Here’s How to Use Incentives for Your Goals and Productivity Based on Research


A look into when external incentives produce the desired results

There may be some activities that are absolutely detrimental to the accomplishment of your goals. Still, you may associate those activities with temporary satisfaction or feelings of well-being. In reality, they’re a huge barrier to your productivity.

Incentives are thought to be a useful tool in driving or influencing behavior. You might remember when you participated in a reading program, a health and fitness program, or a fundraiser at school because of the reward. You were motivated by the carrot that you were chasing. 

Proponents of using incentives see them as useful means to encourage someone to perform an action. In the realm of habit creation, those against the use of incentives see it as an obstacle. Rather, it’s a temporary trigger that does not produce lasting behavior since the motivation is external rather than internal. 

Did you notice once you completed the reading program for free pizza whether you continue to read or not? 

When the incentives are gone, the behavior disappears as well.

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Short-Term and Long-Term Results

Research of literature on ending smoking habits found that external motivation can improve results over time if the magnitude and frequency of the rewards are sufficient. Extending the incentives over a longer time period can also extend the successful short-term results.

Social Influence on Productivity and Goals

A study done by UC Berkeley and Harvard found that research participants exercised at the gym more frequently when they were incentivized along with a group of friends who were also incentivized to exercise. This result highlights the role of social influence in changing behavior.


The bottom line is incentives must be designed with forethought. When you don’t have an external party acting as a gate to control access to the reward, there may be the temptation to “reward” yourself when it hasn’t been earned.

In order to change your behavior, your reward should be something that you don’t typically do.

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