A talk about motivation

A talk about motivation

Listen to the talk about motivation to practise and improve your listening skills.

Do the preparation task first. Then listen to the audio and do the exercises.


So, we think we know how to motivate people, right? Offer them a reward. Do this and you'll get this. Do this faster, earn more money. Do this better than everyone else, here's a promotion. We offer incentives when we want people to do things. We do it at work, at school, even at home with our kids. Tidy your room and you can watch TV.

But when social psychologists test whether incentives work, they get surprising results. Sam Glucksberg, from Princeton University, America, set people a problem to solve and told them he was going to time them to see how long they took. Then he put them in two groups. He offered one group a reward for finishing fast. Five dollars for anyone finishing in the top 25 per cent and 20 dollars for the person who finished the fastest of all. To the other group he offered no incentive, but he told them he was going to use their times to calculate an average time.

The first group, the ones with the reward, solved the problem faster, you'd think, right? Well, no, they actually took three and a half minutes longer than the group who just thought they were being timed. Incentive didn't work. In fact, it made them slower. This experiment has been repeated, with the same results, many times. But in business we still offer bonuses, promotions and rewards to staff.

That's fine if we want them to do something simple, like chop wood. We'll pay you more if you chop the wood faster. An incentive works then. But if we want someone to do something complex, something creative, something where they have to think, rewards don't work. They might even have the opposite result, and make people perform worse. Another study, by Dan Ariely, showed that the bigger the reward, the worse the subjects performed on a complex task. The reward made them focus so hard on the result that they couldn't think creatively any more.

And this all matters because more and more simple jobs will become automated. We'll be left with creative, problem-solving jobs that computers will never do. And we need to find a way to motivate people to do those jobs when we've proved the traditional incentives don't work.

So what does work? Giving your workers freedom; freedom to work on the things they want to work on, freedom to choose when, where and how they work. Want to work from home three days a week, get up late and work into the night instead? Fine. Just do the job well. And evidence shows people who choose the way they work get results. Companies that give employees time during the week to work on things that interest them and are not part of their regular job achieve amazing things. Some of the big tech companies are good examples of this, with ping-pong tables and areas to relax in …


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Submitted by 46adrian46 on Wed, 20/10/2021 - 11:33


In my case my main motivation is the challenges, for example develop a new brand or enter in company that is trying to open new markets in others countries.

Submitted by RuthYong on Thu, 14/10/2021 - 04:56


I'd like to share what keeps me motivated is my determination to study and work. Currently, I am studying and working at the same time. I really need a lot of positive energy.On another note to British Council team, the PDF files are not designed for the visually impaired users who use screen reader program. It is difficult for the program to read the table with so many columns and rows. Please look into this matter. Overall, the lessons are great.

Hello RuthYong,

Thanks for your comment. I'm very sorry that you find the PDFs difficult to use with screen readers. We took screen readers into account when we created the PDFs, but if you find them difficult to use we clearly need to do better.

Thanks very much for letting us know!

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Sure, really appreciate the future improvement. Usually with tables, screen readers are not able to read properly.

Submitted by Suraj paliwal on Mon, 11/10/2021 - 14:55


In my studies, what makes me motivate is always learning. I learn new language. I'm here because I can talk easily with English speaking people.

Submitted by Stela Stoycheva on Wed, 25/08/2021 - 11:14

In that job which I do it really I don`t fell motivate, even I fell sad... Maybe just the money which I took it. I hope soon I can be the person from before and I can change that situation :)

Submitted by Abrarhussain on Mon, 23/08/2021 - 00:16

I was motivated to study further English knowledge in order to improve and boost my overall knowledge and communication.

Submitted by GiulianaAndy on Sun, 18/07/2021 - 05:38

My parents motivate me in my studies. I mean they are always trying to tell me new advices and stuff like that and also my motivation for studying is triggered by the fact that one day I'll be able to travel around the world because of my career

Submitted by In on Sun, 16/05/2021 - 10:39

I motivate myself when I remember de purpose of why I do what I do.

Submitted by Antoni Luna on Mon, 26/04/2021 - 20:29

Well, I work as a content creator so when I get a great idea, It motivates me to create this story.