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Last Updated on April 22, 2020

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

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

A long time ago, the Chinese philosopher Confucius famously proclaimed,

“Do what you love and you never have to work a day in your life.”

Sounds like a beautiful and oh-so-simple idea.

Of course, we all know that reality is a tad different — that not everyone can find their passion or true vocation, can follow it and live happily ever after. Sometimes, life gets in the way.

But still—is it possible to find your drive? And if so, how?

Before we look for the answers, let’s take a step back and “begin at the beginning,” as the King from Alice in Wonderland famously proclaimed.

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 – internal motivation (also known as intrinsic motivation) and external motivation (extrinsic 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 promotion, or any other material advantage.

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 what some of the best ways are to make yourself tick and how you can help yourself to keep the fire going, even when you’d rather just indulge in some dolce far niente, or in pleasant idleness, and wished you didn’t have to do anything at all.

Why Internal Motivation Tops External Motivation

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

Generally speaking, we all need motivation.

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

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 topping the Employee of the Month list anytime soon.

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 tell 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 shiner 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 Internal 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 also enjoy it and we want to do it. 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 intrinsic motivation is intertwined with things 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]

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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.

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 (luckily!) you can do to become more driven. Here are the ones that top my 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.

It’s not hard to further 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 more driven to improve their skills.[9]

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. And actually accomplish 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

In one of my previous posts – How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life – I wrote about the importance of finding your WHY in life—that is, to be clear with yourself on why do you do what you do and what drives you.

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?

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—that is, helping others or doing things not for personal gain or profit—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, by learning new skills, by feeling good about yourself, or by linking to some of your inner values, as kindness and humanitarianism.[10]

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.

And who knows—perhaps the good feelings and the inner drive will spill-over the other areas of your life and will help you see the value of giving your best without anticipating fame and glory.

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

A great piece in 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.[11] There is nothing that psychically prevents us from doing those things, apart from our laziness.

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

Sometimes, so it happens that you may not want to do something in the beginning; but once you start, you get into the flow. Have you been into such situations?

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 other 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 won’t be so dreadful anymore or writing for an hour every day (if your goal is to finish a book).

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.[12] The theory is one of the most popular ones in the field of motivation.[13] 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 internal 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.

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All of these, separately and even better—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 any ways to motivate them—intrinsically or extrinsically.[14]

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 money, 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 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.

Learn more about this here: How to Get Motivated Every Day When You Wake Up

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:[15]

“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… Internal motivation tips the scales when it comes to finding long-term happiness and satisfaction in everything we do, and to improving our overall wellbeing.

In the end, the next time when you need to give yourself a bit of a kick to get something done, remember that “just go with it and bear it” is far from the best way to successfully accomplish whatever you need to do. Rather, try 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 the motivation. Remember the janitor at NASA?

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

More Tips about Boosting Motivation

Featured photo credit: Josh Boot via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Evelyn Marinoff

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

How to Have Self-Control and Be the Master of Your Life What’s the Meaning of Life? A Guide to Live with Meaning What Is an Existential Crisis and How to Cope with It What Is External Motivation And How to Make Good Use of It? Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It)

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Last Updated on August 5, 2020

10 Ways to Live an Intentional Life

10 Ways to Live an Intentional Life

They say “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”, but when it comes to your mind, this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

What you don’t know about your mind, what runs it, and how it drives your life can definitely hurt you – probably more than anything else.

As a therapist and former social anxiety sufferer, I know exactly how important it is and how life-changing it can be to start living with intention and take back the reigns over your life.

So, I want to share 10 vital facts that will help you understand your mind so that you can live more intentionally. which really means to live life on your terms according to the beliefs and values that best serve you.

Otherwise, what you don’t know will continue to hurt you.

1. Your Mind and Your Brain Are Two Different Things

I think, therefore I am. —  Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes made the distinction centuries ago between the mind  –  the essence of which is thinking  – and brain matter, but it’s been a debate among scientists globally ever since.[1]

What we know to be true is that if you were to point to your mind and your brain, you point at the same thing, right?

You can also be dead with a brain, but you can’t be alive without your mind. You are your consciousness and although scientists are yet to prove the limits of it (if that’s even possible), we know that it’s extremely powerful.[2] Search Google and you’ll find evidence from all over the globe of people healing themselves, surprising doctors, and shaping their realities with focused and willed thoughts.

