I’ve just returned from the 5th International Conference on Self-Determination Theory. The remarkable and often mind-blowing research on motivation that was shared and debated by 500 scholars from more than 38 countries will be impacting our world over the coming years. But there are also little tidbits you can put into application immediately.
For example, even if you are familiar with the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, it hits home when you see examples of how setting intrinsic goals not only gives you a greater probability of achieving them, but also experiencing self-actualization and sustainable vitality.
On the other hand, extrinsic goals, more often than not, lead to depression and unhealthy physical symptoms. Regretfully, the goals most of us set are extrinsic goals–both personally and professionally.
What can you do differently?
Focus on setting intrinsic goals such as…
- Personal growth (improving listening skills or practicing mindfulness)
- Affiliation (nurturing a mentoring relationship or enhancing relationships with others)
- Community (contributing to something bigger than yourself or making a difference)
- Physical health (losing weight as a means for increasing energy or changing your eating habits as a way of lowering blood pressure)
Avoid extrinsic goals relating to…
- Social recognition such as increasing Facebook friends or LinkedIn contacts to improve your social or professional status
- Image and appearance such as losing weight to look good at your reunion or losing weight to be more attractive
- Material success such as earning more money, buying a powerful car, or moving to a prestigious neighborhood
Prompt intrinsic goals for others
Managers, teachers, and parents need to gain goal setting skills that prompt intrinsic goals based on optimally motivated, higher-level values. Individuals will benefit, but more importantly, it is a way to immediately begin shifting the values practiced in our organizations, educational systems, and communities.
If you find yourself challenging these notions, it is probably because most of us are conditioned to believe that setting goals for things we want (or think we need)–such as obtaining more money and the stuff we can buy with it–are part of “the secret” to success.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of research studies by the family of Self-Determination Theory thought leaders are proving that conventional thinking is simply wrong-headed. The real secret is that extrinsic goals do not provide the energy, vitality, and sense of positive well-being required to achieve most goals. And even if you happen to achieve the extrinsic goal, it doesn’t yield the sustainable joy, happiness, satisfaction, or energy you thought it would.
But perhaps more importantly, there is an undermining effect with extrinsic goals. In other words, extrinsic goals (social recognition, image and appearance, material success) tend to extinguish a potentially intrinsic experience. What we really yearn for is something we cannot buy or achieve through extrinsic goals.
As I sat in dozens of research presentations, I was thrilled with the compelling evidence demonstrating how the quality of the goals you set determines the quality of your experience. As a leader of others, if you remember that the value behind the goal determines the value of the goal, it can open up a distinctly different approach to setting goals that becomes a powerful and sustainable mechanism for positive well-being, engagement, and employee work passion.
About the author:
Susan Fowler is one of the principal authors—together with David Facer and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop. Their posts appear on the first and third Monday of each month.