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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It)

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Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It)

Motivation is one of the main reasons we do things — take an action, go to work (and sometimes overwork ourselves), create goals, exercise our willpower. There are two main, universally agreed upon types of motivation — intrinsic motivation (also known as internal motivation) and extrinsic motivation (external motivation).

The intrinsic kind is, by inference, when you do something because it’s internally fulfilling, interesting or enjoyable — without an expectation of a reward or recognition from others. Extrinsic motivation is driven by exactly the opposite — externalities, such as the promise of more money, a good grade, positive feedback, or a promotion.

And of course, we all know about the big debate about money. It’s surely an external driver, but is it possible that it can sometimes make us enjoy what we do more? A meta-analysis that reviewed 120 years of research found a weak link between job satisfaction and money[1].

And what’s more — there is some evidence to suggest that more money can actually have an adverse effect on your intrinsic motivation.

Regardless of its type, motivation is still important to get you moving, to improve, excel, and put that extra effort when you feel like you don’t have a single drop of energy left to keep going.

So, let’s see some of the best things you can do to keep the fire going, even when you’d rather just indulge in pleasant idleness.

Why Intrinsic Motivation Tops Extrinsic Motivation

“To be motivated means to be moved to do something.”[2]

Generally speaking, we all need motivation.

An avalanche of research, though, shows that when it comes to finding the lasting drive to “do something,” internal incentives are much more powerful than extrinsic rewards.

Why? It’s simple.

There is a great difference when you engage in something because “I want to,” as opposed to “I must.” Just think about the most obvious example there is: work.

If you go to work every day, dragging your feet and dreading the day ahead of you, how much enjoyment will you get from your job? What about productivity and results? Quality of work?

Yep, that’s right, you definitely won’t be topping the Employee of the Month list anytime soon.

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The thing with external motivation is that it doesn’t last. It’s susceptible to something psychologists call Hedonic Adaptation[3]. It’s a fancy way of saying that external rewards are not a sustainable source of happiness and satisfaction.

When you put in 100-hour weeks in order to get promoted, and you finally are, how long does your “high” last? The walking-on-a-cloud feelings wear off quickly, research tells us, making you want more. Therefore, you are stuck on a never-ending “hedonic treadmill,” i.e. you can progressively only become motivated by bigger and shinier things, just to find out that they don’t bring you the satisfaction you hoped for, when you finally get them.

Or, as the journalist and author Oliver Burkeman wonderfully puts it[4]:

“Write every day” won’t work unless you want to write. And no exercise regime will last long if you don’t at least slightly enjoy what you’re doing.

If you want to find out more about the different types of motivation, take a look at this article: 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

If you are still unconvinced that doing things solely for kudos and brownie points is not going to keep you going forever, nor make you like what you do, here is some additional proof:

Studies tell us that intrinsic motivation is a generally stronger predictor of job performance over the long run than extrinsic motivation[5].

One reason is that when we are internally driven to do something, we do it simply for the enjoyment of the activity. So, we keep going, day in and out, because we feel inspired, driven, happy, and satisfied with ourselves.

Another reason has to do with the fact that increasing intrinsic motivation is intertwined with things such as higher purpose, contributing to a cause, or doing things for the sake of something bigger than ourselves or our own benefit. A famous study done by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant is case in point[6].

By showing university fundraisers how the money donated by alumni can help financially struggling students to graduate from college, their productivity increased by 400% a week! The callers also showed an average increase of 142% in time spent on the phone and 171% increase in money raised.

Internal motivation has been found to be very helpful when it comes to academia, too. Research confirms that the use of external motivators, such as praise, undermine students’ internal motivation, and, in the long-run, it results in “slower acquisition of skills and more errors in the learning process.”[7]

In contrast, when children are internally driven, they are more involved in the task at hand, enjoy it more, and intentionally seek out challenges.

Therefore, all the research seems to allude to one major revelation: intrinsic motivation is a must-have if you want to save yourself the drudgery we all sometimes feel when contemplating the things we should do or must do.

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6 Ways to Enhance Your Intrinsic Motivation

So, how does one get more of the good stuff — that is, how do you become internally motivated?

There are many things you can do to become more driven. Here are the ones that top the list.

1. Self-Efficacy

The theory of self-efficacy was developed by the American-Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura in 1982[8]. Efficacy is our own belief in whether we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In other words, it’s whether we think we “got what it takes” to be successful at what we do[9].

Find intrinsic motivation with self-efficacy.

    It’s not hard to see the link of self-efficacy to higher self-esteem, better performance, and, of course, enhanced motivation. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to put extra effort in what they do, to self-set more challenging goals, and be more driven to improve their skills[10].