I have personally experienced the power of changing a deep-rooted fear of public speaking and social interaction. What was once a seriously petrifying notion, where even a thought invoked the “fight or flight” response, is now something I enjoy.

I revisited the painful memories until they weren’t painful. I rationalized the beliefs I had about it and told myself just how much I loved public speaking in public. I gave my mind new pictures to see and proved that if you really will yourself to change, you can. This is an important part of living intentionally.

I got up in front of 60 people and did a cross-examination (ex-lawyer here) and I genuinely enjoyed it. It blew my mind.

Action: Think about something you’d like to change in your life. Is it a behavior you wish you didn’t have or a belief that’s holding you back? Writing is a great way to sort through it all, and once you’ve identified them, keep reading.

3. Your Mind Doesn’t Know the Difference Between What Is Real or Imagined

Right now, I want you to imagine that you’re cutting a slice of lemon. See that freshly cut, juicy lemon in your mind right now.

Smell it. Notice that it’s a really juicy one. The acidic juices are dripping as you cut into it. Now, picture yourself biting straight into it. Close your eyes and picture that acidic, fresh juice seeping all through your mouth.

Salivating yet?

This is a simple but effective demonstration of the fact that your thoughts can bring about physical reactions because your mind thinks that you’ve actually eaten a lemon.

Now, think about what your mind is doing when you’re catastrophizing situations, constantly re-living negative events, or picturing the worst things happening. According to Dr. Dispenza’s You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter, your mind doesn’t know the difference.

It feels like it’s actually happening so your body reacts the same way. This is how we get burnout, adrenal fatigue from too much cortisol, and a constant state of fight or flight.

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“If you want to dream big, you have to dream in great detail.” —  Mike Tomlin

When you visualize the state in which you’d like to be in, the presentation that you want to give, or the conversation you want to have in a positive light, your body and mind will act as though it’s happening; it’ll be primed to do what you mentally rehearsed when the time comes.

Action: Picture what you want, see it often, and see it in great detail.

4. Your Mind Doesn’t Always Know What’s Best

I came across a conflicting belief I had when I was overcoming social anxiety. The issue was that what I wanted to do and what my mind thought it needed to do were two different things.

I wanted to interact with people and feel comfortable speaking in groups, but my mind kept trying to keep me away from what it assumed was going to be a painful experience. This is because it was painful for me as a kid when I was bullied, so my body would go into fight or flight and cause me intense anxiety to alert me and help me escape the situation.

My beliefs guided my thoughts, so my thoughts guided my actions, and my actions shaped me into a shy and self-conscious person who wasn’t good at public speaking.

Your mind’s job is to keep you away from harm and pain, but sometimes it’ll make you shy away from the things you really want to do to keep you “safe”.[3] Intentional living does not mean being 100% safe. Sometimes, you have to take risks, too.

Action: Look for inconsistencies – things you wish you could do but don’t feel comfortable or able to do, and aim to align yourself.

5. It Doesn’t Take Years to Change a Behavior or Belief

The reason “talk therapy” takes a lot longer than we’d like is that communication isn’t happening at the most effective brain wave frequency. It’s your subconscious mind that holds the negative beliefs and habits.

So naturally, when we get onto the same frequency (alpha and theta brain waves[4]), we can communicate more effectively with this part of our mind. It sticks quicker and, when guided, it can give us the answers we can’t access at a conscious level.[5]

Action: Open your mind to subconscious methods of reprogramming, whether it’s a guided recording on youtube or with a hypnotherapist, and know that you can change without losing years of your life trying.

6. Your Mind Will Believe Negative Things Over Positive Things

If you’ve never heard of the negativity bias, you will no doubt have experienced its effects.

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Remember a time where someone said someone said something critical or mean about you. Even though you did several positive things that day, or received more compliments, did you find it was really hard to get that one negative thing out of your head?

Thought so. It’s not an exact science, but your mind needs significantly more positives to counter a negative.

Action: Actively work on reinforcing the positive when you hear negative comments or feel negative thoughts. Know that you can turn it around, but your mind is geared negatively so you’ve got to practice this skill. Knowing this is key to intentional living.

7. Your Mind Believes the Things You Tell It

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you tell yourself you’re worthless or stupid, your mind will believe that to be true.

If you tell your self you love being confident, you feel calm and you can achieve whatever you want. It will believe that too (though it will need to hear that more often because of the negativity bias, remember!). That’s why if you want to live intentionally, you have to consider the things you tell yourself.

