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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

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

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?

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    Evelyn Marinoff

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

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    How to Get Motivated to Work and Start Your Day With Positivity

    How to Get Motivated to Work and Start Your Day With Positivity

    Learning how to get motivated to work every day is a common problem, no matter if you love or hate your job. If you hate your job, it goes without saying that finding the motivation to show up is not easy. However, you’ll also find that even if you love your job, there are mornings when you’re clawing at the walls to get out of bed.

    It’s easy to fall into a rut and get stuck in the same ho-hum routine, and inevitably, the excitement for work diminishes. However, if you consistently motivate yourself to show up at work every day, you’ll experience:

    • Increased energy levels to get into work mode.
    • More enthusiasm to attack challenges as they arise.
    • Better sustained results over the long haul.

    If showing up at work every day were easy, everyone would be doing it, and it wouldn’t be costing businesses $84 billion a year[1]. Part of the issue, though, is that organizations attempt to motivate you with bonuses, promotions, attendance awards, company luaus, virtual dog shows, and pizza.

    Not to say it’s necessary to do away with these incentives entirely, but organizations are missing a massive opportunity to provide you with the tools to teach you how to get motivated to work.

    Instead of depending on the organization to find motivation, here are some ways to find motivation to go to work each day.

    1. Remind Yourself “Why” You Work

    Too often, employees base their motivation on external sources like accolades, bonuses, and job promotion. These may feel good, but they’re just a “sugar high” and don’t last.

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    Consider your own motivation as something that’s internally sourced. The simplest way to identify these internal sources of motivation is to find your own personal “why.” This sense of purpose will offer fuel for the long journey ahead[2].

      For example, maybe you’re heading to work on Monday to appease the boss, lay the groundwork for a raise, or just get through a project that’s been hanging over your head for a while.

      It’s a lot like losing weight for a class reunion or a beach trip. While both are definitely motivating factors to lose weight, it’s usually not sustained over the long term.

      Consider how your workday motivation changes when you think about the example you want to set for your kids, how you want to help your co-workers that you’ve been with for years, or how you believe in the overall mission at your company.

      Perhaps, you simply believe that the job you’re doing helps you learn and prepare for the next step in your career. Those are deeper, more meaningful reasons that will help you learn how to get and stay motivated to work.

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      Figure out your “why” with the help of this guide.

      2. Use the Hemingway Technique

      Nothing helps your workday motivation like momentum, and Ernest Hemingway had a brilliant approach. His technique was to leave the last chapter or paragraph unfinished at the end of the day, especially when he knew exactly how it was going to end.

      Then, when he sat down at his desk the following day, he could immediately start writing and build momentum for the rest of his day. He’d never find himself at his desk wondering what to do next.

      You can apply this technique to your workday motivation. Instead of staying late on Friday or working over the weekend to wrap up your work, pick a stopping place strategically, so when you get to work on Monday, you know exactly what to do next. This type of momentum will carry you through your workday.

      3. Take Control

      It’s so easy to let the first few hours of your work fill up with meetings. Take control by planning and scheduling your first few interactions of the day so you’re looking forward to them.

      Set up a coffee meeting or a conference call with someone at the office who is typically upbeat and creative. This is a low-stress way to get motivated to work because it just involves showing up and a little bit of planning.

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      You can also gain motivation by connecting with your family at home. In my family, we often plan breakfast together and hold our own little breakfast party. It really helps us get our day started off right in every positive way, and the motivational momentum we get carries over into work (and school).

      4. Break Big Tasks Into Smaller Objectives

      If you know you have a big task or project waiting for you at work, it can really kill your motivation. You’ll feel stressed before even arriving. In order to diminish that work anxiety and feel better about the day ahead of you, break any big tasks you have into smaller objectives.

      For example, imagine you have to create a 30 minute presentation before Friday. If you look at it as one big project, it will feel overwhelming, but if you plan to work on 10 minutes of that presentation each day, it will feel much more achievable.

      5. Celebrate Big and Small Achievements

      If you’re struggling to learn how to get motivated to work, it may be time to reward yourself for all the work you do. Did you finish that 30-minute presentation on time? You could treat yourself to a nice dinner as a reward for completing that big goal.

      This doesn’t only apply to big tasks or achievements. If you finish a small task you had been putting off, reward yourself with a 15-minute break. This will increase your motivation as well as help you feel less stressed throughout the day.

      When you set goals, plan a reward ahead of time so you have something to look forward to. Don’t underestimate the power of a small reward to help you feel motivated in your day to day work life. 

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      You can find more ways to make dull or boring work more interesting in the following video:

      Final Thoughts

      We all have our ups and downs, and there will be times when we just don’t feel like doing anything productive. This is normal, and you can do something about it. Use any of the above tips to help yourself get motivated to work and improve your big picture outlook.

      Take time to start with one of the tips above, and adopt it for your weekly routine. You may find your motivation naturally becomes a non-issue as you walk along your career path.

      More Tips on How to Get Motivated to Work

      Featured photo credit: krakenimages via unsplash.com

      Reference

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