One of my favorite experiments that I’ve come across was conducted with college students where some were paid for doing puzzles and others were not. Later, all were given some free time to read magazines, do more puzzles, or whatever. Those who had been paid for doing the puzzles worked less on puzzles in their free time than those who had not been paid. “Rewards had…turned the play into work. Extrinsic rewards undermined intrinsic motivation.” (The Human Connection, Bolt & Myers, p. 78)
Are we externally or internally motivated? I suspect most of us would answer, “Well, that depends on the situation.” In many situations we may feel we have both external and internal motivation. A job for which we get paid certainly has the primary external motivation of being paid for doing the job, but if we’re only motivated by the money we’re probably not going to last at it or do a good job at it. In a close relationship we should have a primary internal motivation of caring about the person, but we also may have some external motivation of not wanting to make the person mad or wanting the person to give us what we want.
I think it’s safe to say that internal motivation is almost always better than external motivation. This rings true to the teaching of the Scriptures. We sometimes think of God’s laws being external, even having been written on stone tablets and hand-delivered from God by Moses. But it has always been God’s intention that we internalize Him and follow after Him with primarily internal motivation. The prophet was speaking for God when he declared, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
Here’s how I see this working out in a practical way: Anything I believe to be a right and good thing to do should be part of God’s call upon my life, if not I shouldn’t do it. Because it is part of God’s call upon me then this should become my primary motivation for doing it, not because I’m getting paid, or that I feel it’s expected of me, or for any other possible externally motivated reasons. I want to do it because it’s God’s plan for me, because I want to please Him and serve Him. Shifting from humanly oriented external motivation to divinely called internal motivation is the way to live!