“Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it.” — Mark Manson
Motivation biases are a set of biases that influence how we approach and perceive our own motivation and goals.
In this list, we will explore various motivational biases that can impact our decision-making and behavior, and affect our ability to achieve our goals.
From effort justification bias to social comparison bias, we will examine each bias and its effects, and provide examples to help you better understand how to identify and overcome these biases.
What are Motivational Biases?
Motivational biases are biases that stem from our internal motivations, goals, and desires, which can unconsciously influence our thinking and decision-making processes.
These biases may lead us to ignore evidence, distort our perceptions, and make irrational choices that ultimately serve our personal goals rather than being objective and rational.
Here are some common motivational biases:
- Effort justification bias: The tendency to value something more if we put in a lot of effort to obtain it.
- Ego depletion bias: The idea that our willpower is a limited resource that can become depleted over time, leading us to make worse decisions.
- Endowment effect: The tendency to overvalue things we own or have a sense of possession over.
- Extrinsic incentive bias: The idea that we are more motivated by external rewards, like money or prizes, than by internal motivation.
- False uniqueness bias: The tendency to believe that we possess unique characteristics or abilities that are not as common as they really are.
- Foot-in-the-door effect: The phenomenon where people are more likely to comply with a larger request after agreeing to a smaller one.
- Goal gradient effect: The idea that we are more motivated to achieve a goal the closer we get to it.
- Goal setting bias: The tendency to set goals that are too easy or too difficult to achieve.
- Hedonic adaptation bias: The idea that we quickly adapt to positive or negative changes in our lives, and our level of happiness returns to a baseline.
- Hyperbolic discounting bias: The tendency to choose smaller rewards that are available immediately over larger rewards that require waiting.
- Incentive salience bias: The tendency to focus on the reward itself rather than the work required to earn it.
- Loss aversion bias: the idea that people feel the pain of losing something more strongly than the pleasure of gaining something.
- Overjustification effect: The tendency for intrinsic motivation to decrease when extrinsic rewards are introduced.
- Self-efficacy bias: The belief in our own abilities to complete a task or reach a goal, which can either positively or negatively impact our motivation.
- Self-serving bias: The tendency to attribute our successes to internal factors and our failures to external factors.
- Social comparison bias: The tendency to evaluate ourselves based on the success of others, often resulting in feelings of inadequacy.
- System justification bias: The tendency to justify the status quo, even if it is harmful or unfair.
- Vicarious goal fulfillment: The satisfaction we feel from the achievements of others, as if we had achieved them ourselves.
10 Examples of How Motivational Biases Can Help You Think and Do Better
Here are 10 examples of how knowing the motivational biases can help you think and do better:
- Effort justification bias: Acknowledge when you are rationalizing an investment of time, money, or resources into a project or relationship that has little hope for success. An example of effort justification bias is when people justify the amount of effort they have put into something by overvaluing it, even if it is not objectively worth that much. For instance, if a person spends a lot of time and effort on a project, they may overestimate its value or significance, even if it is not successful or well-received by others.
- Ego depletion bias: Recognize when your willpower is low and avoid making important decisions when you are feeling depleted or exhausted. Ego depletion bias is the tendency to make poor decisions when one’s willpower has been depleted. For example, someone who has had a long and tiring day at work may be more likely to indulge in unhealthy foods or skip a workout because they lack the energy to resist temptation or make the effort to exercise.
- Endowment effect: Consider selling things you already own before buying new items, and avoid becoming attached to possessions that you no longer use or need. An example of the endowment effect could be when a person values their own possessions more than the same items owned by someone else, even if they are identical in every way. For instance, someone might refuse to sell a used car for less than what they think it is worth, even if a potential buyer offers a reasonable price for the car. The owner of the car might value it more because of their attachment and familiarity with it, even if it has no inherent value beyond its utility.
- Extrinsic incentive bias: Be mindful of external rewards and how they can cloud your judgment, causing you to make decisions that may not be in your best interest. Extrinsic incentive bias refers to the tendency to prioritize or be motivated by external rewards or punishments over internal motivation or enjoyment. An example of this bias is when a student studies hard for a test not because they enjoy the subject or want to learn, but because they want to earn a good grade or avoid punishment from their parents or teacher. Another example is when an employee works extra hours or takes on unpleasant tasks to earn a bonus or avoid a negative performance review, rather than being intrinsically motivated to do their job well.
- False uniqueness bias: Remember that your talents and abilities are not unique and can be improved with practice and effort. False uniqueness bias is the tendency to believe that our abilities, skills, and traits are more unique or special than they actually are. For example, a student may believe that they are the only one in their class who is capable of achieving an A grade, and thus underestimate the abilities of their peers. This bias can lead to overconfidence and arrogance.
- Foot-in-the-door effect: Be aware of small requests that can lead to larger commitments and avoid being coerced into making decisions you may later regret. The foot-in-the-door effect is when a small request is made, followed by a larger one, and compliance with the larger request is more likely because the person has already agreed to the smaller one. For example, a charity organization may ask for a small donation first, and then later ask for a larger donation. The person who donated the smaller amount is more likely to donate the larger amount, because they have already made a commitment to the charity.
- Goal gradient effect: Break large goals into smaller, achievable tasks, and track your progress along the way to stay motivated and on track. An example of the goal gradient effect is a coffee shop loyalty program. Imagine a coffee shop offering a loyalty card where customers get a free coffee after purchasing ten. The closer the customer gets to completing the card, the more frequently they visit the coffee shop to fill up their card and get their free coffee. The customer’s desire to complete the goal (getting the free coffee) becomes stronger as they make progress towards it, even if the cost is the same.
- Goal setting bias: Set realistic and specific goals, and avoid making vague or overly ambitious goals that may be impossible to achieve. An example of Goal Setting Bias is a person who sets unrealistic goals without considering the available resources, time, and their ability to achieve them. For instance, a person who has just started running decides to train for a marathon within two months without considering their current fitness level or the time it takes to prepare for such an event. They may end up feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, and eventually give up on their goal.
- Hedonic adaptation bias: Be aware of the tendency to adapt quickly to positive changes and strive for long-term happiness instead of short-term pleasures. Hedonic adaptation bias refers to the tendency for humans to return to a stable level of happiness or satisfaction after experiencing either positive or negative events. An example of this could be someone who receives a raise at work and initially experiences a surge in happiness, but eventually becomes accustomed to the new salary and returns to their previous level of happiness. Similarly, someone who experiences a negative event, such as the end of a relationship, may initially feel unhappy, but eventually adapt and return to their previous level of happiness.
- Hyperbolic discounting bias: Avoid making impulsive decisions based on short-term gains and instead focus on long-term rewards and outcomes. An example of hyperbolic discounting bias could be a person who values a smaller, immediate reward more than a larger, delayed reward. For instance, a person might prefer to receive $10 today instead of $20 in a month, even though waiting a month would result in a higher payoff.
Know Your Motivational Biases to Think and Do Better
Motivational biases can have a significant impact on the decisions we make, and it’s important to recognize and understand them in order to make better choices.
By being aware of our own biases and the biases of others, we can work to make more informed decisions that align with our goals and values.
It’s crucial to stay curious, open-minded, and self-reflective, so we can continue to grow and learn as critical thinkers.
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