Why is external motivation so powerful?

I’ve often wondered, why is external motivation so powerful? Certainly it would be nice if we were purely powered by our own desire for success.

I know from personal experience that I would only be half as successful if not for my community. The two examples that come to mind are writing and working out. I only do those because people expect me to do it with them. If it was purely up to me, I would have quit ages ago, and they would likely have too.

It all comes down to “pre-commitment”. In Game Theory, in repeated games, reputation is everything. If you are playing 100 games in a row of “Matching pennies“, it’s important to be consistent. If you flip flop, then your opponent will not be able to co-ordinate with you.

If there comes a time when you need to make a threat, it’s important to be able to back that threat up. If you have a reputation for calling wolf, then you won’t be trusted. You need a reputation of only calling wolf, if and only if, there is a wolf. The same applies to writing daily and working out. You can say “I’m a daily writer and I care about working out”, that’s nice to say, but what do you have to show for yourself?

One of the benefits of having someone depend on you, is that other people will give you credit, as if you were purely self motivated. You can tell people that you work out 3x times a week, and they’ll just assume that you’re self motivated (and will be impressed).

Now, it’s possible to maintain a habit all on your own, But the reality is that you’re probably very shortsighted and have ADD when it comes to habits. It costs you almost nothing to try new habits. It costs you almost nothing to tell people about your habits. On top of that, it costs you very little to quit.

When you have someone who depends on you, You have to really make sure that you’re ready to commit. You risk being embarrassed and most importantly, you have to update what you think of yourself. Are you the kind of person who gives up? Who is on the path of self improvement? If a person breaks a habit, and no one is around to see it, did it really happen? You can go on thinking what ever you want about yourself as long as no one knows. But as soon as you say “count on me showing up every day”, and then you fail. Then you are forced to reevaluate. You can’t break promises indefinitely, and your reputation can be redeemed. It’s worth putting in the effort to evaluate what caused the failure and how to avoid it in the future. When you fail by yourself, you essentially insulate yourself from failure and prevent having to do any failure analysis.

Bottom line: I recommend that everyone get a writing buddy. Find someone to keep you honest.