Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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]

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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?

Advertising

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 Is External Motivation And How to Make Good Use of It? Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It) What’s the Purpose of Life? A Guide to Live with Meaning How to Stop Struggling with Instant Gratification and Reach Your Goals

Trending in Mental Strength

1 How to Survive a Quarter Life Crisis (The Complete Guide) 2 Think Positive Mantras Help a Lot? Try Value Affirmation Instead 3 How to Survive a Midlife Crisis (The Definitive Guide for Men) 4 Why Self Development Should Be On Your Life Goals List 5 20 Best Audible Books for Instant Motivation Boost

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on May 28, 2020

How to Survive a Quarter Life Crisis (The Complete Guide)

How to Survive a Quarter Life Crisis (The Complete Guide)

Is there such a thing as a quarter life crisis and could it be the cause of you experiencing a lack of happiness and fulfilment in your life or career right now?

According to popular psychology, a quarter life crisis is a crisis “involving anxiety over the direction and quality of one’s life” which is most commonly experienced in a period ranging from a person’s twenties up to their mid-thirties.[1] It tends to occur after we have finished our schooling and study, when we have settled into everyday life, often at major points or life changing events when we feel we are at a crossroads. We know something must change but we don’t know what or how to begin. It can feel confusing and lonely.

The good news is this is quite a normal experience. With some insight and small steps, you can gain clarity and direction on a way forward.

Firstly, it’s important to realize you are not alone. LinkedIn surveyed thousands of 25 to 33 years olds; the data showed that 75% had experienced a quarter life crisis with the average age being 27.[2]

Our twenties and thirties are nothing like they used to be. There are so many pressures now for people in this age group including having a well-qualified career, a secure relationship and possibly a family. The prospect of owning a home of your own becomes important, yet each year seems to be getting further out of reach, putting further pressure on your income earning capacity and career choice.

Personally, I have experienced both a quarter life crisis and a mid life one and there are similarities between both. Change was instigated for me both times by a difficult life-changing event, because I didn’t understand what I was experiencing or how to change it. Hindsight is a great thing and I sometimes wish I’d had the insights back then that I have now.

When you become aware of what you are experiencing and acknowledge your feelings as perfectly normal, change and transformation flows with more ease as you begin to take the steps to find new direction, happiness and fulfilment.

Here you will find what I consider to be the complete guide. It contains the essential steps I have identified to get clear on your way forward and move through this period of your life with more certainty.

1. Stop Comparing Your Own Quarter Life Crisis to Your Friend’s

Comparing yourself with your friends and peers, noticing their life choices and achievements can lead you to feel inferior and this increases those feelings of pressure and anxiety. You only have to jump online for five minutes and scroll through your newsfeed to see images of couples with children, career and life announcements and they all seem much more satisfied than you.

The truth is that often what you see is not real and they could be experiencing their own crisis too behind the facade. This means you could be comparing yourself with something that doesn’t even exist. What is the point in that?

Advertising

If you want to make this easier for yourself, stop accessing social media platforms. You can remove apps from your phone so you have to physically log in. If you need to access certain platforms for work or business, stay away from your newsfeed, even unfollow connections until you have worked through this period of your life.

When you stop comparing, you will notice that the pressure decreases and you will feel more comfort in your current situation. This allows change to unfold at its own pace.

2. Let Go of All the Should’s

If you hear yourself say, “I should be” or “I have to”, you are attempting to live your life by other people’s standards. And now you are aware of this, you will be amazed at how often you use this language.

The thing is, trying to live to others’ standards will never bring you true happiness or fulfilment. Even the use of this language brings a feeling of self-judgement and stress without even taking the actions associated with it. And over time, continually living this way, you will start to feel like your life isn’t your own; and you will lead yourself deeper into crisis as your self-esteem suffers.

If you hear yourself using this language, stop in your tracks. Explore where the thought actually came from and who said you should be doing things that way. Let go of the need to judge yourself according to someone else’s standards and start to think about what you really want instead.

When you let go of all the “I should’s” and start to replace them with your “I wants,” you will notice the feeling of lightness as your self-esteems rises again.

3. Get Clear on What Is Important to You

As you begin to let go of what you thought should be important, you create space to get clear on what is important to you.

Most of the time, like the majority of people, you are living your life unconsciously and unaware of what is really important to you. This means you will find it difficult to make choices that will light you up from the inside.

Dr John Demartini, a long time educator and international expert in human behavior states in his book The Values Factor, that true motivation is inspiration and is present when we are fulfilling our values. And, when we are living according to our truest and most important values is when we are our most fulfilled.

This means it’s important to get ultra clear on your most important values. You can do this simply by looking at what you put most of your time and energy into currently, and the moments in your life when you have felt your most fulfilled. Those moments may have been at any point in your life and may even mean going right back to memories of childhood.

Advertising

As you get clearer on what is important to you, you will gain even more clarity on what you truly want for you.

