We don’t solely want to want to do what we do for a living – internal motivation; we also want to earn a good living doing it and receive recognition for a job well done – instrumental motivation. So it would logically go that the more ways we could be motivated the more successful we’d be. A recent study, “Multiple types of motives don’t multiply the motivation of West Point cadets” summarized by the study’s authors in the New York Times suggests otherwise. Survey data from 11,320 cadets from nine classes was analyzed to determine if cadets were more likely to graduate and become commissioned officers if they were internally motivated, instrumentally motivated, or both.
Contrary to what we might expect, cadets who were primarily internally motivated were most likely to achieve success. Instrumental motivation was negatively correlated with cadets’ likelihood of success.
In a culture that defines success by income and status and ties self-worth to success, this is good news. Perhaps the bad times – when we just aren’t getting recognized or promoted – aren’t perceived as bad when what we really care about is having the opportunity to continue to do what we love and persistence, along with a good attitude, pays off.
If the only thing you’re getting out of your job is an external reward perhaps it’s time to ask yourself if you’re limiting your success.