Motivation - the driving force behind why we do what we do - can seem fleeting at times, especially when we have an important goal to reach. For instance, you might have a big work deadline or a fitness goal that you've set for yourself. You probably notice that on some days, your motivation is abundant. You're willing to do whatever it takes to make your dreams a reality. But then other days, you can't muster the willpower to take the smallest step. So how do you harness the power of motivation so that you're equipped every day to meet life's challenges?
One way to help yourself answer that question is to explore the two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. One stems from your internal drive and desires, while outside rewards influence the other. When you explore the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, you can better understand why you make certain choices and how to make better decisions that align with your goals.
Intrinsic Motivation vs. Extrinsic Motivation
Why do we do the things that we do? Although many factors can play a role in the decision-making process, many argue that it boils down to motivation. But there are two main types of motivation and understanding each one can give you insight into your choices and behavior.
Have you ever done something (or wanted to do something) simply because you had an internal drive that compelled you? That internal drive can also be called intrinsic motivation. This type of motivation is generated from the inside out, meaning that you are inspired to take an action because of how you feel internally.
Intrinsic motivation can stem from our tendency to be curious and explore our interests. As humans, we like to be challenged and often seek opportunities to build skills and gain knowledge. These factors are components of self-determination theory, which is believed to help people feel effective and autonomous.
The most important aspect of intrinsic motivation is that it is not influenced by external factors, such as financial rewards or attention (such as compliments) from others. Intrinsic motivation is an extension of your own desires and values. These aspects will differ from person to person because not everyone shares the same interests or goals.
Examples of Intrinsic Motivation
Some examples of intrinsic motivation include doing things because:
- They help you to feel good
- They reflect your personal priorities
- They give you a sense of satisfaction or personal accomplishment
- You find them interesting
- You like them
- You want to be a better person
You can probably think of some instances when you were intrinsically motivated to take some action. Consider some of these real world examples of intrinsic motivation and see if they sound familiar.
- Going for a walk because you like the way the fresh air makes you feel
- Hanging out with friends because they help you feel supported
- Practicing soccer because you enjoy the satisfaction of becoming a better player
- Signing up for an art class because you enjoy painting and you value fine art
- Stretching when you wake up because it helps you get ready for the day
According to self-determination theory, intrinsic motivation has been linked to more positive and long-lasting outcomes than external motivation. In addition, studies show that intrinsic motivation is connected to a variety of other benefits, including increases in:
- Physical activity
- Psychological wellness
- Work engagement and job satisfaction
Have you ever entered a contest because you wanted to win a prize? Have you joined a gym or followed a diet because you felt pressure from social media to change your body? Have you met a performance goal for financial incentive or braggings rights? These are examples of extrinsic motivation.
This type of motivation is what people experience when they engage in an activity in order to receive some sort of external reward that they find valuable. In addition, people can be incentivized to do something to escape punishment that they believe will occur as a result of not participating.
These incentives come from external forces and don't necessarily reflect a person's internal or personal (intrinsic) interests.
Examples of Extrinsic Motivation
Some examples of extrinsic motivation include doing things because:
- Other people are doing it or "it's trendy"
- You believe it'll raise your social status
- You don't want to feel left behind
- You fear whatever punishment might come as a result of not doing the activity
- You want to impress others and think it'll help you to gain approval
You might notice that you're surrounded by products and services that grab your attention through extrinsically motivating factors. There are magazines on shelves that promote unrealistic beauty standards and aisles of makeup and skin care products that create insecurities along with promises to fix them.
Extrinsic motivation isn't necessarily bad or negative, but it can inspire you to take actions that don't necessarily align with your own personal values or interests.
Some additional examples of real-world extrinsically motivating factors include:
- Academic grades
- Credit scores
- Job promotions
- Letters of recommendation or references
- Social media followers or "likes"
Landmark research suggests that external factors can undermine our intrinsic motivation. For example, when people are given a reward for something that they aren't intrinsically inspired to do, they become less likely to engage in the activity without the presence of a reward afterward.
For example, extrinsic factors like stickers or treats can motivate kiddos to do their homework but it won't necessarily help them to enjoy learning new things. If a child can learn to appreciate the value of learning (intrinsic motivation) then they will feel inspired to do their homework simply because of the internal satisfaction that it gives them rather than the promise of a treat. Intrinsic motivation can help people to stick to healthy habits and choose healthier choices over the long-term.
Research shows that extrinsic motivation has led to increases in:
- Research participation among academics
While externally motivating factors can be beneficial short-term, they can often run out of motivational steam. In addition, these factors can change over time based on what a person feels is valuable and worth their efforts. For example, the idea of a raise might motivate someone to work harder for a certain period of time. However, once that raise is achieved, they might no longer feel motivated to perform at their best if they don't also find their work worthwhile.
How to Benefit from Different Types of Motivation
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can both influence the choices that you make on a daily basis. Some of the core differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are:
- Intrinsic motivation comes from a person's internal sense of reward, while extrinsic motivation stems from outside rewards (or punishments).
- Research shows that intrinsic motivation is associated with more positive outcomes than extrinsic motivation.
- Intrinsic motivation has been linked to longer-lasting sustained behavior, while extrinsic motivation tends to diminish over time and can change based on how a person values a certain reward.
You can use these two types of motivation in your daily decision-making process to reach your goals. For instance, you may find it easy to complete tasks when you are intrinsically motivated. Perhaps you make healthy meals because you love to cook and you like the way nutritious foods make you feel. But there may be other activities for which you feel little internal inspiration. For these activities, you might set up an external reward to gain some extrinsic motivation. For example, if you don't like going to the gym, you might make a deal with yourself to treat yourself to a new outfit if you complete a month's worth of daily workouts.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can both play a role in setting and reaching your goals. It can be helpful to have both types of motivation encouraging you along the way. What's important is that you find a balance that works for you and keeps you on track for all the varied goals in your life.