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A Note on Motivation and Habits

In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink describes the problems with if/then-reward/punishment extrinsic motivation. He argues that the carrot and stick approach that has been central to management for centuries is not effective for complex and creative tasks and objectives. Instead, Pink says, people work better if they have the three core components of intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Finding ways to acquire and convey those components is not just important for how we lead others, but for how we lead ourselves.

A surprisingly small amount of what we do each day— including the decisions we make—is voluntary. According a study at Duke University published in 2006, forty percent of all our actions are based on habit. In other words, our habits have a huge impact on our outcomes in life.

Changing our habits can be difficult though. In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg identifies three components of habit: cue, routine, and reward. These three components create a self-reinforcing loop. Duhigg argues that habits cannot be eliminated, only changed or replaced.

One key to changing a habit, he writes, is to identify the cue. Cues fall into five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, or the immediately preceding action. Duhigg also advises readers to look at what the reward for the habit is. For example, is eating one more cookie really for satisfying your hunger, or is it going to create some other emotional response?

Once you understand the cues and rewards that underlie your habits, you can create new routines, tweaking the cues and changing the rewards while satisfying your intrinsic desire.