    Therefore, the belief that we can accomplish something serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy — it motivates us to try harder to prove to ourselves that we can do it.

    You can learn more about self-efficacy in this article: What Is Self Efficacy and How to Improve Yours

    2. Link Your Actions to a Greater Purpose

    Finding your “why” in life is incredibly important. This means that you need to be clear with yourself on why you do what you do and what drives you.

    What is intrinsically rewarding for you? Find that out with this free Worksheet For Instant Motivation Boost. Get your free worksheet here.

    And no matter how mundane a task may be, it can always be linked to something bigger and better. Psychologists call this “reframing your narrative.”

    Remember the famous story of John F. Kennedy visiting NASA in 1961? As it goes, he met a janitor there and asked him what he did at NASA. The answer was:

    “I’m helping to put a man on the Moon.”

    Inspirational, isn’t it?

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    Re-phrasing how your actions can help others and leave a mark in the universe can be a powerful driver and a meaning-creator.

    3. Volunteer

    Volunteering is a great way to give back to the world. It can also help boost your internal motivation by making you feel important in supporting the less fortunate, learning new skills, feeling good about yourself, or linking to some of your inner values, such as kindness and humanitarianism[11].

    When you remove any external reward expectations and do something for the pure joy and fulfilment of improving others’ lives, then you are truly intrinsically motivated.

    4. Don’t Wait Until You “Feel Like It” to Do Something

    A great piece in the Harvard Business Review points out that when we say things as “I can’t make myself go to the gym” or “I can’t get up early,” what we actually mean is that we don’t feel like it[12]. There is nothing that psychically prevents us from doing those things, apart from our laziness.

    But here’s the thing: You don’t have to “feel like it” in order to take action.

    Sometimes, it so happens that you may not want to do something in the beginning, but once you start, you get into the flow and find your intrinsic motivation.

    For instance, you don’t feel like going to the gym after a long day at work. Rather than debating in your head for hours “for and against” it, just go. Tell yourself that you will think about it later. Once in the gym, surrounded by similar souls, you suddenly won’t fee that tired or uninspired.

    Another way to overcome procrastination is to create routines and follow them. Once the habit sets in, suddenly getting up at 6 am for work or writing for an hour every day won’t be so dreadful.

    5. Self-Determination, or the CAR Model (As I Call It)

    The Self-Determination theory was created by two professors of psychology from the University of Rochester in the mid-80s—Richard Ryan and Edward Deci[13]. The theory is one of the most popular ones in the field of motivation[14]. It focuses on the different drivers behind our behavior—i.e. the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

    There are three main needs, the theory further states, that can help us meet our need for growth. These are also the things which Profs. Deci and Ryan believed to be the main ways to enhance our intrinsic motivation—Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness (CAR).

    If our jobs allow us to learn and grow, and if we have enough autonomy to do things our way and be creative, then we will be more driven to give our best, and our performance will soar. In addition, as humans are social beings, we also need to feel connected to others and respected.

    All of these sources of intrinsic motivation, separately and in combination, can become powerful instigators to keep us thriving, even when we feel uninspired and unmotivated .

    6. Tap Into a Deeper Reason

    Some interesting research done in 2016 sought answers to how high-performing employees remain driven when their company can’t or won’t engage in ways to motivate them—intrinsically or extrinsically[15].

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    The study tracked workers in a Mexican factory, where they did exactly the same tasks every day, with virtually zero chances for learning new skills, developing professionally, or being promoted. Everyone was paid the same, regardless of performance. So there was no extrinsic motivation at all, other than keeping one’s job.

    A third kind of motivation was then discovered, which scientists called “family motivation.” Workers who agreed more with statements such as “I care about supporting my family” or “It is important for me to do good for my family” were more energized and performed better, although they didn’t have any additional external or internal incentive to do so.

    The great thing about this kind of driver is that it’s independent of the company one works for or the situation. It taps into something even deeper—if you don’t want to do something for your own sake, then do it for the people you care for. And this is a powerful motive, as many can probably attest to this.

    If you want to tap into your deeper motive, join the free Fast-Track Class – Activate Your Motivation. In this focused-session, you’ll learn how to figure out your deeper cause for life and build a more sustainable motivation engine. Join the free class here.

    Final Thoughts

    Frederick Herzberg, the American psychologist who developed what’s perhaps still today the most famous theory of motivation, in his renowned article from 1968 (which sold a modest 1.2 million reprints and it the most requested article from Harvard Business Review One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? wrote:[16]

    “If I kick my dog, he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”

    Herzberg further explains that the so-called “hygiene factors” (salary, job security, benefits, vacation time, work conditions) don’t lead to fulfillment, nor motivation. What does, though, are the “motivators”—challenging work, opportunities for growth, achievement, greater responsibility, recognition, the work itself.

