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  • Writer's pictureYoram Solomon, PhD

Motivation, Habits, and TRUST

Building trust will transform organizations and relationships. But to build trust, you must first change behaviors. Unfortunately, knowing what behaviors you must change is not enough. Changing behaviors requires you to form new habits. But forming new habits is hard, and it takes significant effort; to do that, you must have enough motivation and the right kind.

Why is motivation important?

The simple truth is that achieving almost anything requires effort, and we go through it only if the motivation to expand the effort is greater than the effort itself. If the motivation is lower than the effort, you have two options: reduce the effort, or increase the motivation. However, reducing the effort might mean you will not achieve your goal. This leaves you with increasing motivation. Let’s see how.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

There are two types of motivation (see figure below): intrinsic and extrinsic. With both of them, the outcome of performing an action (the effort) motivates you to perform that action. There is one fundamental difference between them: in intrinsic motivation, the outcome is natural to the action. It’s what happens naturally by performing the action. You give autonomy, and as a result, your employees will be more creative and productive. You eat less, and you lose weight. The link between the action and the outcome is natural. However, in extrinsic motivation, you artificially link an unrelated outcome to the effort. The outcome is still what motivates you, but it is not a natural outcome. If I eat fewer than 1,500 calories or walk more than 2 miles on the treadmill, I can watch my favorite TV show.

Extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation

Why isn’t intrinsic motivation enough?

The natural outcome is often more important than the effort (Fig a.). Living healthy is more important than eating less. Being trusted is more important than the effort required to change the behavior holding you back from being trusted. So, why isn’t intrinsic motivation enough?

The answer comes from the field of finance and is called Net Present Value (NPV). While the outcome (feeling good, being healthy, being trusted) may be important enough, it’s in the future, whereas the effort (eating less, exercising more, changing behaviors) is in the present. If I promised to pay you back $110 tomorrow, would you lend me $100 today? Probably. But if I promised to pay you back $110 in 10 years, would you still lend me $100 today? The intrinsic outcome is deferred, while the effort is immediate. And because of that, the present value of the intrinsic outcome might not be enough to motivate me to go through the effort (Fig. b.). Not to mention that you will need to repeat the effort every day.

Adding extrinsic motivation

Since reducing the effort is not a viable option, you need to increase the motivation, and if intrinsic motivation is not enough, you must complement it with extrinsic motivation (Fig. c.). Something that you want but that will not be devastating if you can’t have. Something that would motivate you enough (daily) to go through the effort (which eventually would lead to the natural, intrinsic outcome). When I worked on my weight loss, I allowed myself to build or fly my radio-controlled airplanes only on days I went through the required effort. It could be watching your favorite TV show, reading a book, or anything else.

If you don’t trust yourself to keep this link between the extrinsic outcome and to expand the effort, use an accountability partner to hold you accountable.

But if your motivation is extrinsic and the link between the outcome and the effort is artificial and self-imposed, does that mean you’re doing it for the wrong reasons?

Yes, it does! But you should still do it because that’s how you form habits that will reduce the effort (Fig. d.) to the point where intrinsic motivation would be enough, and you could eliminate the extrinsic motivation (Fig. e.).

why intrinsic motivation is not enough and you must add extrinsic motivation

How long does it take to form a habit?

How long should you keep the extrinsic motivation? To answer this question, I will use an analogy. A car engine runs on gasoline. But having gasoline in the tank is not enough. The engine will not start by itself. You must press the start button and engage the starter. But you don’t keep the button pressed throughout the entire trip. You keep it pressed only until the engine is running by itself. Then you release the button. Think of the engine running as the effort, the gasoline as the intrinsic motivation, and the starter as the extrinsic motivation.

So how long should you keep your extrinsic motivation in play?

If you google “how long does it take to form a habit?” you will find several answers. One of the most common is 66 days, and another is 21 days. So, how long would it really take? The answer is, “It depends.” It depends on how hard the effort is. It depends on how many times you will repeat the same effort within a certain amount of time (forming habits depends more on the number of repetitions than time). It depends on how often you go through the effort. It depends on the size of the gap between the motivation and the effort.

over time, you don't need the extrinsic motivation anymore, when the effort becomes a habit and it easier than what intrinsic motivation can sustain

The most accurate answer is: until it becomes a habit.

And how do you know that it has become a habit? When you don’t have to think about it, when it’s easier to continue than to stop, and when the intrinsic motivation is enough to keep it going.

Then, you can stop the extrinsic motivation. You now formed a new habit. Congratulations!


Want to hear more? Listen to the podcast episode at:

Dr. Yoram Solomon

Dr. Yoram Solomon is an expert in trust, employee engagement, teamwork, organizational culture, and leadership. He is the author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a three-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop and masterclass that explains what trust is and how to build trust in organizations. He is a frequent speaker at SHRM events and a contributor to magazine.

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