What is Intrinsic Motivation – Everything You Need to Know

what is intrinsic motivation
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Motivation is an incredibly powerful tool.  The go-getters of the world seem to have endless motivation, and when you’re motivated, you find yourself achieving all of your goals.  Whether it’s in the workplace, with your family, or at home, you’ll be happier and find yourself accomplishing more when you’re highly motivated.  

But what is the nature of motivation?  You actually experience more than one type of motivation to meet your deadlines and to maintain your diet.  The two types of motivation are extrinsic and intrinsic.   To better understand how to get fired up when working on a project, it helps to ask yourself: “What is intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation?”


Extrinsic Motivation

extrinsic motivation
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Extrinsic motivation is when you are motivated to complete a task at the promise of some sort. This could be social status, a raise at work, or a good grade ins school. The motivation doesn’t come from within, instead of coming from an outside source.  According to changingminds.org, extrinsic motivation is very common, and usually very effective. It’s arguable what motivates us to do most things, like with being paid at work.

Extrinsic motivation is not a bad thing, but it could have negative effects.  First off, the rewards themselves could be tough to supply. It’s why we associate higher paying jobs with more work.  Extrinsic motivation can also have a negative effect on long-term work. In education, for example, students may work to pass a test and receive a high grade, but they may be less likely to retain the material they’ve studied, since they weren’t self-motivated.  Most importantly, there is a phenomenon known as the overjustification effect that can even become counterproductive when motivating someone.


The Overjustification Effect

When a person is intrinsically motivated to do something, they do it for their own enrichment and satisfaction. The overjustification effect shows that extrinsic motivation can overcome intrinsic motivation. According to psychology blog Verywellmind, studies have found that rewarding people for something they are intrinsically motivated to do will actually decrease their motivation.

The study involved having children draw.  In one group, the children are given a medal for drawing, while in another, they are given nothing.  Over time, the group given a medal would spend less and less time drawing, and would eventually stop unless they were rewarded, while the second group retained their motivation to draw.


When to Use Extrinsic Motivation

Despite the potential downsides of using extrinsic motivation, it is still a powerful tool in the world of productivity.  The best time to use it is when you have to do something that you don’t want to do. The most obvious situation would be focusing on rewards at work.  If you’re in the middle of a stressful project, and you find yourself losing motivation, focusing on the external reward will be vital for pulling yourself through.

While it may seem like a drag to do work solely for the reward, it’s a totally acceptable way to motivate yourself.  If you only do things when you’re self-motivated, you probably won’t do very much. You expand your horizons and grow when you do things outside of your comfort zone, and sometimes you need an outside reward to push yourself.


Why People Gravitate Towards External Rewards

Humans naturally gravitate towards external rewards, and there are a number of reasons why.  According to the Economic Times, the tangibility of external rewards makes them very easy to focus on. While intrinsic rewards are vague, external rewards are usually things like money, a promotion, social standing, or other desirable things. Even less tangible rewards, like better standing with your employer, have an implication of physical rewards like a raise in the future.

People are also drawn to external rewards for biological reason.  We get happy with rewards, even small ones, and that’s our brain’s natural way to push us to achieve and excel.  It’s why we do things like play games and visit social media sites. Our brains are so wired to seek rewards that we spend time getting even simple rewards.


Intrinsic Motivation

extrinsic motivation vs intrinsic motivation
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When discussing motivation, it’s important to understand what intrinsic motivation is.  This is the self-motivation that pushes you to do things for seemingly no reason. You do them because they are enriching, or you find them important, or you just enjoy doing them.  These include tasks like reading, eating well, pursuing your hobbies, spending time with your family, and so on. These activities help you to grow as a person, and are personally satisfying.

Michigan State University says that there is an energizing that comes with intrinsic motivation. This energy comes from yourself, and not from any external reward. Learning how to find, harness, and create intrinsic motivation is essential in growing as a person, and in living a fulfilling, happy life.


How to Find Intrinsic Motivation

Finding motivation is not tough.  One you understand what intrinsic motivation is, you can take the steps necessary to incorporate patterns into your life that will create it.  Focusing on achieving your own inner potential, and on cultivating a healthy mind will lead to you finding your own intrinsic motivation.


1.  Be True to Yourself

Being honest with yourself and taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to find motivation, according to Allegheny College. When you stick to your own path, you’ll do things that you’re naturally drawn to, motivating you to do them. This self-honesty is also key to maintaining a healthy, productive lifestyle.

It can be tough in a world of high-productivity, heavy family demands, and tons of social media distractions.  We’re often asked to put the team first, to put our family first, or to put the project first. While this might be good for a short term goal, it’s certainly not a healthy way to live life.  Learning to be honest with yourself will let you prioritize what really matters to you.


