What’s your money motivation?

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At a basic level we are all are motivated to achieve one of two things – to avoid pain or to gain pleasure.

But psychologists say that human motivation is also closely associated with each person’s sense of personal identity – of the person you think you are, or that you want to become. All the actions we take – what motivates us – is in pursuit of that identity or sense of self.

As the diagram below shows there are four main areas that relate to our identity – Money, Conformity, Community and Health. Each of these areas involves different actions and activities which are often in conflict with each other. For example, spirituality is the opposite of hedonism (immediate personal pleasure), and affiliation and sense of community is the opposite of fame and personal status.

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Source: Based on concepts developed by Professor Tim Kasser

Someone with a strong sense of sense of community would more likely pursue spirituality and affiliation with other people or society. This is described as having intrinsic or internal motivation.

Identity and the associated actions can also influence the job that people choose to do.

For example, nurses usually have a deep need to connect with and make a positive difference to other people. Their job enables them to meet that need because they meet lots of people each day, they can take personal action to help those people, and they get lots of immediate feedback on their actions (some patients experience less pain, some get better and others experience better moods).

Another type of internal motivation is to satisfy or be aligned by one’s life principles or values. For example, volunteering to help with a litter pick could help someone with strong views about protecting the environment, feel that they were making a difference and living in tune with their values

Someone who has a high money orientation is likely to seek more personal pleasure (hedonism) and the acceptance of others (fame), which is described as having extrinsic (external) motivation.

Money orientated people might pursue a high paying but less socially useful job like investment banking or public relations. Or they might like to socialise a lot with friends and colleagues or buy material possessions or go on exotic holidays (pictures of which they then post on social media).

Our sense of identity is primarily formed in our childhood, with those who didn’t have their needs for love and security met, more likely to have higher extrinsic motivation in adult life, and as a result be more money orientated and materialistic.

Studies have shown that people with high levels of extrinsic motivation are more likely to have low levels of financial wellbeing than people with intrinsic motivation.

That isn’t to say that non-essential lifestyle spending or financial rewards for working are bad or even to be avoided, but the more you are motivated for your own reasons, rather than seeking external validation, the more intentional you’ll be.  

And the more intentional you are with your lifestyle and money decisions, the less likely you are to spend money on things that reduce your financial wellbeing.  

Improving you sense of security and self-worth will reduce the need to seek the acceptance of others or gain immediate personal gratification. That should, in turn, help you to make better working, spending, borrowing, saving and investing decisions.

So, start by asking yourself this important question: What’s important about money to you?

Then, more importantly, you can think carefully about the answer.

Jason Butler