinsically motivated to clean house (the thought of a totally organized, tidy house just isn’t that realistic, nor is it that rewarding to me,) I’m spending (wasting?) time finishing this blog post instead.

I’m only motivated to clean the house if we happen to have guests over, and that circles back to fear/shame/guilt and the social aspect of motivation: “What will people think if they see how messy and unorganized we are?” (See the extrinsic motivations of fear/shame/guilt going on here?)  But apparently extrinsic motivation isn’t such a great motivator when it comes to getting household chores done in a timely manner, or if I’m being anti-social or simply don’t care.

However, the same unholy trifecta of fear/shame/guilt seems to be a very effective motivator in regulating certain other social behavior like what we buy or how we dress and act in public.  No one wants to be “that weird smelly guy” because our culture is attuned to ostracize and ridicule those that don’t fit in so well.  And then there is the whole concept of marketing and getting you to buy stuff you may not need or want.  Much of it all stems back to the ever-relevant Will Rogers quote:  “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.”


This mentality of fear and scarcity is the reason why we have the concept of marketing, and contributes to why we buy things.  In fact, effective marketing and compelling marketing copy is an art form that incorporates a unique alchemy of guilt, exclusivity, greed, and fear of missing out in motivating us to buy stuff we generally don’t need or even want.  This is why some of us might struggle with too much time doing online shopping (um, guilty Amazon Prime member here…!)

But understanding these concepts helps to explain why I tend to over-research products and household purchases and why I’m often affected by marketing and subliminal messages driven by guilt or FOMO.  And knowing about these different types of motivations helped me to understand why I tend to finish certain intrinsically enjoyable tasks I enjoy, while leaving the rest unfinished.

So the next time you’re stuck or find yourself putting off a dastardly task, try asking yourself what kind motivation you’re operating under, and if it’s possible to change your mentality.

Hm, now that the Friday post is done, I guess I’ll move on to the laundry and house tidying.  Bleh… But first, a mid-morning snack!!  🙂

Happy Friday!