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Last Updated on July 9, 2019

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 (intrinsic) and external (extrinsic).

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.

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]

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.

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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?

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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—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.

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

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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.

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?

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

More About 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.

Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It) What Is an Existential Crisis and How to Cope with It Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason Midlife Crisis for Women: How a Midlife Crisis Makes You a Better Person What’s the Meaning of Life? A Guide to Help You Live with Purpose

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

How to Make Changes in Life To Be The Best Version of You

How to Make Changes in Life To Be The Best Version of You

Let’s start with the problem:

You get back from work. You’re tired. It was a long day. You know there’s things you could do, to get out of the rut you’re in.

But, let’s be honest. You really would rather relax, sit down and chill for a bit. Grab a snack. Watch your favourite show.

By the time you’ve done that, the day’s over. There’s just not enough time. To make this worse – you don’t have the energy or willpower to make changes in your life today.

So where do you go from there?

What you need are some easy to apply actions that are proven to work.

This article is going to give you 4 steps on how to make changes in life so you can follow today and get closer to success – even when you are feeling tired and lazy.

These steps have proven to work for me, and many of the coaching clients I work with privately.

1. Squash Inconsistency by Giving up Motivation

Now most people, when they want to make changes to their lives, focus on making lengthy to-do lists and plans. They think over and over again about what is going wrong, what is going well and what they want, etc.

All in a bid to push themselves to getting more motivated.

Guess what? This isn’t going to work.

Willpower and motivation are feelings. Feelings are vague and unreliable.

Instead, what you should do is focus on putting your flawed unpredictable self in the best possible environments.

If you do one thing first from this list, it’s THIS:

Find and go to the best possible environment for the area of your life you want to change.

For example:

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  • If you want to get fit, make your first goal to show up at the gym three times a week.
  • If you want to find a new relationship, show up to a meet up in your city for single people.
  • If you want to be productive and make your business idea work, don’t work at home, go to a co working space nearby.

The reason people fail to become the best version of themselves is because they underestimate the power of environments to influence behavior.

Accept that you are flawed, prone to distractions and your motivation and willpower will fail you.

The best hack at your disposal? Show up to “change inducing” environments and get out of your comfort zone (physically)!

OK. Next step.

2. Recruit an Elite Team to Help You (For Free)

Open up any social media platform you’re active on that contains some positive connections you have.

Send this message to one person you already know and trust ton help you make changes to your life:

“Hey [first name]. Can I be really frank and honest with you? I’m having one of those – ‘OMG I NEED TO MAKE CHANGES TO MY LIFE!’ moments.

And I was browsing the internet, looking for tips and this article I came across suggested accountability. So here I am, messaging you to be part of my accountability system.

My ask is simple.

Can we sit together once a week at [x place] but do absolutely no socializing? I’ll buy the [coffee/food] and it will be a space to force me to do [x thing]. You literally have to do nothing other than eat the free coffee/food I pay for lol. But it will keep my accountability high, which is what I need.

What you reckon? Can you help? Thanks!”

Now obviously, change the language to suit you but you get the idea.

Not only are you going to environments that will help you make changes, but by bringing a friend (or two), you make it even likelier that you will succeed. It doesn’t even have to be in person, it could be a video call.

People fail to make changes to their lives because they try to do it all themselves.

It doesn’t really work in long term, and it doesn’t have to be this way.

You can recruit and “enlist” people to help you. By doing this, you’re taking care of the up and down motivation you have.

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Not only are people happy to help, when they see this type of behavior, they’re also inspired and motivated to change their lives. Pretty soon, you end up creating change in not just your life, but other people’s too.

So when the next dip in willpower comes?

You have a friend sitting right next to you, watching your every move, making sure you get things done anyway.

3. Build Good Habits Effortlessly

Changing your life means changing your day to day habits.

Habits are automated behaviors you do everyday, like how a clock works, without thinking or motivating yourself to do them.

Some habits help you to change, others can stop you. One of the best ways to replace your ‘bad’ habits with good ones is to treat them like old clothes. What happens when your t-shirt gets old, faded and out of fashion? You replace it with something new and improved.