2.  Pique Your Curiosity

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There’s a popular misconception that your stop learning when you finish school.  This is far from the truth, and life’s a never ending learning experience. So learn to be interested and curious about things, and let your mind wander.  Piquing your curiosity will open up new avenues to you, letting you discover passions you never knew you had.It may seem difficult at first, but letting your mind be inspired in new ways will give you the tools to find intrinsic motivation.  


3.  Challenge Yourself

challenge yourself
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Challenging yourself is essential in life.  While having too much stress isn’t good for your mental health, having too little stress can be equally unhealthy.  Take on more responsibility, or hold your work to a higher standard. Try new things, or put yourself in situations you’ve never been in.  When you challenge yourself, you grow and discover new things. You may even be motivated simply to overcome the challenge, regardless of what it is.

One of the most effective ways to challenge yourself is to add to your responsibilities.  Take on an extra project at work, or lead more meetings. This not only gives you the benefits that come with doing more in general, but you learn how to handle your time better, how to handle more stress, and you’ll be able to cultivate your own motivation.


4.  Break Your Own Record

break your own record

It can be too easy to rest on your laurels and live in past glories.  But it’s important to remember that you’re best days are not behind you.  You may have had great sales numbers last year, or you biked the farthest you ever have, but that doesn’t mean you can’t break your own records.  When you push yourself past your previous limits, you achieve more than you thought you could.

Self-improvement is a powerful motivator, so don’t necessarily think of it as beating your records.  Think of it as beating yourself, and you’ll be much more motivated. Constantly improving is key to living a fulfilling life, and will have all sorts of benefits attached.


5.  Use Positive Self-Talk

positive self talk
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When you’re discouraged or feeling down, it can be hard to pull yourself up.  Try actually talking to yourself, and use positive, encouraging words. You’ll be able to bring your mood and your motivation back up.  By talking to yourself, you’ll become self sufficient when finding your intrinsic motivation, making it easier to achieve your goals.

Coming up with a mantra that is deeply meaningful to you can be extremely useful.  You’ll easily be able to repeat it to yourself and lift your spirit. Any positive self-speech will help motivate you to get back on your feet and tackle your challenges.


6.  Pursue Knowledge

pursue knowledge
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Knowledge is power, and that’s true for finding your motivation.  When you seek to learn, you not only enrich your mind, but you can learn new, valuable skills.  Knowledge can be found in any number of ways, like with life experience, reading online, or through your peers.  Take the knowledge that interests you, and incorporate it into your life.

When something it hard to understand, it can kill your motivation.  By seeking out knowledge, you can educate yourself to take on the task.  Once it becomes more clear what to do, you’ll be far more motivated to take care of it.


7.  Become a Master of What Interests You

become a master
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This is where intrinsic motivation is best found.  Whether it’s a hobby or a career, everyone has something that deeply interests them.  Don’t brush it off as just a job or a hobby. Take it seriously, take the time to do it, and master it.  You’ll not only acquire the skills from mastering it, you’ll find yourself invigorated and motivated more in general.  You’ll have proven to yourself that you can master something when you put your mind to it.


8.  Help Others

help others
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While you need to keep yourself in mind, you need to make sure that no one else around you is struggling.  When you help someone else, you’ll feel enriched, fulfilled, and you’ll have built bonds with someone else.  This can put you in the headspace that energizes you, motivates you, and pushes you to improve yourself.


9.  Notice Feelings of Achievement

feelings of achievement

According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, students become much more motivated when their achievements have been acknowledged. This is the same for everyone, including your own achievements. When you play of your accomplishments, you train your body to not feel rewarded for completing something. This can lead to an unhealthy cycle of work with no emotional pay-off.

When you feel a sense of achievement, pay attention to it.  Take the time to revel in it, and you’ll feel a deeper satisfaction from meeting your goal.  This sort of self-congratulation is necessary for finding your sense of intrinsic motivation, since is one of the most basic emotional responses to overcoming adversity.


10.  Having a Sense of Purpose

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Purpose and meaning are tough to find in life.  Everyone has their own path to finding purpose, but once you find it, hold onto it.  Having a purpose in life will drive and propel you to accomplish great things. When you have an overarching meaning to things, you will naturally be motivated to do what it takes to meet your goal.  It can be as simple as wanting to have a healthy family life, or of being a valuable part of your team at work. Having a sense of purpose will naturally give you intrinsic motivation.


Do It For You, Not For Anyone Else

Focusing on yourself is the most essential part of what intrinsic motivation is.  It’s not about making everyone around you happy, or of climbing the corporate ladder.  It’s about finding what makes you happy, fulfilled, and enriched in life, and doing it.  You can expand your horizons by finding these motivations in other things, like work or in family.  Once you’re able to find intrinsic motivation, you’re certain to achieve the goals you set for yourself.  

Hello Love,

I am a mother who is actively working through anxiety and depression by navigating this complex life through love, gratitude, and compassion towards myself and the world around me. Join me on this spiritual growth journey.

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