Motivate Me To Study! Why "If-Then" Rewards Don't Really Work

By Lachlan Haynes

Have you ever heard of "If-then" rewards and punishments? Well if that's the case then good for you! Get it? That was a joke in case you were wondering.

"If then" rewards and punishments are simple to understand. If something happens, then something else happens as a result. For example, if you don't go to school, then your parents will ground you. If you help clean the backyard, then your parents will end the grounding. Makes sense doesn't it? There are punishments for "bad" behavior and "rewards" for good behavior. It's motivation 101!

Unfortunately, motivation 101 ("if then" motivation) doesn't always work. It also creates harmful long term problems. Why? Well how on earth do you become self-motivated and inspired by life when all you are doing is responding to threats of punishment or the delights of rewards? Your motivation levels are just being manipulated. In fact, it's not really addressing motivation at all it's just seeking to change behavior.

"If-then" rewards also encourage unethical behaviour (like achieving the desired objectives using questionable actions such as stealing or cheating), create addictions (like believing that if I do something I should be rewarded at all times otherwise I'm not going to do it) and foster short term thinking (like I'm just aiming for this goal alone and not worrying about any other consequences of achieving this target).

Your motivation is not, and should not, be about fear of punishment or the pleasure of a reward. You are not the family pet - you have a more sophisticated brain than that! Motivation is something that comes from within and compels you to action. Everyone knows what real motivation feels like - the feeling of being unstoppable in your ambition. But how do you find this?

Motivation is actually about the combination of three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose (this was established by behavioral scientists Harlow and Deci).

Their research identified that the secret to high levels of performance is actually our deep seated desire to direct our own lives and be in charge of what we do with our time and how we do it (our desire for autonomy), to extend and expand our capabilities and the urge we have to get better and better at something that really matters to (our desire for mastery), and the longing to do things in the service of something larger than ourselves (our desire for purpose).

If you honestly and objectively look at the three elements that create motivation and assess how closely they align with your life, it may become quite clear why you don't feel motivated. If you aren't in control, if you're not taking charge, if you're spending your time doing things that don't inspire you, if you're not learning and expanding your capabilities and improving yourself each day - you simply won't feel motivated. It's not possible. It breaks every rule of motivation. So honestly assess where your life is and you will find your answer. Good luck!

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