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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.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Feeling Stuck in Life? How to Never Get Stuck Again

Feeling Stuck in Life? How to Never Get Stuck Again

The statistics are dismal. A recent study has found that 69% of people feel trapped in the same old routine, and only 3 out of 10 people are happy with their lives.[1] People are feeling stuck.

Some are feeling stuck in their careers, feeling like they’re too far along one path to make a change. Some are feeling stuck in their personal lives. The toll of the daily grind sucks most of their time and energy. So their relationships, self-care, and personal goals get lost in the shuffle of the treadmill existence.

When people come across these challenges of feeling stuck, the feeling sometimes doesn’t go away. It often intensifies as time goes on. As the stuck feeling intensifies, some people choose to settle. Subconsciously, without even realizing it, they end up pushing their dreams and goals further and further down.

Others, if the feeling of being stuck intensifies to an unbearable point, choose to make changes. They may choose to pivot in their careers, even after years at a successful job. They may end up making big changes in their relationships, or start putting their fitness at a higher priority. They may make drastic changes to finally feel free. These changes can be incredibly difficult to make, especially if a person has lived many years in a certain lifestyle.

Feeling stuck is NOT fun. I’ve been there. I get it.

Why Am I Feeling Stuck?

People feel stuck once in a while. There are many causes of feeling stuck. Many people work toward goals that don’t actually align with who they are at the core or what they truly desire. I call these “False Objectives”.

Living a life of False Objectives can cause people to feel very stuck and frustrated. People can build lives that are very “successful” according to society; but if you’ve built your life based on False Objectives, you’re not going to feel fulfilled. You’ll end up feeling stuck.

Another cause of feeling stuck is not knowing who you are. If you don’t understand how you’re innately wired – your strengths, your gifts, your talents, your passions – it’s tough to make decisions that enable you to maximize those. It’s tough to reach your full potential if you don’t know who you are.

You can feel stuck if you’re doing work that doesn’t allow you to maximize your innate strengths. If you’re doing work that doesn’t bring out the best in who you are at the core, you’ll likely feel some dissatisfaction and you won’t reach your full potential.

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Other people feel stuck because they haven’t surrounded themselves with mentors or peers who have achieved what they want to achieve. They stay in certain routines while craving to do life differently. As Jim Rohn says,

“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

If your goal is to run a marathon and you’re spending most evenings and weekends drinking beer with your coworkers, you’re probably not going to run that marathon. If your goal is to live a location-independent lifestyle and work anytime from anywhere, but everyone in your social circle is at traditional jobs; it’ll be tough to break free from the 9-5 mentality.

How Feeling Stuck Screws You up Secretly

Feeling stuck screws up people’s lives. The consequences of feeling stuck can range from mild to severe. People may feel a mild discontentment with life and end up succumbing to the idea that life is “okay,” and settle. (Nancy’s story will resonate with you.) They may never reach their full potential, their highest levels of happiness and satisfaction. And they may not make the impact on the world that they could make, and have a looming sense that there could be “more” to life.

Often, though, the feeling of being stuck comes with much larger consequences. Feeling stuck can hinder career growth and contribute to disrupted marriages. It can lead to huge midlife crises.

The feeling can (and frequently does) increase as the years go on, leading to significant regrets about unfulfilled dreams. In fact, the number one regret of the dying, according to Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” She writes:[2]

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Many people had not honored even a half of their dreams, and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”

    Approaching Life Differently

    Thankfully, some highly effective strategies can prevent you from feeling stuck. Using these strategies can help you avoid significant problems in your life. It’s different than conventional living, and it works.

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    Commonly, people live with many set routines. While certain routines are helpful, becoming stuck in the daily grind routine can get frustrating. Many people eat roughly the same foods each week, go to the same place each day, talk to the same people, keep the same commitments, and end up living life on autopilot.

    It’s tough to feel like you’re progressing forward when each day is spent doing the same uninspiring routine. In order to avoid feeling stuck, it’s important to live intentionally. It’s crucial to live in the driver’s seat of your life and get out of autopilot mode.

    First, ditch the False Objectives. Just because everyone in your family are doctors doesn’t mean that’s the best path for you. Just because all your friends are married with a big house, a white picket fence, and 2 kids doesn’t mean that’s the best path for you. Just because everyone you know works 9-5 doesn’t mean that’s the best path for you. It’s not easy to design your life intentionally, but it’s critical in order to avoid feeling stuck.

