What is the Difference Between the Effects of Rewards on Long-Term vs Short-Term Motivation?

August 20, 2023

Understanding the impact of rewards on motivation is crucial for individuals, organizations, and educational institutions alike. Rewards play a significant role in shaping human behavior and influencing motivation. However, it is essential to recognize that rewards can have distinct effects on long-term and short-term motivation. While short-term rewards tend to produce immediate motivation and encourage quick behavioral responses, long-term rewards have a more profound and sustainable impact on an individual’s motivation over an extended period. This essay explores the key differences between the effects of rewards on long-term and short-term motivation, shedding light on how rewards influence behavior and the implications for individuals seeking sustained motivation in various aspects of life.

Understanding Motivation and Rewards

Motivation is a fundamental aspect of human behavior, driving individuals to take action and achieve their goals. Rewards, on the other hand, serve as incentives or reinforcements that can influence and shape behavior. When it comes to the effects of rewards on motivation, it is important to consider the distinction between short-term and long-term motivation.

Short-Term Motivation and Immediate Rewards

Short-term motivation refers to the drive or desire to engage in a specific activity or task in the present moment. Immediate rewards, such as praise, recognition, or tangible incentives, can have a powerful impact on short-term motivation. These rewards provide instant gratification and serve as a form of extrinsic motivation, where individuals are motivated by external factors.

The Power of Tangible Rewards

Tangible rewards, such as monetary bonuses or material goods, have been shown to effectively boost short-term motivation. They create a sense of anticipation and excitement, encouraging individuals to put in extra effort or perform at a higher level. These rewards tap into our basic psychological needs for security, esteem, and belonging, driving us to seek immediate gratification.

The Role of Social Recognition

In addition to tangible rewards, social recognition plays a significant role in short-term motivation. Humans have an inherent desire for social acceptance and validation. Therefore, being acknowledged, praised, or appreciated by others can be highly motivating. This can include receiving public recognition, winning awards, or being praised by a supervisor or peer.

Long-Term Motivation and Intrinsic Rewards

In contrast to short-term motivation, long-term motivation focuses on sustained engagement and persistence over an extended period. Intrinsic rewards, which come from within oneself, play a crucial role in fostering long-term motivation. These rewards are driven by internal factors, such as personal values, interests, and a sense of purpose.

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic rewards are deeply rooted in our psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. When individuals engage in activities that align with their personal values and interests, they experience a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. This intrinsic motivation is self-sustaining and can lead to long-term engagement and commitment.

Cultivating a Sense of Purpose

One of the key drivers of long-term motivation is having a sense of purpose. When individuals have a clear understanding of why they are doing what they are doing, they are more likely to stay motivated in the long run. Purpose-driven individuals are able to find meaning and fulfillment in their work, which serves as a powerful intrinsic reward.

Balancing Short-Term and Long-Term Motivation

While short-term motivation and immediate rewards can provide an initial boost, they may not be sustainable in the long term. To foster lasting motivation, both short-term and long-term factors should be considered and balanced.

Creating a Motivating Environment

To support long-term motivation, it is important to create an environment that nurtures intrinsic motivation. This can be achieved by providing opportunities for growth and development, fostering a sense of autonomy and ownership, and encouraging individuals to pursue their passions and interests.

Recognizing Progress and Milestones

In addition to immediate rewards, it is essential to acknowledge and celebrate progress and milestones along the way. Recognizing achievements and milestones can provide a sense of accomplishment and serve as a source of motivation to continue working towards long-term goals.

Aligning Rewards with Intrinsic Motivation

When using rewards to motivate individuals, it is crucial to align them with intrinsic motivation. Instead of solely relying on external rewards, such as bonuses or promotions, organizations can incorporate opportunities for personal growth, meaningful work, and a sense of purpose. By tapping into individuals’ intrinsic motivation, organizations can foster long-term engagement and commitment.

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, stems from internal factors such as personal interests, values, and a sense of purpose. When individuals engage in activities that align with their intrinsic motivation, they experience a sense of enjoyment, fulfillment, and personal satisfaction.

Key takeaway: When it comes to motivation, rewards can have different effects on short-term and long-term motivation. Immediate rewards, such as praise and tangible incentives, can boost short-term motivation, while intrinsic rewards, such as personal interests and a sense of purpose, are crucial for fostering long-term motivation. Balancing these two aspects, recognizing the value of immediate rewards while nurturing intrinsic motivation, is essential for sustained motivation and engagement.

