Why do we lose motivation to complete a task when told to do so, whereas we would have motivation otherwise?

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Why do we lose motivation to complete a task when told to do so, whereas we would have motivation otherwise?

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It’s not totally known. We know that this “overjustification effect” does happen, but why is something psychologists disagree on. It could be to do with the way that you perceive a task, and the kind of activity it is, the way you perceive *yourself* doing a task, or the way things you pay attention to or expect during the task change.

Social context also seems to have an impact, so that being told to do something with someone else might produce a different kind of motivational effect than being told to do it alone, or being told to do it yourself in the presence of other people who aren’t told to do it. So on the level of experiment there’s quite a lot of variables to work with.

Stepping back from psychologists though to my own introspection, I would say that motivation can sometimes be lost when I’m expected to do a task, that can be regained by making sure I have the ability to alter task parameters to suit my interests.

Having confidence that I’ll be able to do a task at my own pace, without later corrections etc. allows me to invest in doing something well without worrying that I’ll be asked to do more than I’m comfortable with or undo something I’m proud of.

Real control over your work is much better for motivation, and it can sometimes be useful to intentionally regain that by clarifying how much leeway you have, if you’re doing something for someone else, so you can get a sense of comfort and confidence of being able to shift things around without interfering with whatever relational reasons lead you to do the task in the first place.