Motivation & Rewards – Insights from Dr. Adam Grant


Are you striving to boost your performance and motivation both in life and at work? Understanding the intricacies of extrinsic rewards and the power of feedback can be revolutionary. Dive into the psychology that drives us and discover how enhancing your diet with key nutrients can not only nourish your body but also cultivate a growth mindset that propels you towards success. Let’s unravel these compelling connections and ignite your journey to achieving peak mental and physical well-being.

Extrinsic rewards and motivation

Extrinsic rewards have long been debated in the context of their influence on motivation and performance. It’s a well-established fact that high-quality nutrition benefits both physical and mental health, including cognitive functions such as memory, focus, and the capacity to learn new things. The inclusion of sufficient vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and fiber in one’s diet supports comprehensive cellular functions, and is particularly critical for a healthy gut microbiome—a key component in overall wellness. Despite the knowledge that the best sources of these nutrients are whole, minimally processed foods, many individuals struggle to consume the necessary servings of fruits and vegetables each day. This ongoing challenge is why nutritional supplements like AG1 have become popular as they claim to provide a foundational nutritional safety net. AG1 in particular, has been presented as a means to ensure the intake of essential vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and fiber—an assurance for maintaining optimal mental and physical health. Turning the focus towards extrinsic rewards, particularly in relation to motivation, it’s noted that while extrinsic incentives, such as monetary compensation, can increase productivity and output, they may not always foster quality performance. Extrinsic rewards are generally more effective in motivating quantity rather than quality of work, leading to increased output but not necessarily more careful or thorough work. Interestingly, there can be a negative impact of these extrinsic incentives on intrinsic motivation. Research stemming from the early 1970s indicates that if you’re paid for an interesting task, your interest might diminish once you associate the task purely with the reward, leading to a shift in your perception of why you’re doing the task. The focus on external rewards can create a detachment from the intrinsic enjoyment of the process. However, it’s pointed out that a balance can be achieved where extrinsic rewards do not undermine intrinsic motivation. Providing individuals with autonomy and a sense of choice in how rewards are presented and earned can prevent the extinction of intrinsic interest in a task. When rewards are seen as symbols of appreciation for certain behaviors rather than a means of controlling actions, people are better able to maintain their intrinsic motivation while still enjoying the benefits of extrinsic rewards. The discussion further highlights the importance of being ‘present’ during a task for optimal performance and enjoyment. The state of flow—immersive, focused engagement in an activity—becomes more accessible when motivated intrinsically. Intrinsic motivation also drives persistence, encourages creativity even when not actively engaged in the task, and can lead to clearer thinking and smarter working approaches. The overarching insight is that while extrinsic rewards have their place, they are most beneficial when they complement, rather than compromise, the natural drive and satisfaction found in intrinsic motivation.

Feedback and growth mindset

Recalling a time when I was postdoctoral, I faced a profound learning experience that transformed my approach to feedback. I had prepared a manuscript for submission to a prestigious journal; however, my postdoc advisor, though an expert in another area, suggested I seek feedback from a respected colleague down the hall. After reviewing my work, the colleague voiced doubt about the potential interest it might generate—a perspective that left me quite dismayed. Returning to my advisor, he offered what seemed like counterintuitive advice at the time; he found the feedback so negative that he encouraged me to proceed with submitting the manuscript to that prestigious journal. Surprisingly, the paper was accepted swiftly, albeit with required revisions—an outcome I’d never encountered before. This incident revealed a vital lesson about the paradoxical nature of negative feedback and its role in decision-making. It demonstrated that it’s not always necessary to seek pre-submission feedback rigorously. While due diligence is important, such as verifying information for podcasts and papers, one must recognize that opinions can be extremely idiosyncratic and, at times, incorrect. The judgment of the journal or relevant evaluators turned out to be of utmost importance in this scenario. During the same conversation, we explored the nuanced intricacies of feedback. Feedback’s utility is not confined to whether it is positive or negative; what matters more is whether it pertains to the task at hand or the individual. Personal criticism can elicit defensiveness, while praise may breed complacency. Conversely, specific pointers on areas of work can guide individuals to replicate successes or adjust shortcomings. This approach dictates that our focus should shift from the emotional tone of feedback to its constructiveness in enhancing our strengths and addressing weaknesses. In addition, it turns out that explicitly asking for “feedback” may not provide the best support for growth. The reason is that such a request tends to yield one of two responses: empty cheerleading or unconstructive criticism. Instead, the more beneficial approach would be to solicit “advice” for future endeavors, steering the conversation towards actionable guidance and paving the way for meaningful improvement. A personal anecdote was shared encapsulating this advice-seeking method. After seeking feedback following public speeches and getting no actionable input, the shift to requesting one specific improvement for subsequent occasions drew out valuable advice. This simple yet profound change of wording from “feedback” to “advice” can catalyze receiving actionable inputs over superficial evaluations. Such exchanges point toward the concept of “the second score” introduced by Sheila Heen. When faced with criticism—your first score—rather than fixating on the critique, focus on getting a “10” for how you embrace and learn from that feedback, thereby establishing the second score. This mindset acknowledges current shortcomings but moves past them to strive for better future performance. The conversation further underscored that even with a growth mindset, individuals don’t magically acquire the ability to master anything at any moment. Growth mindset should not only be understood as a personal belief in the potential for skill development but also as something that must be fostered actively every day within the appropriate supporting context. For instance, teachers must nurture a growth mindset in the classroom, reflecting beliefs that align with the notion that students can evolve their skills. The conversation on intrinsic motivation was then revisited, with an emphasis on understanding that an absorption in one particular area might inadvertently deepen disinterest in other less engaging tasks. Thus, recognizing the limitations and trade-offs of high intrinsic motivation is crucial for overall performance across various domains.


In conclusion, while extrinsic rewards can offer a boost to productivity, true growth and optimal performance stem from fostering a growth mindset and ensuring foundational well-being through proper nutrition. The nourishment we gain from our diets or supplements like AG1 directly impacts our cognitive health and, in turn, our capacity to learn and improve. Embrace feedback, nurture your body with essential nutrients, and cultivate a mindset geared toward continual growth for a balanced approach to success and well-being.

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