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Self-Esteem and Motivation  

Last month we looked at how linking self-esteem closely to achievement can lead people to be motivated more by avoiding failure than by achieving success.  This leads them to focus only on things they already do well and thus avoid stretching themselves to develop new skills or capacities.  The motivation to avoid dings to self-esteem seems to be more powerful than motivation to achieve kudos and growth in self-esteem.  This whole dynamic can wreak havoc with motivation.

There is another way self-esteem interferes with motivation.  It interferes with intrinsic motivation, or the natural satisfaction that can be achieved by simply doing a task, completing a task, or doing a task particularly well.  When self-esteem and achievement get linked together, achievement gets connected to the ego and the view of self.  This tends to make you focus on how a particular accomplishment, or lack of accomplishment, affects the way you see yourself or think other people see you.  Self-esteem motivation makes people think of tasks as things they have to do and more likely to seem like drudgery.  This gets in the way of appreciating the reward that comes from simply doing a task.

You may be familiar with the concept of flow, the state when you become highly engaged with an activity to the extent awareness of other things kind of drops away.  Achieving flow is intrinsically motivating.  You are just doing the task and don’t have a conscious awareness of what else is going on around you or even of your own existence at times.  Flow is often a sign of mastery and highly developed skill and can even be conceived as giving yourself up to the reward and pull of the task itself while engaged in the task.  If accomplishment is too closely linked to achievement, it is almost impossible to achieve flow.  This in turn will get in the way of the type of skill building and mastery flow can develop and enhance. 

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