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Intrinsic motivation supports true competition

This is an excerpt from True Competition by David Light Shields and Brenda Light Bredemeier.


Finding fun, excitement, interest, pleasure, and satisfaction-all forms of intrinsic motivation-in the process of contesting will help guard against decompetition. But what evokes and sustains intrinsic motivation? There are several possibilities. Sometimes it stems from the simple bodily pleasure that the activity brings-such as the feel of the water for Imo. Sometimes the suspense built into the contest can elicit delight. Sometimes the learning available is what sustains interest.

The real key to understanding intrinsic motivation, however, is to appreciate the three Cs. Like iron filings attracted to a magnet, people are drawn to activities that increase their sense of competence, connection, and control. Meeting people’s need to feel competent, connected, and in control is the primary path toward increased intrinsic motivation. Let’s look at each of these more closely.

We experience competence when our skills match the challenge present in a situation. Stated differently, feeling competent comes midway between feeling bored because a task is too easy and feeling overwhelmed because it is too difficult. When we skate right up to that edge between "can do" and "can’t quite do yet," the feeling of competence arises and intrinsic motivation is stimulated. Think of a child with a set of puzzles of varying difficulty. Some puzzles are too easy. She may play with them for a time, but will likely become bored rather quickly. Puzzles that are too difficult will not hold the child’s interest either; she will probably become frustrated and quit trying to solve them. The child’s interest is piqued most by puzzles that are optimally challenging. We are intrinsically motivated to engage in challenging tasks that allow us to demonstrate or expand our competence.

Everyone wants to experience competence. We also want to experience connection with others. No man-and no woman-is an island. We all have a deep-seated need to connect with others, to build relationships of love and friendhsip. Again, think of a child. He spontaneously seeks to play not only with objects, but also with other children. Ask him why he wants to join a team and you are likely to hear about the fun of being with friends. We are intrinsically motivated to involve ourselves in situations in which we can experience positive connections with others.

Finally, people want to feel in control of their own lives. We want to pilot our own plane. Although we desire connections to other people and to share a certain level of intimacy, we don’t want to be controlled by them. When a child is told she must play with puzzles, she has two options: She can obey, or she can rebel; she can comply or defy. Neither option supports her intrinsic motivation. If she were invited to play, she could reflect on her interests and accept the invitation if she chose to do so. We are intrinsically motivated to participate in valued activities in which we can feel a sense of autonomy, of personal choice and control.

Competence, connection, and control-these are the three Cs that directly support intrinsic motivation. There are many reasons to support people’s intrinsic motivation. Importantly, it tends to improve their performance. Perhaps even more importantly, it adds to their enjoyment. And one of the key reasons we have contests in the first place is to provide an opportunity for enjoyment. We turn now to a discussion of this hallmark feature of true competition. As we will see, intrinsic motivation may be the primary diet of enjoyment, but it is not its only nutrient.

 




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