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External motivators cause undue emotional stress

TJ Parks

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America seems more driven to succeed than ever before. Although many Americans pride themselves in their work ethic, many push their desire to succeed to the point that it becomes unhealthy, stressful 
and unproductive.

According to an American Psychological Association study released earlier this month, 64 percent of Americans said money concerns are a significant source of stress in their lives, and 60 percent of Americans said work is a significant source of stress in their lives. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans experiencing stress over fulfilling specific needs is much lower. According to the APA study, only 46 percent of Americans said job stability was a significant source of stress in their lives and only 40 percent of Americans said housing costs are a significant source of stress in their lives.

Not only does research show that fulfilling needs, such as paying for housing, cause Americans less stress than the topic of money as a whole, but Americans are hinging their self-worth on extrinsic motivators. A study by Jennifer Crocker of 600 students showed that more than 80 percent of the undergraduates said they based their self-worth, in part, on academic competence and 66 percent of the undergraduates said they based their self-worth on doing better than others, the APA reported.

Although it is typically a good thing to put a good deal of importance on work, school and finances, the amount of stress Americans developed because of these subjects is unhealthy. According to the APA, 13 percent of people polled in 2012 reported using alcohol to help manage stress and 25 percent reported eating to manage stress. In 2014, the APA reported that 12 percent of Americans reported skipping going to the doctor when they needed health care and 31 percent of couples reported that money was a major source of conflict in their relationship. Forty-two percent of Americans reported lying awake at night sometime within the past month due to stress.

Furthermore, working to the point of extreme stress does nothing to help productivity. In the study by Jennifer Crocker mentioned previously, Crocker found that although students who based their self-worth on academic competence studied longer than those who did not, their grades were not any higher.

If anything, stress makes people less productive. According to the World Health Organization, stress cost U.S. businesses $300 
billion in 2006.

If Americans desire to become more productive, the most effective way is to stop stressing to obtain extrinsic goals, such as status and wealth and begin to perform tasks in order to fulfill intrinsic drives, such as practicing virtues. Crocker’s study revealed that students who based their self worth on adherence to moral standards and the pursuit of other intrinsic goals were more likely to receive higher grades.

Many Americans work hard and experience high levels of stress because they want to succeed. Although hard work is a good thing and success is a good thing, perhaps the reason why so many Americans are burning out with no increase in productivity is because their definition of success is entirely extrinsic in nature. If Americans were to stop worrying so much about money and place more emphasis on intrinsic motivators, not only would they find themselves less stressed, but more productive as well.

TJ Parks is a freshman majoring in journalism, history and anthropology. His column runs biweekly.

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External motivators cause undue emotional stress