Do the same thing with your habits – upgrade and replace them with something better. Start small, then slowly graduate to higher levels of difficulty.

Let me give you a clear example of what I mean:

A few years ago (before it became mainstream), I was trying to start my own habit of meditating every single day to help boost my productivity and mindfulness. I’d done a mind blowing course called Vipassana. It involved 10 days of deeply powerful meditation combined with noble silence in a remote part of the UK.

Now it was easy to do when I was there (#1 – environment!) with all those other meditators (#2 – people helping me). All I could do was meditate. There were ZERO distractions. I had NO CHOICE.

When I got home however, after a few days of sticking with it, I quickly caved.

Those extra 30 minutes of sleep were just so much easier than waking up everyday at 4am for a long one hour meditation.

So what did I do to build this really important habit?

Like with most things, I wanted to make changes to my life. I wanted to become my best self.

I knew how important it was. I just couldn’t follow through consistently and kept failing over and over.

Then, it hit me.

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I needed to start small. I made a tiny change, that made all the difference.

I made a tiny change, that I could stick to – without fail – that has me meditating daily every single day now.

What was it?

Instead of trying to do something BIG inconsistently (1 hour of 4am morning meditation) and failing again and again. I decided to do something small consistently.

Building any good habit really just comes down to repetition. The way the brain is built works in favour of this.

My new habit became:

When I wake up, I will fold my bedding neatly. Then I will sit cross legged for 30 seconds with my eyes closed.

Eventually, once I did this consistently for a few months. I increased difficulty.

When I wake up, I will fold my bedding neatly. Then I will meditate for 10 minutes.

Why does this work?

What’s important here is that the behavior you want (meditating) is tied to another consistent habit (folding your bedding).

I attached my new habit to one that already is consistent.

Making it more likely to happen.

Secondly, I aimed for consistency, not perfection. This is where a lot of people fail. They have an idea of the change they want, but things become all or nothing.

When you do this, you fail to realize the power of consistency. The brain you have loves patterns. In this case, I trained my brain to repeat a set pattern every morning when I fold my bed.

There was no motivation or willpower required.

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This training has gone so far now that if I miss a day of meditating, I really feel uncomfortable. I’m just as conditioned to meditate as most people are to checking their phones in the morning.

If you want to learn more about quitting bad habits, Lifehack’s CEO also has a guide on it: How to Break Bad Habits: I Broke 3 Bad Habits in Less Than 2 Months

4. Create More Time by Quitting Social Media

You know the best thing I’ve ever done for my productivity and it took me 30 seconds to do?

I deleted all social media apps from my phone and blocked them on my laptop.

Then, to reinforce it, I told all my friends and followers on Facebook (my most used platform) I wasn’t using it for a while.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with my social media. Social media is a tool. Tools are neutral. It’s how we use them that is “productive” or “distracting”.

We each have to judge how healthy our usage is, especially when weighed against unlocking our best self. That said, for most people reading this, including me, I think limiting our usage is a very favorable advantage.

One of the best ways to make changes in our lives is not to add new tools or tricks. But simply remove things that distract us.

Social media is something I use heavily for my businesses. Technically I’m a “social media influencer” and “YouTuber”. I need to be posting constantly, right?

Our situations are unique, so I came up with a unique solution for this. After deleting and blocking these apps from my devices, I installed a social media management software that still allows me to post my updates.

The big difference, however, is I cannot spend any time scrolling and being distracted.

Final Thoughts

Change is not always about more. Sometimes it’s about doing less and getting rid of what distracts or blocks you.

Trying to do things by yourself is a good way to fail. Share your goals and pitfalls with people, no one helps until you ask.

Start with small changes consistently instead of big changes failed at consistently. The momentum will give you results over time.

So what to do next to make changes in your life?

  1. Write down where you are going to GO to create the changes you want.
  2. Message 3 to 4 people on social media and ask them to help you using the message template I gave you.
  3. Choose one small habit to get started with immediately and upgrade it over time.
  4. Delete all, or at least most social media apps on your devices, and notify people you are leaving to make it stick.

More About Making Changes in Life

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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