Psychology: This mistake may prevent you from achieving your goals

This error may prevent you from achieving your goals

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In order for us to be successful in the long term, we need clearly defined goals. However, we often make a mistake when it comes to motivating ourselves to achieve them.

We often have a very specific outcome in mind when we set a goal. Whether it’s a fitness goal, a private project or a job topic – we can usually already imagine how proud we will be when we have achieved our goal. But sometimes this feeling of success is not enough, then we need other things to motivate us. This can be money or praise from others. In contrast to intrinsic motivation, such rewards come from the outside. And that can have a negative impact on our chances of success.

External (material) motivation often has the opposite effect

Because the problem with such external rewards: once we get used to them, we need them to stay on the ball. If there is suddenly no more praise from the boss or the monetary incentive of a special bonus is no longer available, this quickly ensures that we no longer feel like trying hard.

In psychology, this is called the corruption effect. Accordingly, the secondary motivation, i.e. money, praise and so on, displaces the primary, intrinsic motivation. The activity itself and our own pride motivate us primarily, while only the external incentives do it secondarily – i.e. the rewards. If they are omitted, we often cannot bring ourselves to do something to achieve our goal.

This is due to the way our brain works. If we get money or praise as a reward for an achievement, our brain releases dopamine. This happy hormone can make us downright addicted. When the absence of these stimuli takes away the prospect of a dopamine rush, our brain makes it harder to stay motivated.

The corruption effect in research

In 1971, a psychology professor at the University of Rochester, New York, was able to show how the corruption effect – in English, by the way, the overjustification effect – affects us. For her Attempt Edward Deci and his team divided students into two groups. Both should do a puzzle.

The first group put the puzzle together twice without receiving any material reward. The second group got money after completing the puzzle the first time. The second time, however, the researchers did not offer the students any more money – and lo and behold: They were now much less motivated to solve the puzzle.

Intrinsic motivation makes us more successful

External temptations spur us on to success much less in the long term than we commonly believe. Instead, it is important that we are motivated from within ourselves. The activity itself must be fun for us, and the success of tackling it must motivate us – regardless of whether it is about work, sport or something else.

Just aiming for the dopamine rush of external reward can make us lose desire when we don’t get it. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, can help us achieve lasting success.

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