Action: Consider the words you say to yourself every day. Decide who you want to be and tell yourself that’s exactly who you are. Watch how you change.

8. Your Beliefs Are Often Irrational and Harmful

Did you know that when children experience family violence, their brains have similar patterns of activity as soldiers that have fought in a war?[6]

If you’ve suffered trauma, bullying, physical or verbal abuse as a child, the chances are that your subconscious mind formed irrational beliefs before your logical mind developed, and if you let them, these beliefs could be running your entire life.[7]

But when you identify, rationalize, and re-visit these beliefs, you can change them. Unless you revisit these beliefs as an adult, you could risk living your life based on irrelevant things that hurt your younger self.

Action: Reflect on those tough life moments – the ones that are often hard to think about but the ones that may have shaped you. Work through it with a therapist, or write it all down so you can start to question and rationalize what you believed to be true. Reflection is an important aspect of intentional living.

9. Your Mind Defaults to What Is Familiar

We are creatures of habit. We love doing what we know because it’s relatively certain. Uncertainty and unfamiliarity are uncomfortable.

Case in point: COVID19.

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But sometimes, what is familiar to you isn’t good for you. The familiar eating patterns you have, the negative thought loops you’re stuck in, the self-deprecation, the anxious feelings, the overreactions – all of these things we do out of habit but not necessarily because we want to.[8]

The good news is that you can make the familiar unfamiliar. But new habits that really stick are those that sit at an identity level (i.e. you can’t beat yourself up for not reaching your goal of losing 10 kgs (an outcome) when you don’t identify with being a fit and healthy person (your identity)).[9] You must identify with what you’re trying to change otherwise it won’t stick.

Action: Imagine you could watch yourself throughout the day and notice whether the things you’re doing are because you want to or if you’re doing it because it’s easy because it’s what you’ve always done. Look for clues, particularly if you feel guilty, sad, angry, or annoyed after a thing you eat or say or do.

10. You Are Not Your Thoughts

“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” —  Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

Think about it, based on the preceding facts I’ve listed about your mind, you now know that your mind believes what you tell it. It can be physically affected by your thoughts, and it can shape your entire reality.

If you can notice your thoughts, let them flow in and out, keep the ones that help you, and let go of the ones that don’t. Then, you’ll reach a level of mind control that very few can reach.

It starts by getting quiet, calm, and doing whatever makes you focused and happy, like running, meditation, walking, or listening to music.

Action: Become aware of your own negative thought loops and practice letting them go or just noticing them rather than giving in to them, believing them straight away, and reacting.

Final Thoughts

I hope these 10 facts help you as much as they have helped me and my clients. These are not guaranteed to make you live intentionally, but they will definitely help you live life on your terms.

And finally, watch this interview with Antonio Neves to learn more about how to stop living on autopilot:

Remember, you aren’t responsible for the negative things that you heard or experienced in your life, but you are most definitely responsible for changing them.

More on Intentional Living

Featured photo credit: Brad Pearson via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Mind-Body Distinction
[2] Quartz: Scientists say your “mind” isn’t confined to your brain, or even your body))

The brain is the physical substance, and the mind is the conscious product of those firing neurons, according to the classic argument. But growing evidence shows that the mind goes far beyond the physical workings of your brain. –– Olivia Goldhill

It may seem basic, but being aware of the fact that your mind is something that isn’t constrained by your brain—that it’s a container for something much larger and that it’s powerful beyond anything you can believe—is the first step to gaining higher consciousness. To live intentionally also means to gain such higher consciousness.

Action: Don’t take your consciousness for granted, and question everything you know to be true.

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2. Your Mind Can Physically Change Your Brain

The time has come for science to confront the serious implications of the fact that directed willed mental activity can clearly and systematically alter brain function. — Jeffrey Schwartz, The Mind and The Brain

This is what mind over matter means: our mind can control and influence our physical state and change our brain function.((Psychology Today: 7 Ways to Use Your Mind to Strengthen and Heal Your Body

[3] Marisa Peer: How to Control Your Thoughts
[4] Psychology Today: Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression
[5] Science Daily: Brain wave device enhances memory function
[6] Science Daily: Maltreated children show same pattern of brain activity as combat soldiers
[7] NCBI: The Unconscious Mind
[8] NCBI: The Unconscious Mind
[9] James Clear: The Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones

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