07/04/2014 05:14 pm ET Updated Sep 02, 2014

3 (Free) Motivators That Work

As a kid, you were probably offered all sorts of motivators that didn't work: money, candy and gold stars, for example. How did those incentives feel to you? How did they drive, or not drive, the desired behaviors?

For myself, money didn't motivate me to keep my room clean (even though, as an 8-year-old, I loved getting the dollar). Mrs. Vegter's last-ditch offer of a sucker did nothing to keep me awake during the fifth-grade daily social studies film, and the lure of a gold star from Mrs. Funk added not one measure (pun intended) of desire to practice the piano.

If outer rewards don't work, what does?

From what I have read, and what I have experienced, the greatest "motivator" seems to be good-old-fashioned respect. When you know you are respected and valued, doesn't that awaken your motivation?

Respect leads to at least three more motivation-boosters: autonomy, flexibility and acknowledgment. Give these to your kids, students and employees, and watch their intrinsic motivation come alive. (My mother was particularly good at granting autonomy. For example, she would ask, "Would you rather fold the towels or empty the dishwasher?" A small gesture, but it helped.)

What motivates you -- or demotivates you?

Some say outer outer rewards are necessary, or helpful. What do you say? What are your experiences (positive or negative) with rewards and motivation? Please leave a reply or click on the comments link below to have your voice heard!

While you're at it, check these out...

Why I Tell My Employees to Bring Their Kids to Work by Sabrina Parsons, CEO of a tech company and mother of three (article shows autonomy, flexibility and acknowledgment in action).

Alfie Kohn on Oprah, based on his book, Punished by Rewards (Mr. Kohn delivered the keynote last Thursday at the Young Audiences Arts for Learning National Conference, here in San Diego.)

The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Alfie Kohn's latest book, released in March 2014.

P.S. The candy corn is a remnant of my first-grade reading class. Every time a student made progress, the teacher would dole out another handful. Non mi piace! (Italian for, "I don't like ...") Doesn't it even sort of look like a drug?