The Now Habit does a good job of articulating the two methods of motivation we often use (on ourselves and others) when it comes to challenging tasks.
The first is the “push method.” This method is “designed to stimulate action through fear of punishment.” It is not as though this method is always inappropriate; but in general “the ‘push method’ of management assumes that humans are basically lazy and that scaring the heck out of them will create motivation.”
The second is the “pull method.” This method, on the other hand, “assumes that we are naturally inquisitive, and if we are properly rewarded for our efforts we can persevere with even the most difficult of tasks.” (I would clarify that by “reward” here we should include both intrinsic and extrinsic dimensions.)
Here’s an example of the push method. This example is why I’m writing this post — I find it pretty funny:
“This freshman class had better learn now that you’re in for a lot of hard work. By the end of the semester you’ll have read this entire shelf of books; and by the time you graduate, this entire wall of books.”
Scary, but not very motivating — and I like to read! Here’s an example of the pull method:
“Imagine that, as you read one chapter of your textbook, you place it on this empty shelf. Chapter by chapter and book by book, you’ll be filling this entire shelf by the end of your first semester. By the time you graduate you’ll have read enough books to fill the shelves on this entire wall.”