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Motivation 2.0

January 22, 2012

Motivation = Autonomy + Mastery + Meaning

Author Daniel Pink has an interesting take on motivation for the 21st century that could have a profound effect on us as workers and fathers.  I know the Pink video is long (18 minutes), but watch it sometime, it is worth the effort.  Pink argues that Motivation 1.0, using punishments and rewards (carrots & sticks) has limited utility in the 21st century.  Motivation 1.0 works only when the task is routine, boring and repetitive.  If a worker or one of your children is doing a simple boring task, then offering a reward or threatening a punishment can increase the motivation to complete the task.  “You will be grounded if you leave the house without cleaning your room.”  I think we call this, “The my way or the highway” or “Because I said so…” theory of parenting or managing.

Here’s the problem.  In 2012, most of the tasks we are asking people to do, including our children, involving thinking and more complex problem solving. Offering simple rewards and punishments actually serves to demotivate people in these settings and hamper creativity. Motivation 2.0 involves giving people choice (autonomy), showing them how they are progressing (mastery) and having the task tie to some larger purpose (meaning).

Let’s break each one of these down:

Autonomy – means people have choices.  Everyone likes to have some control and be able to make a choice.  Even when we are asking our children to do chores, allowing them to pick the order or timing of the chores can make a big difference in their motivation level.

Mastery – we are all more motivated when we see that we are making tangible progress.  Why are we so motivated to play games like Angry Birds or Soduko?  Simple, we can see the progress as we move to another level.  Do our kids hear “good job” from us when they have mastered something or is it onto the next task?

Meaning – when our tasks appear connected to a higher purpose or good, we are more motivated.  Talking to a high school student about the importance of reading to develop vocabulary becomes much more motivating when we start to look at the criteria for college admission via standardized test scores.

If we want to create a motivating environment in our homes and/or workplace, then simply give people options, show them specifically how they are progressing and show them how their task connects to the big picture.  Watch their motivation, creativity and productivity soar and your stress level decrease!!!

Patrick Donohue is a Life Coach in Oak Park, IL.  Contact him at

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