Ever think about why you do what you do? This might be a good time to start: Your motivation can affect your flow, or the sense of being totally engrossed in a task.
When you’re high in “intrinsic motivation,” you tend to enjoy the process of completing tasks: you paint for painting’s sake, not for the compliments you’ll get on your finished masterpiece. When you’re high in “extrinsic motivation”—compelled by factors like winning, prestige, or money—you place more value on the outcome. (“Ah, this sculpture will fetch such a high price at auction!”)
In this study, the researchers sought to figure out how people’s motivations affected their reactions to playing a game of chess.
For two weeks, chess players completed a survey after every game; at the end, they filled out a personality questionnaire. The survey pinpointed how much fun they’d had playing the game, and how happy, energetic and proud they’d felt afterward. They also noted the players’ skill levels to see if the game was challenging.
People with higher intrinsic motivation sought out challenge more: their enjoyment increased along with the difficulty of the game, up until the point at which they felt it had become too hard. They also cared less whether they won or lost, while people high in extrinsic motivation cared a lot about the outcome.
If you want to push yourself to get better and enjoy yourself more in the process, then do whatever you love for it’s own sake. It’s not about winning or losing; it’s the journey that makes it fun.
If you find yourself overly focused on outcomes like winning, getting praise, or making money, and unable to enjoy a task for its own sake, there are a few ways you can try to shift your perspective. Maybe it’s not the right activity: are there other things you find more absorbing? Being with others also helps, so invite a pal to garden with you. You just might lose track of how many compliments the neighbors will pay you on your flowers.
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