    Herzberg realized it long ago…intrinsic motivation tips the scales when it comes to finding long-term happiness and satisfaction in everything we do, and to improving our overall well-being.

    In the end, the next time when you need to give yourself a bit of a kick to get something done, remember to link it to a goal bigger than yourself, and preferably one that has non-material benefit.

    And no, don’t say that you tried but it’s just impossible to find internal motivation. Remember the janitor at NASA?

    Because once you find your internal generator, you will be truly unstoppable.

    More Tips to Boost Motivation

    Featured photo credit: Juan Ramos via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: Does Money Really Affect Motivation? A Review of the Research
    [2] Contemporary Educational Psychology: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions
    [3] Scientific American: The Science of Lasting Happiness
    [4] The Guardian: Is the secret of productivity really just doing what you enjoy?
    [5] European Journal of Business and Management: Impact of Employee Motivation on Employee Performance
    [6] Adam Grant : Impact and the Art of Motivation Maintenance: The Effects of Contact With Beneficiaries on Persistence Behavior
    [7] Grand Valley State University: The Effect of Rewards and Motivation on Student Achievement
    [8] Encyclopedia Britannica: Albert Bandura
    [9] Pinterest: Self-Efficacy Theory
    [10] Educational Psychologist: Goal Setting and Self-Efficacy During Self-Regulated Learning
    [11] University of Minnesota: The Motivations to Volunteer: Theoretical and Practical Considerations
    [12] Harvard Business Review: How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don’t Want To
    [13] Richard Ryan and Edward Deci: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions
    [14] Richard Ryan and Edward Deci: Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being
    [15] Nick Tasler: How some people stay motivated and energized at work—even when they don’t love their jobs
    [16] Harvard Business Review: One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?

    More by this author

    Evelyn Marinoff

    A wellness advocate who writes about the psychology behind confidence, happiness and well-being.

    Is There a True Measure of Success? How to Define Your Own 30 Practical Ideas to Create Your Best Morning Routine Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It) What Is External Motivation and How Can You Use It? How to Define Your Personal Values and Live By Them for a Fulfilling Life

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    Published on September 27, 2021

    What Is Incentive Motivation And Does It Work?

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    What Is Incentive Motivation And Does It Work?

    We’ve all needed a bit of inspiration at some time in our lives. In the past year or two, that need most likely has grown. Who hasn’t been trying to shed those extra pounds we put on during the pandemic? Who hasn’t felt the need to fake a little enthusiasm at joining yet another Zoom call? Who hasn’t been trying to get excited about trekking back into the office for a 9 to 5 (longer if you add in the commute)? Feeling “meh” is a sign of our times. So, too, is incentive motivation, a way to get back our spark, our drive, and our pursuit of the things we say we want most.

    In this article, I’ll talk about what incentive motivation is and how it works.

    What Is Incentive Motivation?

    Incentive motivation is an area of study in psychology focused on human motivation. What is it that gets us to go from couch potato to running a marathon? What spurs us to get the Covid vaccine—or to forgo it? What is it that influences us to think or act in a certain way? Incentive motivation is concerned with the way goals influence behavior.[1] By all accounts, it works if the incentive being used holds significance for the person.

    The Roots of Incentive Motivation

    Incentive motivation’s roots can be traced back to when we were children. I’m sure many of us have similar memories of being told to “eat all our veggies” so that we would “grow up to be big and strong,” and if we did eat those veggies, we would be rewarded with a weekend trip to a carnival or amusement park or playground of choice. The incentive of that outing was something we wanted enough to have it influence our behavior.

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    Growing up, incentive motivation continues to play a major role in what we choose to do. For example, while we may not have relished the idea of spending years studying, getting good grades, pursuing advanced degrees, and graduating with sizeable debt from student loans, a great many of us decided to do just that. Why? Because the end goal of a career, a coveted title, and the associated incentives of financial reward and joy in doing something we love were powerful motivators.

    One researcher who believes in the power of incentive motivation is weight management expert, co-author of the book State of Slim, and co-founder of the transformational weight loss program of the same name, Dr. Holly Wyatt. Her work with her clients has proven time and again that when motivation fizzles, incentives can reignite those motivational fires.

