Alfie Kohn on love, motivation, and self-esteem

Alfie Kohn is the author of Punished by Rewards, which is a book about the damaging effects of rewards. Here are his thoughts on motivation, love, and self-esteem (my emphasis in bold):

When we deal with people who have less power than we do, we’re often tempted to offer them rewards for acting the way we want because we figure this will increase their level of motivation to do so. … Unfortunately, it isn’t. … What matters is whether one is intrinsically motivated to engage in an activity (which means one finds it valuable or satisfying in its own right) or extrinsically motivated (which means that doing it produces a result outside of the task, such as a reward). 1

Let’s consider a very different example of the same general principle. … the relevant question isn’t just whether, or even how much, we love our kids. It also matters how we love them. … I tend to focus on the distinction between loving kids for what they do and loving them for who they are. The first kind is conditional … The second kind of love is unconditional … 2

When adults control children, they end up promoting an introjected style that often results in learning that’s rigid, superficial, and ultimately less successful. … On the outside they look like admirably dedicated students, but they may have mortgaged their present lives to the future: noses to the grindstone, perseverant to a fault, stressed to the max. … Such students may be skilled test-takers and grade grubbers and gratification delayers, but they’re often motivated by a perpetual need to feel better about themselves … Their motivation is internal but it sure as hell isn’t intrinsic. And that key distinction would go unnoticed if we had just asked whether they had internalized certain values rather than inquired about the nature of that internalization. 3

1 Alfie Kohn, Why Lots of Love (or Motivation) Isn’t Enough, 23 April 2016. (Accessed 26 April 2016)
2 Ibid..
3 Ibid..


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