What Is Competence Motivation And How To Use It

You must have come across “Employee of the Month” boards in stores and workplaces that feature the best employee in a specific period. Indeed, it is a form of appreciation for the employee’s hard work. But can’t preference be given privately instead? So, why announce it to even the customers? That’s right—to motivate the other employees to work harder by triggering their competitive side.

In my previous article focusing on intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, I covered two sources of motivation that drive an individual towards productivity. This article extends the prior write-up, providing a new perspective on motivation and utilizing competence motivation to reap maximum benefits.

Why You Don’t Always Need Incentives

You don’t always need incentives to realize what is truly needed. Susan Fowler, in her book “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging,” writes,

“Outdated terminology—such as driving for results or incentivizing behavior—leads you down the wrong path if you are looking for motivation that generates productivity without compromising positive and enduring energy, vitality, and well-being.”

Productivity attached with incentives is a short-term motivating stimulus. In such a way, the mind is trained to seek incentives in any activity, the absence of which could severely impact the quality of performance.

The Idea Behind Motivation Is Empowerment

We need an inexhaustible power source that drives us to get out of bed every day and get things done. That empowering force comes from within—urging us to look beyond paychecks, cheat days, bonuses, and other incentives that distract us from the goal. Interestingly enough, that power source is also insatiable, so you become unstoppable.

In 1959, Robert W. White published an article entitled, “Motivation Reconsidered: The Concept of Competence,” where he proposed “effectance motivation.”[1] The idea behind the concept stems from the innate instinct to strive for improvement and growth. White claimed that competence does not exist to fulfill a biological need. Instead, it helps an organism improve itself. And that is precisely our experience with competition—we see it as an opportunity to strengthen our ability through practice and experience.

Motivate Your Competence

When your competence is motivated, you are never aimless—you always have a goal.

Unlike thirst and hunger, the desire to compete and excel does not go away after a single objective is met. Instead, we find new goals, and our competitive side sets in, urging us to obtain them. Thus, depending on the degree of our desire to excel, there are two kinds of competencies:

  • Enhancing existing skills: Our existing skills, if honed continuously, can equip us with mastery and competence.
  • Mastering new skills: The desire to work hard and explore better opportunities drives us to learn new skills.

While the first kind of competence makes us feel good about ourselves, it’s only mastering new skills that can help us advance towards success. By letting our competence motivation take the lead, we enhance productivity, improve performance, become more energetic, and have increased chances of attaining satisfaction.

Lao Zou says, “He who masters others is wise. He who masters himself is enlightened.”

When we master ourselves, we become liberated from illusory beliefs and ideas imposed upon us. These beliefs are called domestication, a system of behavior control based on reward and punishment, which—according to Author Don Miguel Ruiz—is the biggest obstacle to personal freedom for human beings. Domestication is essentially the belief system and incentives of others telling you what you should do and how you live your life. Thus, it is living your life according to the system instead of what you think is important.

We pursue what we want when we live a life of mastery instead of living on others’ terms. So, it’s no longer about incentives, but it’s all about becoming a better version of yourself and having such a strong belief in what you are focused on that you can’t help but spread the word to others!

The Psychology Behind Competence Motivation

A psychological take on competence motivation reveals plenty about how our mind functions and the choices we make. With a deeper understanding of our psyche, we can better equip our competence and motivation to use.

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat. Curiosity is one of the most driving competence motivators as it pushes people to explore, discover, and learn. You could either be:

Exploring generally without a specific goal in mind;

Or conducting focused research with a particular goal in mind or to fill a “knowledge gap.”

No matter your intention, you’re bound to find something interesting to help you move closer to your goal.

Putting the Pieces Together

The famous Greek expression “Eureka!” speaks volumes about the joy humans seek from discovery and invention. We find pleasure in solving math equations, reaching the climax of novels and movies, coming up with a ground-breaking business idea, learning a new skill, and so on.

We love unwinding complexities and acquiring new knowledge. The joy that settles in after completing such a pleasurable activity can inspire us to improve ourselves personally and professionally.

We Love a Good Challenge

On the path to self-discovery and improvement, we get to decide the difficulty level of the tasks we will take up, just like in a video game. These three levels challenge our competencies, and we decide accordingly.

  • Easy: We all love easy things because they don’t require much effort, but it gets boring and monotonous after a while.
  • Moderate: Also known as the optimum level of complexity in psychology, these activities are neither too difficult nor too easy. We are generally inclined towards this difficult level.
  • Challenging: A challenging but conquerable task looks good once in a while, but it can be a huge turn-off when faced repetitively.

Depending on our taste, we are motivated to take up tasks in life that help us evolve into better beings. And if you like things easily, then you might just be stuck at level one forever!

The Sentimental Value of Our Goals and Dreams

The sentimental value of a dream keeps us focused in life. We all want to do different things in life, and each goal holds much meaning.

However, chasing dreams isn’t entirely about fulfilling one’s desires and meeting needs. Somewhere, a part of us wants the world to reflect the change we have witnessed in ourselves after achieving something. This realization comes with the cognizance of what’s at stake in making certain decisions and choosing or abandoning a different life course.

Dreams can become real when you are focused on building on your competency.

Many of us believe that the great turning points and opportunities in our lives happen by chance—that they’re out of our control. But Dr. Christian Busch, author of “The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck,” spent a decade exploring how, if acted upon, unexpected encounters can expand our random social encounters can, enhance our worldview, expand our social circles, and create new professional opportunities.

Serendipity is usually about connecting dots that have previously remained elusive. Busch’s findings suggest that Good luck isn’t just chance—it can be learned and leveraged. When you are perceptive, curious, open-minded, and eager to see opportunities, others might see only negatively. If you notice something unusual but can connect that bit of information with something else, you are in the right mindset for achieving serendipity.

The first step is to dream. Imagine the possibilities of creating something deeply personal and fulfilling. But, of course, a dream is just that if you don’t take steps to make it a reality. This leads us to the belief stage.

Next, to believe is to define and document your dream—what it is and isn’t and how it works to meet your personal needs. But it also needs to work for other people.

Finally, aligning your dream and belief connects your dream and reality with others. If you set realistic and unrealistic goals, embrace uncertainty, and stay positive, you will be setting yourself up to achieve.

Dream + Believe + Align = Achieve

Final Thoughts

Only you can choose the goals you set. Motivation is critical in meeting your goals. But choosing goals is not enough—you need to select the right goals and define a plan that keeps you accountable for meeting your goals.

All of the above accounts for competence motivation because we give meaning to life through our little and significant actions. Competence motivation is about finding a purpose in life and sticking to it. It’s the vision for a better future for ourselves and the world around us that keeps us motivated.

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