Addicted to extrinsic rewards

I'm currently reading and enjoying Dan Pink's latest book: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Light bulbs have been going off in my head as he reveals empirically verified patterns of human motivation. I've known myself to be intrinsically motivated as far back as elementary school. But I've not felt I really understood those who go after the highest grades, who rack up the most points on the scoreboard or who compete with colleagues for the biggest paycheck. They appear to make the reward an end in itself, rather than incidental to the deeper pleasures of the process, journey and self-realizations. This book tells us that those who devote themselves consistently to contingent, extrinsic rewards are addicted to them. They lack intrinsic motivation due to the insidious effects of extrinsic rewards on one's sense of self determination and autonomy.

All this correlates with what I've been exploring recently about closed minds. An open mind explores the potential significance, value and personal responsibility in a task where it realizes some self motivation to get it done. A closed mind exploits the potential conquest, advantage and power to control others in a task. The closed mind then depends on the reward to make the task worthwhile and it eventually loses motivation once the thrill is gone. The people I get along with easily are all self motivated and appreciative of their own intrinsic rewards. Those people I know who have become addicted to extrinsic rewards show all these telltale signs of trashing their intrinsic motivation and open minds:
  • Keeping their eyes on the prize and love for the scoreboard while losing sight of the purpose, significance and value of the pursuit.
  • Seeming disoriented and desperate when encountering someone with autonomy from approval-seeking, self-respecting healthy boundaries and robust intrinsic motivations
  • Framing every situation to their personal advantage with lenses of superior/inferior, advantaged/disadvantaged, winners/losers, or in control/out of control
  • Stockpiling materialistic evidence of their extrinsic worth to compensate for feeling inadequate, empty, insatiable and desperate
  • Acting driven to control others, tell them how to live and blame them for any sources of embarrassment, bad publicity or censure
  • Expressing their devotion to private wealth with no concept of commonwealth, common good and common interests with those "lowly common folk"
  • Experiencing defeat, loss and victimization when forced to pay taxes or their fair share in collective efforts
To consider these behavior patterns as symptoms of an addiction has been eye-opening for me. Conduct like this may reveal insatiable appetites, poor judgment, desperate pursuits and denial of the pattern itself. They suggest a haunting empty feeling that no extrinsic rewards or pleasures can really fill. They also predict the addicts' urges to manipulate other's suspicions with deceits, false pretenses and inflated promises. They are trapped in a perpetual cycle of "people pleasing" that fails to diminish the barrage of disrespect, defiance and self contempt. Their recovery calls for opening their minds to their own intrinsic motivations.


  1. We addict our children to extrinsic rewards. We make them approval junkies. And now they are adult zombie/vampires lusting for their bloody parasitical fix of - carrots??? :)

    I'll stop now - can't .. carry ... metaphors

  2. Hopefully those carrots will be declared contraband, controlled substances soon so those zombie/vampires might get some lifeblood back in their veins.

    Thanks for playing with these metaphors minh!