I was troubled by a conversation I had with my son this morning. My 10-year-old son came home from swim practice today and told me that he didn’t want to swim again and he didn’t want to go to another practice this season. When I asked why, he responded, “The coach told us that for each mistake made by any 9 – 10 year old swimmer in the swim meet tomorrow, we’d all have to swim a 100 yard butterfly next week at practice.” He was sure there would be at least 10 mistakes made (e.g., taking a breath coming off the wall, etc.). If that came true, then the 9 – 10 year olds will be made to swim 1000 yards (or 40 laps) of butterfly during the next practice.

I’ve done a number of sports psychology presentations. Part of my presentation focuses on positive versus negative motivation. In my opinion, the motivation discussed above is entirely negative and is punitive in nature. If you have ever swum, I think you’ll agree 40 laps of butterfly is punishment for a 9- or 10-year-old child. And the worst part is that an individual swimmer has little to no control over all the behaviors which leads to the outcome. In other words, an individual may swim great races and not make a mistake, and still be punished for the mistakes of others.

This sort of negative motivation does nothing to instill a love of swimming. On the other hand, it does lead to burnout. It will cause a young athlete to turn his back on swimming altogether. This is nearly always the case when values clash.

Ideally, children enter into a sport to build competence, be with their friends, discover a passion for the sport, and have fun. When these values conflict with those of a more competitive environment where the emphasis is placed on beating an opponent, burnout and turnover are the natural consequences. Interestingly, the same holds true for the business world. Human beings respond well to positive motivation. We recoil and withdraw under the thumb of negative motivation.

In general, motivation refers to the start, the direction, the intensity and the persistence of behavior. Motivation means having the passion and the will to undertake some action. Motivation may be internal (i.e., intrinsic motivation) or external (i.e., extrinsic motivation).

Internal motivation is seen when a person undertakes an activity for its own sake without any sort of external reward, such as a hobby. Internal motivation can result from our feelings (e.g., happiness, anger, and sadness), thoughts (e.g., “I better finish the report before the deadline tonight.”), values and goals.

External motivation is evident when someone behaves a particular way for reasons external to, or outside of, the person, such as money or coercion. External motivation may come from parents, a boss, coworkers, friends, and siblings. It is most frequently thought of in terms of salary (i.e., money), promotions, grades, praise and punishment.

A second dimension of motivation has to do with the underlying intention of the motivation, as seen in Figure 1 below. Motivation occurs on a spectrum ranging from negative to positive.

Positive motivation is seen when people engage in an activity that has a virtuous end, such as volunteering, athletics, or art.

Negative motivation is evident when individuals act in a manner that is unethical or has a destructive end, such as judging others, physical altercations or vandalism. Negative motivation also occurs when individuals use destructive emotions, such as guilt and shame, to coerce others into acting.

Think of motivation as occurring on a scale that ranges from 1 to 10 with 1 being negative and 10 being positive.

If you are looking for the best results in your workforce, you will focus more of your time and energy on positive, internal motivation for yourself as well as others.

Positive internal motivation begins with a sense of purpose, knowing why you are doing what you are doing. Having a clear idea of your personal core values will help you immensely in answering the question “Why am I doing this?” The amazing advantage of truly knowing your values is that you will experience a tremendous clarity and focus which you can use to make consistently wise choices and take decisive action. So the main reason for becoming aware of your top values is to improve performance in the areas that are most meaningful to you.

For instance, part of the work I do is motivated by my desire to give back to the community. Part of what I do is motivated by the core value of lifelong learning. Some possible core values include concepts such as creativity, open-mindedness, family, wisdom, courage, resiliency, and spirituality. Values change throughout your life, so it makes sense to do a quick values check up every 18 – 24 months. For a list of the top 26 core values that exist throughout the world, regardless of culture, check out the values list at www.guidetoself.com.

Acting in accordance with your values is only one way to tap into the power of positive internal motivation. Another way to harness this power is to lay out your top five short-term and long-term goals and work towards them. Remember as you are in the process of achieving your goals that the enjoyment comes from the doing not the attaining. It is important to find contentment in the act of pursuing the goal while placing less weight on the actual fulfillment of the goal itself. We now know that once we attain a goal, we become accustomed to it. Once we become accustomed to it, we grow bored of it. Then it provides no additional pleasure or motivation. So focus on the pleasure inherent in the task itself.

In closing, there are a myriad of ways that you can inspire action using positive internal motivation. Much of the power of positive internal motivation comes from being aware of your core values then acting in accordance with them. Another major facet of positive internal motivation is the pursuit of meaningful goals. Look for opportunities where you can use positive, internal motivation. You will perform better, be more productive and feel happier.

Internal versus External and Negative versus Positive Motivations

 Internal (Intrinsic)External (Extrinsic)
Negative One’s own feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, or fear Perfectionism Destructive anger Debilitating stress Need for power Need to please others Worry Low self-esteem Person yelling at you Person shaming you Person threatening your job security or social status Punishment Withdrawal of love or friendship Aggressive show of strength from another, coercion Expectations of others
Positive Acting in accordance with your values Satisfaction Sensory pleasure Sense of competence Enjoyment Praise from self Self-respect Fulfillment of aspirations/dreams Sense of achievement Highly engaged in activity Constructive anger or stress Job satisfaction Goal setting Pursuing our natural tendency towards self-development Need for affiliation with others Perception that what you are doing is morally significant Money (only lasts a short period) Rewards Public recognition Empowerment from others Promotion Praise from others Respect from others Pleasant work environment Challenging work Some autonomy and input into decisions Appropriate responsibility Fringe benefits Friendships at work

About the Author

John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is President and Founder of Guide To Self, a company that focuses on coaching individuals and groups to their potential using the latest in psychology, psychoneuroimmunology and physiology. Most recently, Dr. John Schinnerer hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Schinnerer has been a coach and psychologist for over 10 years.

Dr. Schinnerer is also President of Infinet Assessment, a psychological testing company to help firms select the best applicants. Infinet was founded in 1997 and has worked with companies such as UPS, CSE Insurance Group and Schreiber Foods.

Dr. Schinnerer’s areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to moral development to sports psychology. He is a noted speaker and author on topics such as emotional intelligence, sports psychology, and executive leadership.

Dr. Schinnerer wrote, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,” which was recently awarded the “Best Self-Help Book of 2007” by East Bay Express. He has written articles on corporate ethics and EQ in the workplace for Workspan magazine, HR.com, and Business Ethics. He has given numerous presentations, radio shows and seminars to tens of thousands of people for organizations such as SHRM, NCHRA, KNEW and KDIA.