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Carrots, Sticks, and the Paradoxes of Motivation

Shankar Vedantam - When Play Becomes Work - washingtonpost.com

Shankar Vedantam discusses research on motivation which points to the schizophrenic role that rewards can play in our perception of a task.

A host of experiments have shown that when threats and rewards enter the picture, they tend to destroy the inner drives. Paychecks and pink slips might be powerful reasons to get out of bed each day, but they turn out to be surprisingly ineffective -- and even counterproductive -- in getting people to perform at their best.

Add the right incentive, and you can encourage better output; add the wrong incentive and you risk removing the natural motivation people feel to do something for the intrinsic value they get out of it.

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Self-control running low?

Why is it so hard to say no? Why the heck do I find myself doing things I don't really want to do?

In the newsroom where I ostensibly work, I sit right next to that table - the one the people from other publications call "the table of perpetual indulgence." It usually features baked goods and junk food - great vats of candy, tubs of animal crackers, a living sea of bite-sized 3 Musketeers and Special Dark bars. It is, put simply, bad for me to be sitting here. I'm always walking off to the printer then realizing that somehow I've wound up in the opposite direction, lifting syrup-filled brownies toward my mouth. Well, I think I just found out the reason why.

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Motivate yourself with "loss aversion"

NPR: Put Your Money Where Your Girth Is

I really enjoyed this Morning Edition story on "Prospect Theory," or the idea that loss aversion can be an effective motivator in goals related to health improvement like weight loss and smoking cessation:

"What we know about incentives is that people work a lot harder to avoid losing $10 than they will work to gain $10," explains Ayres. "So something that's framed as a loss is really effective at changing behavior."

Related to that question I was asked at Macworld: I wonder if a gym membership might be even more motivating if you received a daily email updating you on the wasted dollars you'd spent by not working out in the last n days.

When I started paying most of my own college tuition, I remember realizing that every class I skipped was equivalent to throwing away about a day and a half of the money I'd earned from waiting on tables. It was very motivating for me, and I started missing a lot fewer classes as a result.

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

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