4. Change Your Environment

Feeling stuck can often be exacerbated when we stay in the same place, because our environment can have a huge impact on our state of mind. And, when you are in a stuck state of mind, it can be difficult to see past what you have in your life right now.

This doesn’t mean you need to sell all your belongings and go to live in an ashram for a year, although this may be the thing that feels right for you, and if it is that is okay.

You can gain the same benefits by going on a holiday, going away for a long weekend or even just going for a few day trips into nature, the forest or the beach where you can feel a real connection with self.

When you change your environment, you can change your state and your mindset. You shift yourself out of focusing on feeling dissatisfied with your life right now and shift yourself into thinking about how your life could be.

5. Enter the Dream Room and Ask Yourself “What If?”

There have been many great stories created in The Dream Room.

Walt Disney has been named one of the most remarkably creative, and as you may know one of the most successful individuals of the 20th century. The methods he used for all his creations are still being used today. Each of his creations began in the place called The Dream Room, the place where anything is possible; where there is nothing too absurd, there are no limits and no judgement. This was a place for brainstorming or dream storming as it was called.[3]

I always like to call it the “What if” room, which is a place where you ask yourself the “What if?” questions. This is the place where you can create your own outrageous wish list of what you really want. It doesn’t have to be a physical room; it’s a room you go to in your mind’s eye. This dream space is expansive and the expansion can be increased when you also change your physical environment by going to a place outdoors where you can see the horizon.

Find your space, arm yourself with a journal and pen, and ask yourself these questions:

  • What if anything were possible, what would I do and what would I create for my life?
  • What if life was exactly as I wanted it to be, what would that look like and how would I feel experiencing that?
  • What if I were without fear, what would I aim for?
  • What if I couldn’t possibly fail, how can I see myself doing this?

Dream as you did when you were a child, when you knew without a doubt that anything is possible.

Advertising

When you embrace this and allow yourself to dream, you will begin to create the most exciting picture of your next chapter in life.

6. Be Patient and Let Go of Control

Human beings waste so much time trying to control how their lives evolve and if you attempt to rush this dream process, you will find it difficult to gain the clarity you are looking for.

Learn patience, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and you are creating your own private empire of what you want for you.

This means that your dream room vision may be created in one day, two weeks or even a year. However long it takes, make it okay for you.

Many of the answers you are searching for are locked in your unconscious mind, things you have forgotten over time while you have possibly been focusing on living the way you thought you should live.

As you start asking the right questions, your answers will begin to come little by little and, will often come when you least expect them.

Carry a small notebook with you or voice record on an app on your phone. Even keep a notebook by your bed for when you first wake up in the morning.

7. Ditch Your Perception of Life Always Being Perfect

Even if we create an exciting vision, we can often get in our own way by our fear of things not working out perfectly.

We see failure before we have even started and hesitate on something that powerfully lights us up on the inside because it’s not the perfect time. Before we know it, years have passed and we are still in the same place. This can cause an even bigger crisis in later years.

Life is always happening perfectly for us; the problem is our perception of perfection is imperfect.

Advertising

Over the years, we have made perfection mean everything it really doesn’t. As a society, we have chosen to see perfection as things always lining up perfectly, no mistakes, a flawlessness, always getting the right result and the outcomes we want.

Here’s the thing: the opposite of this is absolutely true.

Life happens perfectly for you all the time. This means all the mistakes you make, all the outcomes you don’t want and not getting things right first time, is absolutely perfect for you at the time. As you make these mistakes, the lessons and growth you receive are vital to you living the life you truly want in the long term.

If at any point, you feel your need for perfection is possibly holding you back, comfort yourself with knowing that whatever the outcome, it’s happening perfectly. You will be exactly where you are meant to be to enable you to eventually live the life of your dreams

8. Make a Stand for You

Often when we make a decision on our future, we can find those closest to us object to our plans, because they want what is best for us; they want us to be happy.

The thing is what they think will make us happy isn’t necessarily what will really make us happy, because their dreams and values are different to ours. This can often make us apprehensive and delay actioning our plans since we don’t want to disappoint them.

This brings to mind something an amazing mentor once said to me, he said, “dogs only bark at what they don’t understand”. To me, this means that if a dog barks, they are not quite sure what is happening and in that uncertainty, they sense danger.

Your loved ones are exactly the same. They don’t understand where you are heading because it’s possibly something they are not familiar with themselves. Or maybe it reminds them of past experiences of their own where things didn’t quite work out the way they wanted them to. They won’t be disappointed in you when you make a stand for what you want. They just love you and want to protect you.

Proudly make a stand for you and your dream. Reassure them that you love them and you will be okay with whatever happens, because life is always happening for you and you are grateful for their support in the life you are choosing.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, no one else’s life, desires or dreams can bring you happiness and fulfilment; only what is important to you and what you really want can do that.

By being patient and kind with yourself as you move through what can be your most exciting life-changing period, you will feel this crisis point end and find clarity on exactly what will light up your life.

More About Life Crisis

Featured photo credit: ZACHARY STAINES via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next