Psychological Self-Help

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Most people understand the concept of intrinsic satisfaction or
intrinsic motivation, i.e. when an activity is satisfying or pleasurable in
and of itself. Naturally, these activities are things we like and want to
do. For most of us, intrinsically enjoyable activities are things like
eating, resting, laughing, playing games, winning, creating, seeing and
hearing beautiful things and people, being held lovingly, having sex,
and so on. To do these things we don't need to be paid, applauded,
cheered, thanked, respected, or anything--commonly we do them for
the good feelings we automatically and naturally get from the activity.
Intrinsic rewards also involve pleasurable internal feelings or thoughts,
like feeling proud or having a sense of mastery following studying hard
and succeeding in a class. 
Many, maybe most, activities are not intrinsically satisfying enough
to get most of us to do them consistently, so extrinsic motivation
needs to be applied in the form of rewards (positive reinforcements),
incentives, or as a way to avoid some unpleasant condition ("negative
reinforcement" or punishment). Examples: You work doing an ordinary
job for pay. You study for good grades or to avoid failing or to prepare
for a good future. You do housework to get a clean, organized house
and/or a spouse's appreciation or to avoid her/his disapproval. A
teenager comes home from a date on time in order to avoid being
grounded. These are all activities that are commonly sustained by
external pay offs, not because you love working, studying, cleaning,
and coming home early. 
Intrinsically and extrinsically motivated activities may look the
same on the outside but they are quite different. For instance,
studying primarily to get good grades or for someone's praise or to get
admitted to graduate school is internally different--it feels different
and our focus is different--from studying because learning fascinates
you or makes you feel proud and confident. These activities are
experienced differently and they occur under different conditions of
reinforcement; however, both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards
(reinforcements) are very important to every person... and complexly
intermixed. It is usually easier to set up or arrange extrinsically
motivating conditions than to increase one's intrinsic interest and
satisfaction in some behavior. So, it isn't surprising that our culture
attends more to providing social-economic pay offs than to increasing
intrinsic satisfaction at work or in school. 
A brief technical point: Behavior Analysts do not use the term
"reward" because it is not precisely defined. They prefer the term
"reinforcer" because, by definition, a reinforcer increases the
frequency of some prior behavior. On the other hand, the term
"reward" in everyday language usually means trying to support or
strengthen some desired behavior by making that behavior pay off or
pleasant. However, we do not know for sure the consequences of
giving a reward. Therefore, it seems appropriate, in the context of
imprecise real life, to use the word "rewards." As we will soon see,
rewards do not always strengthen the previous behavior. 
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