    “Eat more veggies, exercise, keep track of my weight: These things and more DO work, but bottom line, you gotta keep doing them. Setting up rituals and routines to put your efforts on auto-pilot is one way. And along the way, the use of both external and internal motivators helps keep people on track. External motivation sources are those things outside of ourselves that help to motivate us. They’re powerful, like pouring gasoline on a fire. But they may not last very long. Internal motivators are more tied into the reasons WHY we want to reach our goals. In my State of Slim weight loss program, we spend a lot of time on what I call ‘peeling back the onion’ to find the WHY. I think the internal motivators are more powerful, especially for the long-term, but they may take longer to build. They’re the hot coals that keep our motivational fires burning.”

    Examples of Incentive Motivation

    In the way of incentive motivation, specific to the external motivators, Dr. Wyatt challenges her clients to commit to changing just one behavior that will help them reach their weight loss goals. Clients must then agree to a “carrot” or a “stick” as either their reward for accomplishing what they say they will do or as their punishment for falling short. Those incentives might be something like enjoying a spa day if they do the thing they said they would do or sweating it out while running up and down the stairwell of their apartment building a certain number of times as punishment for not following through.

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    Whatever they choose, the goal must be something they really want, and the incentive must be something that matters to them enough to influence their behaviors in reaching those goals. Some people are more motivated by some sort of meaningful reward (a carrot) whereas, other people are more motivated by some sort of negative consequence or the taking away of a privilege (the stick).

    Another example of incentive motivation is playing out currently with companies and government entities offering perks to people who get the Covid vaccine. Nationwide, offers are being made in the way of lottery tickets, cash prizes, concert seats, free admission to events and discounts for food, and even free drink at local restaurants and bars. The list of incentives being offered to the public to increase vaccination rates is pretty extensive and quite creative.[2]  These incentives are financial, social, and even hit on moral sensibilities. But is this particular incentive motivation working?

    Remember that a key to incentive motivation working is if the individual puts importance on the reward being received on the ultimate goal. So, not all incentives will motivate people in the same way. According to Stephen L. Franzoi, “The value of an incentive can change over time and in different situations.”[3]

    How Does Incentive Motivation Differ from Other Types of Motivators?

    Incentive motivation is just one type of motivating force that relies on external factors. While rewards are powerful tools in influencing behaviors, a few other options may be more aligned with who you are and what gets you moving toward your goals.

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    Fear Motivation

    In many ways, being motivated by fear is the very opposite of being motivated by incentives. Rather than pursuing some reward, it’s the avoidance of some consequence or painful punishment that sparks someone into action. For example, married couples may “forsake all others” not out of love or commitment but out of a fear that they may be “taken to the cleaners” by their spouses if their infidelities are revealed.

    Another example wherein fear becomes the great motivator is one we’re hearing about more and more as we’re coming out of this pandemic—the fear of being poor. The fear of being poor has kept many people in jobs they hate. It’s only now that we see a reversal as headlines are shining a light on just how many workers are quitting and refusing to go back to the way things were.

    Social Motivation

    Human beings are social creatures. The desire to belong is a powerful motivator. This type of social motivation sparks one’s behavior in ways that, hopefully, result in an individual being accepted by a certain group or other individuals.

    The rise of the Internet and the explosion of social media engagement has been both positive and negative in its power to motivate us to be included among what during our school days would be called “the cool kids” or “cliques” (jocks, nerds, artsy, gamers, etc.). We probably all have experienced at one time or another the feelings associated with “not being chosen”—whether to be on a team to play some game or as the winning candidate for some job or competition. Social rejection can make or break us.

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    Before You Get Up and Go…

    Know that, especially during these challenging times, it’s “normal” and very much “okay” to feel a lack of motivation. Know, too, that external motivators, such as those we’ve talked about in this article, can be great tools to get your spark back. We’ve only touched on a few here. There are many more—both external and internal.

    Remember that these external motivators, such as incentive motivations, are only as powerful as the importance placed on the reward by the individual. It’s also important to note that if there isn’t an aligned internal motivation, the results will more than likely be short-lived.

    For example, losing a certain amount of weight because you want to fit into some outfit you intend to wear at some public event may get you to where you want to be. But will it hold up after your party? Or will those pounds find their way back to you? If you want to be rewarded at work with that trip to the islands because you’ve topped the charts in sales and hustle to make your numbers, will you be motivated again and again for that same incentive? Or will you need more and more to stay motivated?

    Viktor Frankl, the 20th-century psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, and author of the best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is quoted as having said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” As important as external motivators like incentives may be in influencing behaviors, the key is always to align them with one’s internal “why”—only then will the results be long-lived.

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    So, how might incentive motivation influence you and your behavior toward goals? Knowing your answer might keep you energized no matter what your journey and help to further your successes.

    Featured photo credit: Atharva Tulsi via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Britannica: Incentive motivation
    [2] National Governors Association: COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives
    [3] verywellmind: The Incentive Theory of Motivation

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