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How to Motivate Others

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

Have you ever wanted someone else to do something with more motivation? Maybe it’s getting a family member to keep the house clean, or maybe it’s getting employees to feel more energy at work. What can we do to inspire more motivation in others?

In the previous article, we looked at how to motivate yourself. Specifically, we looked at the self-motivation formula from Jim Kwik:

Motivation = Purpose X Energy X Small Simple Steps

Motivating others is kind of like helping them motivate themselves, so the same advice applies. We can recommend them to get clear on their purpose, to increase their energy through a healthier lifestyle, and to just get started with the smallest simple step.

But when it comes to motivating others, we can add some more useful advice about extrinsic versus intrinsic motivators, and how we should use the three intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivators

Daniel Pink, author of Drive, explains that there are two types of motivators: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivators come from the outside the person, such as money, objects, and reputation. Intrinsic motivators come from inside the person, such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Most people and organizations think of extrinsic rewards when they try to motivate people. For example, a company might offer monetary bonus if employees perform well, or a parent might offer a nice new toy if a child does well in school.

The thing with extrinsic motivators is that they only work for simple tasks that don’t require creativity. For example, if your employee is a janitor cleaning the office, then giving a higher extrinsic reward can improve performance. But if the task is something challenging that requires creativity and critical thinking, then higher extrinsic rewards actually reduce performance because people get stressed and distracted about losing that extrinsic reward when faced with the challenging task.

In our modern society, we have machines to do the simple mechanical tasks, so almost every job requires creativity and overcoming challenges. Therefore, extrinsic motivators aren’t enough. They should still exist, but only as a baseline reward for employees. In order to really motivate people, we need to use intrinsic motivators, with the three main ones being autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

1. Autonomy

Autonomy is about giving people the freedom of choice to direct their own lives. Pink explains that organizations should give employees freedom over The Four T's:

  1. Tasks – they can choose what they work on

  2. Time – they can choose when to work on it

  3. Technique – they can choose how to work on it

  4. Team – they can choose who to work with

Similarly, a parent could set a goal with her child and then give the child freedom over The Four T's. When people have the freedom to choose what they do, when to do it, and how to do it, they do it with more motivation and therefore with better performance.

2. Mastery

Mastery is the desire to continuously get better at something that matters to you. For example, top athletes aren’t motivated to practice every day for money. They have enough money. They do it because they care about their sport, so getting better at it is inherently motivating. In fact, if they felt like people thought they play the sport just for money, they would probably lose motivation!

When motivating others, we should appeal to their sense of mastery by praising their strengths and explaining how the job will help them sharpen their strengths. For example, a manager might tell an employee,

I noticed you’re very good at marketing. I want you to be in charge of the marketing plan for our next project. I’m confident that you’ll improve your marketing skills even more throughout this project.

The manager can go even further and offer to pay for the employee to attend a marketing workshop on behalf of the company.

Notice how the intrinsic motivator of mastery is a lot more motivating than simply saying, “I’ll pay you a nice bonus if you do a good job on the marketing plan.

3. Purpose

Daniel Pink defines purpose as the desire to serve something larger than ourselves. Even boring tasks can have deep purpose behind them.

In the book, Think like a Monk, Jay Shetty gives an example of how a hospital’s cleaning staff found purpose in their seemingly boring job. Some cleaning staff at a hospital viewed their job as mundane, while others viewed it as deeply meaningful. It’s the same job, so why did some people find it meaningful while others found it mundane?

When interviewed, the employees who found the job to be mundane talked about their cleaning staff duties, such as mopping the floors and cleaning the bathrooms. On the other hand, the employees who found the job meaningful talked about providing company for lonely patients, escorting elderly visitors, and switching pictures on the walls to different rooms to give pleasant surprises to the patients. These were tasks that they took initiative to do, not what was stated in the job description. They thought of themselves as healers and ambassadors rather than custodians.

If leaders can communicate purpose to their employees, then employees will be motivated to go above and beyond in their work. That purpose needs to be a strong belief, such as the cleaning staff believing they are healers and ambassadors, not just cleaning staff. Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, explains

“If you hire people just because they can do your job, they’ll work for money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood, sweat, and tears.” -Simon Sinek

If you’re trying to motivate team members, you have to start by explaining why the task is important and how it is connected to something bigger.

For example, let’s say the marketing employee from before also needs to make a budget for the project, and he’s not interested in finance. His sense of mastery is low for the budget. Fortunately, the manager can still use purpose as an intrinsic motivator. The manager can say,

This project’s success is really important for the company. If it goes well, we can improve the usefulness of our product for millions of customers, and we also take care of thousands of employees and their families. We don’t have anyone who is an expert at finance for the project, but I know you are a very capable person, so I’m counting on you to do the budget.

Notice how the manager ties the task to a large and meaningful purpose. He can increase the employee’s motivation even more by adding autonomy over The Four T's and paying for the employee to get training on the task.


When trying to motivate others, we need to be careful about choosing extrinsic versus intrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivators are fine for easy tasks that don’t require creativity. But for challenging work that requires creativity, extrinsic motivators should be a baseline reward, not the focus. The focus should be on intrinsic motivators, such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

We can provide people autonomy by giving them the freedom to choose The Four T’s: Task, Time, Technique, and Team. We can increase people’s mastery by giving them opportunities to build on their strengths. We can increase people’s sense of purpose by explaining how their work is connected to something bigger than themselves.

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