Motivation in Magic, Part 2: Sustaining Motivation

In my last article, Motivation In Magic Part 1: Losing Motivation, I talked about how motivation doesn’t actually ever get “lost”—it simply gets redirected and channeled elsewhere, whether they’re productive or unproductive. As a followup to that, I wanted to finish by discussing two things: First, how to redirect your motivation back toward Magic after it has been “lost,” and second, how to develop the right kind of motivation so that you can sustain it over the long term.

I say “the right kind of motivation,” because there are different kinds. It’s not as simple as having motivation or lacking it entirely.

To be exact, there are two different kinds of motivation: Extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Although they’re both forms of motivation that you can use to motivate yourself in Magic, they’re very different from each other and they both have their own sets of benefits and shortcomings. But in the end, one of them is absolutely a better form of motivation than the other. Which one that is, you’ll find out in the end. Let’s look at each of these forms of motivation and dissect them a bit more.

Extrinsic motivation is when your main reason for practicing, competing, and playing the game is to achieve some kind of external outcomes or rewards. It’s when the sources of your motivation come primarily from sources outside of yourself, like:

  • Winning
  • Rewards
  • Prizes
  • Trophies
  • Money
  • Rankings
  • Leaderboard Positions
  • Awards
  • Medals
  • Recognition
  • Praise
  • Points

Whether it’s an individual game, match, or tournament, any time your main source of motivation to play is one or more of these things, you’re being motivated by extrinsic motivation. It also applies to your career as a whole. If your reason for playing the game as a whole and your main motivation in Magic is being driven by these kinds of external sources, then you’re being motivated by extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation isn’t the best kind of motivation. It will work in the short term, but it will fail you in the long term. Extrinsic motivation only works as long as you don’t achieve whatever it is that’s motivating you. Once you do, that thing can no longer be used as a source of motivation. For example, take prizes. Using prizes as a source of motivation is a double-edged sword. It will work in the beginning and you’ll be motivated to play by the desire to attain those prizes.

But as time goes by, using prizes as a source of motivation will become less and less effective. You’ll either fail to win them and redirect your motivation toward other things because you’re not winning them as much as you want to. Or, you’ll eventually redirect your motivation towards other things because you win every prize there is to win or that you want to win, run out of challenges, get bored, and move on.

There’s actually a scientific term for this process. It’s called the “overjustification effect.” Scientific research has conclusively shown that if a person is motivated to do an activity primarily by external rewards and outcomes, then that person will experience a reduction in their motivation to continue that activity over time and eventually redirect their motivation into other things.

The overjustification effect happens both when you don’t get the rewards and outcomes, as well as when you do, which makes sense when you think about. If you try and try and try to get something but can never get it, you eventually redirect your motivation into other activities or tasks for which you feel you have a better chance of attaining a reward. And if you continue to get the same reward over and over again, the reward eventually loses the value and prestige that it used to have, you get bored, and you move on.

Bernard Tomic is a 24-year-old professional tennis player from Australia. He’s currently the #142 ranked player in the world, but at one point, he reached as high as #17 in the rankings. Throughout his young career, he’s managed to win three Championship titles and earn over $5,000,000 in prize money. But just recently at the 2017 Wimbledon Championship, one the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world, he found himself caught in the middle of a firestorm.

He was playing in the first round, and his opponent was Mischa Zverev from Germany. Throughout the match, Bernard looked uninterested and bored. He sauntered around the baseline, jogged around when chasing shots, and put little to zero effort into his match. At one point, to disrupt his opponent, he faked an injury and called over a trainer in order to slow down his momentum and lessen the pace of the match. He ended up losing the match and getting knocked out the tournament in the very first round. Naturally, everyone was surprised. The answers he delivered in his post-match press conference said it all:

“I don’t know why, but, you know, I felt a little bit bored out there, to be completely honest with you. So I tried at the end and stuff, he managed to win that set 6-3 or 6-4, but it was too late. To be completely honest, like I said before, it’s tough, you know. I’m 24. I came on the tour at 16, 17. I have been around and it feels like I’m super old, but I’m not. So, you know, just trying to find something, you know, this is my 8th Wimbledon or 9th I think. I’m still 24, and it’s tough to find motivation, you know. Really, me being out there on the court, to be honest with you, I just couldn’t find any motivation. I see, for example, Zverev winning Rome, and achieving, you know, I have won titles in my career. I have made finals, a bunch of them. So I feel holding a trophy or, you know, doing well, it doesn’t satisfy me anymore. It’s not there. I couldn’t care less if I make a fourth-round U.S. Open or I lose first round. To me, everything is the same. You know, I’m going to play another 10 years, and I know after my career I won’t have to work again. So for me this is mental.”