    Remember, the majority of people feel stuck. So, if you’re doing things like the majority of people, you’ll likely feel stuck, too. You’ll need to think differently and create your life differently.

    2 Questions to Ask Yourself Every Day

    In order to intentionally design your life, avoid falling prey to False Objectives, and prevent feeling stuck, there are questions to ask yourself every day. These questions can help you stay focused on what matters most to you, help you avoid feeling stuck and frustrated, and create the best life possible.

    1. Why Am I Going to Do What I’m Going to Do Today?

    If you’re showing up to work each day and giving your years to your job, it’s important that your “why” is deeper than “to pay the bills.” Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing can help you make choices that inspire and motivate you.

    By asking yourself why you’re going to do what you’re going to do today, you will be living intentionally. In today’s incredibly busy, easily distracted world, living intentionally and focusing every day on what matters most is unique.

    When you choose to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing every day, it will help you stay focused on what’s truly important to you. This can prevent you from getting stuck.

    2. What Would Future Want Me to Do Today?

    Imagine yourself, in the future, as the best version of you. What would that version of you want you to do today? Making decisions from the viewpoint of the future you can help you move forward and prevent the stuck and frustrated feeling.

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    When you make decisions from the viewpoint of future you, you will develop perseverance and reap the benefits of delayed gratification. Today’s society is very focused on instant gratification, but a lot of great things in life take time and effort. Learning to take small steps forward by making decisions from the future you’s standpoint can help you progress toward your biggest goals and dreams.

    How to Get Unstuck

    After asking yourself the two questions, work on the plan to get unstuck. I’ve personally tried these strategies and they work for me.

    1. Choose Goals You Truly Desire to Accomplish

    This might sound obvious but we all get sucked into False Objectives at times. When you’re setting goals in your career and your personal life, make sure they are goals that matter to you.

    Working hard toward big achievements that don’t align with your values, priorities, and who you are at the core is a fast-track toward feeling stuck.

    Learn about your strengths, your gifts, and your passions. Choose goals that align with who you are at the core, and work toward goals that align with your inner strengths and gifts. This will help you maximize your potential and minimize the stuck and frustrated feelings.

    2. Watch Your Mindset

    Often, we think we’re stuck, but the problem is our mindset. Being mindful of our mindset and self-talk is important to living a life of freedom and fulfillment. Work on rephrasing your self-talk in order to improve your mindset.

    For example, if you tell yourself, “I could never start a business,” rephrase it to, “I don’t know how to start a business YET, but I can learn.” If you find yourself saying, “I don’t have enough money to travel,” tell yourself, “I don’t have the money right now, but I can make a plan to save money to travel. Rephrasing your self-talk can help you see opportunities and possibilities instead of feeling stuck.

    Occasionally, even the most driven people have days where they feel unmotivated. Check out this article for tips to get motivated when you feel like doing nothing: What Motivates You And How to Always Stay Motivated

    Those tips can help you break free from the rut.

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    3. Get out of Your Comfort Zone and Add Some Excitement to Your Day

    Shaking up your daily routine and adding some excitement to your days can help you get unstuck.

    While breaking out of your daily routine can be uncomfortable, it can be a great way to invigorate your life. You can start by getting out of your comfort zone in small ways. Here are 10 ways to step out of your comfort zone and overcome your fear. As Brian Tracy says,

    “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”

    Getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing growth can help you to continue to move forward and prevent you from getting stuck.

    4. Surround Yourself with People Who Have Done What You Aspire to Do

    It’s easy to get stuck if you’re trying to accomplish something and you’re struggling to believe it’s possible to accomplish it.

    Instead of letting yourself be isolated and stuck, commit to learning from people who have done what you aspire to do. This can help you believe it’s possible to achieve the same goals. It can also help you to be inspired to progress forward instead of staying in stuck-land.

    You can seek out a mentor, or even read inspiring books or listen to motivating podcasts by the people who have achieved your biggest goals and dreams.

    Final Thoughts

    It’s frustrating to feel stuck. But you don’t need to stay stuck if you know the right ways to break free from the rut.

    Practice living intentionally by asking yourself the 2 critical questions:

    • Why am I going to do what I’m going to do today?
    • What would future want me to do today?

    When you constantly reflect about what you truly want and whether you’re doing the things that lead you to what you desire, you’ll feel less stuck gradually.

    More to Help You Get Unstuck

    Featured photo credit: Krists Luhaers via unsplash.com

    Reference

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