Give points for motivation

Giving points is really about mapping a high-dimensional performance space to one dimension – a single, simple, goal.

Football player Freddie Ljungberg needs to make hundreds of difficult, subtle choices to score a goal, but he’s not thinking “Boy, oh, boy, how do I handle all this complexity?”, he’s focused on what needs to happen in the world to get to that single, simple goal. And there’s important motivational psychology at play when he does.

Let’s see how it changes the terms in Piers’s temporal motivation theory:

$$ \textit{Motivation} = \frac {\textit{Expectancy} \times \textit{Value}} {1 + \textit{Impulsiveness} \times \textit{Delay}} $$

  • $\textit{Motivation}$: How desirable the task is.
  • $\textit{Expectancy}$: How confident you are to succeed.
  • $\textit{Value}$: How important the task is.
  • $\textit{Impulsiveness}$: How sensitive you are to distraction.
  • $\textit{Delay}$: How long the task will take to complete.

With points we get:

  • $\textit{Expectancy}$: Increases if you get points for smaller subtasks, because your belief that you can achieve these is high.

  • $\textit{Value}$: This requires that the underlying outcome for which you get points matter to you.

  • $\textit{Impulsiveness}$: When points come regularly, you are less easily distracted than if you get points only once a year.

  • $\textit{Delay}$: Points can be designed to split a bigger task up into subtask such that the delay until the subtask is complete is small.

Assuming the underlying outcome is of value, a well-designed point scheme can produce significant increases in motivation.


Piers Steel and Cornelius J. K├Ânig, "Integrating Theories of Motivation" Academy of Management Review (Academy of Management, )

Khatzumoto, How To Accomplish Great Things: Small Victories, Winnable Games, ()