Autonomy and Self-Determination

One of the key components of intrinsic motivation is autonomy, the sense of being in control of one’s own actions and decisions. When individuals have the freedom to choose their tasks or approach, they experience a greater sense of ownership and motivation. This autonomy allows individuals to tap into their personal interests and pursue activities that align with their passions.

Mastery and Competence

Intrinsic motivation is also closely tied to the desire for mastery and competence. When individuals engage in tasks that challenge their skills and abilities, they experience a sense of growth and accomplishment. This intrinsic reward of personal development and mastery can fuel long-term motivation and drive individuals to continue pushing their limits.

Purpose and Meaning

Having a sense of purpose is a powerful driver of long-term motivation. When individuals understand the significance and impact of their work, they are more likely to stay motivated and committed. A clear purpose provides individuals with a sense of direction and a reason to persist even when faced with challenges or setbacks.

Balancing Short-Term and Long-Term Motivation

Both short-term and long-term motivation have their place in achieving success and reaching goals. Balancing these two aspects is crucial for sustained motivation and engagement.

Recognizing the Value of Immediate Rewards

Immediate rewards can serve as catalysts for action, providing the initial push needed to start a task or project. By acknowledging and utilizing the power of short-term motivation, individuals can build momentum and establish positive habits. However, it is important to be mindful of the potential pitfalls of relying solely on extrinsic rewards.

Nurturing Intrinsic Motivation

To foster long-term motivation, it is essential to nurture intrinsic motivation. This can be done by creating an environment that allows individuals to tap into their passions and interests. Providing opportunities for personal growth, skill development, and autonomy can significantly enhance intrinsic motivation. Additionally, fostering a supportive and collaborative culture can help individuals find meaning and purpose in their work.

Building a Growth Mindset

Promoting a growth mindset, which encourages individuals to embrace challenges and view failures as opportunities for learning, can also contribute to long-term motivation. A growth mindset fosters resilience and perseverance, allowing individuals to stay motivated even in the face of obstacles or setbacks.


What is short-term motivation?

Short-term motivation refers to the drive or enthusiasm to accomplish a goal or task in the immediate future. It involves the desire to experience immediate gratification or satisfaction from completing a task or receiving a reward promptly.

What is long-term motivation?

Long-term motivation refers to the persistence and drive to achieve goals over a more extended period. It involves sustained effort, commitment, and perseverance towards goals that may require significant time and effort to accomplish. Long-term motivation is often associated with intrinsic factors, such as personal values and a sense of purpose.

How do rewards affect short-term motivation?

Rewards can have a significant impact on short-term motivation. They serve as extrinsic incentives that provide immediate gratification and satisfaction for completing a task or achieving a goal. When an individual is aware of an impending reward, they are more likely to exert effort and engage in the task with increased enthusiasm in the short-term. The anticipation of a reward can boost motivation levels and enhance performance temporarily.

How do rewards affect long-term motivation?

In contrast to short-term motivation, the effects of rewards on long-term motivation are more complex. While rewards can initially enhance motivation and encourage engagement, their long-term impact may vary. Excessive reliance on external rewards can lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation over time. If individuals start to perceive the reward as the primary reason for their engagement in a task, their underlying intrinsic motivation may diminish, and they may become more driven by the extrinsic reward itself. This shift can negatively impact long-term motivation, as individuals may be less likely to continue pursuing the goal when the external rewards are removed.

Are there situations where rewards positively impact long-term motivation?

Yes, there are situations where rewards can positively impact long-term motivation. When rewards are used as recognition or acknowledgment of an individual’s achievements, skills, or efforts, they can contribute to a positive feedback loop that strengthens intrinsic motivation. In such cases, rewards serve as meaningful feedback, reinforcing the individual’s sense of competence and autonomy. Additionally, rewards that foster a sense of progress, personal growth, or mastery can promote long-term motivation, as they align with individuals’ intrinsic desire for self-improvement.

How can one balance the use of rewards for both short-term and long-term motivation?

Balancing the use of rewards for short-term and long-term motivation requires a strategic approach. It is essential to provide timely and meaningful rewards for short-term accomplishments to maintain immediate engagement and enthusiasm. However, to sustain long-term motivation, it is crucial to emphasize intrinsic motivations, such as personal development, autonomy, and a sense of purpose. Rewards should be used thoughtfully, focusing on fostering intrinsic motivation and providing recognition rather than solely relying on external incentives. Moreover, facilitating a supportive environment that promotes autonomy, competence, and relatedness can enhance both short-term and long-term motivation, and reduce the overemphasis on extrinsic rewards.

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