This isn’t a surprise. What happened to Bernard is the consequence of being too results-focused and being motivated too much by external rewards. It worked in the short term and he was able to garner a lot of success. But it failed him in the long term. His success caused him to become bored and complacent, and as a consequence, he no longer feels the same level of motivation to play the game that he used to, causing his performance levels to tank, as well as his ranking.

This is where intrinsic motivation comes into the equation, and why ultimately intrinsic motivation is a vastly superior form of motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is when your primary reasons for practicing, competing, and playing the game is to achieve, not external rewards or outcomes, but rather internal satisfaction and fulfillment. It’s when the sources from which you draw your motivation come not from external sources but from sources within you. The following are some example of intrinsic motivation:

  • Passion
  • Love for the Game
  • Fun
  • Enjoyment
  • Doing Your Best
  • Learning
  • Feeling Good
  • Performing to Your Maximum
  • Challenges
  • Growth
  • Mastering the Game
  • Fulfilling Your Potential as a Player

Intrinsic motivation is the best kind of motivation. That’s because with intrinsic motivation, the sources you draw your motivation from come from within you, meaning that you’re in control of them and always have a source of motivation ready to be tapped into, unlike with extrinsic motivation where the sources of your motivation are beyond your control and are very condition-based. Intrinsic motivation is the best kind of motivation because it works in both the short term and the long term, unlike extrinsic motivation which tends to wear off over time.

Instead of being motivated by winning a prize, trophy, or ranking, you’re motivated instead by the challenges the game provides, mastering the game, and becoming the best player you can be. Instead of being motivated by achieving wins and avoiding losses, you’re motivated instead by the concept of constantly learning as much about the game as you can and by trying to play the perfect game of Magic. And most importantly, you’re motivated more by the way the game makes you feel and how much you love and enjoy playing it.

Intrinsic motivation doesn’t fade away. Extrinsic motivation is more powerful than intrinsic motivation in the short term, but intrinsic motivation always wins out in the long term. That’s what makes it superior to extrinsic motivation. The players who burn themselves out and have to walk away from the game are almost always putting themselves into that situation because they’ve over-utilized extrinsic motivation and burned themselves out emotionally as a consequence. With intrinsic motivation, burnout isn’t an issue. You won’t need to take breaks from the game for mental or emotional reasons.

Now, is this to say you shouldn’t be motivated at all by things such as prizes, trophies, and other external rewards? Of course not. There’s nothing wrong with being motivated by those things in some form. Have that fire to win. Have that determination to succeed. Have that drive to win trophies, earn prizes, and achieve high rankings, if those are things you care about. It’s impossible not to be motivated by external rewards in some for and there’s nothing wrong with being motivated to achieve external success.

But in the end, it’s all about the balance. While being motivated by external rewards in some form is fine, you should never let those things be your main sources of motivation. Your main sources of motivation should be more intrinsic in nature. Be motivated more by your love for the game, by having fun and enjoying what you do, by mastering the game as much as possible, by loving the challenges and obstacles that come your way, by performing your best every single time, and most importantly, be motivated by fulfilling your full potential as a player.

If you’ve “lost” your motivation for the game or simply want to know how to sustain your motivation to play Magic over the long term without experiencing a reduction in motivation levels, then the best solution is to switch to intrinsic motivation. Think about why you play the game and what’s most important to you about it and be driven more, not by external rewards or outcomes, but by the internal satisfaction and fulfillment you can get from the game. There’s many different aspects of Magic that can give you that satisfaction and fulfillment.

Thanks for reading, and I wish you all the best. Until next time!

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