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Last Updated on January 14, 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? 

    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.

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    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].

    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.

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    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.

    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 January 21, 2021

    8 Creative Ways To Motivate Yourself To Reach Goals

    8 Creative Ways To Motivate Yourself To Reach Goals

    “Self-pity is our worst enemy, and if we yield to it we can never do anything wise in this world” – Helen Keller

    From the moment our kindergarten teachers asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up to the job interview question that asks us to envision where we see ourselves in five or ten years time, everyone seems to want to know what we’re doing (or hope to do) with our lives. Some of us have detailed road maps in our minds, with mile-markers for each goal: Obtain a college degree, land a dream career, start a family, visit Mars, achieve world domination—whatever. Others like the scenic route. We have a vague picture of someone in the distant future who looks like us and is doing amazing things, but they’re too far off in the distance for us to see just what those amazing things are. Whether you’ve had your entire life planned out since you were 5 yrs old or are just winging it, we all need a jump start from time to time to keep us moving in the right direction—or any direction. Here are eight creative ways to motivate yourself to reach your goals.

    1. Sing to yourself

    Seriously. Like laughter, sunshine, and fresh air; singing elevates our moods and increases our well being. It can even be a useful group exercise to enhance collaboration in the workplace. Read more about it here. Studies have shown that singing triggers a release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural way of chemically relieving pain and stress. When we’re happier, we get more done. This might be why Snow White likes to whistle while she works.

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    2. Visualize your success

    According to Dr. Frank Niles, visualization is a simple but useful motivational technique because when you form a picture of succeeding in your mind, you begin to see the possibility of reaching your goal. When I was working on my dissertation in graduate school, there were days when meeting the daily writing goal I’d set for myself seemed insurmountable, let alone finishing the entire book-length project that sat in my stomach like a baby with an unknown due date. When I began to feel overwhelmed, I’d often visualize the moment of achievement, walking across the stage, receiving my degree, finally earning those three letters at the end of my name that I’d poured so much blood, sweat, tears, and vodka into. Six years and quite a few drinks later, I managed it.

    3. Speak about achieving your goals in definitive, positive terms

    Instead of saying, “if I get married,” “if I get that raise,” “if I quit smoking,” say “when I get married,” “when I get that raise,” “when I quit smoking.” This shifts your focus from possibility to actuality. Spiritual teacher and best-selling author Dr. Wayne Dyer has written and spoken extensively about the “I Am” discourse, which is a form of positive thinking that takes its name from Judeo-Christian Scripture but is portable in any walk of life. Dyer tells us humorously that God didn’t introduce himself to Moses as “I will be,” or “My name is I hope things will work out.” No. He said simply “I am.” Using this affirmative vocabulary in our own lives, argues Dr. Dyer, can help us to visualize our goals and keep our eye on the prize.

    4. Use sticker charts

    We all remember the thrill of achievement when we rushed home from school to show our parents the shiny gold star we’d received on our homework assignments in school. Who’s to say this positive reinforcement can’t work for adults too? Draw up a chart of your goals, with various benchmarks. Each time you achieve a benchmark, give yourself a gold star, or a smiley face, or a googly-eyed cat. Whatever gives you a sense of accomplishment. This ties into the visualization technique as well, because charting the trajectory of completion gives you verifiable proof that you’re making progress.

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    5. Keep a goal diary

    Like creating a chart with eye-catching visuals, writing down your goals and reflecting regularly on their progress helps you to both focus on the desired outcome and holds you accountable. In 1979, a study conducted in the Harvard MBA program asked students if they had goals and if they’d written down those goals. 3% had written down their goals, 13% had goals but hadn’t written them down, and 84% had no clearly defined goals. Ten years later, the study revealed that the 3% who had written down their goals were the most financially successful. While financial stability is only one quantifiable way to measure success, the study still points to a link between clearly defining one’s goals and achieving them.

    6. Find a “study buddy”

    While this can be a useful way to motivate students to complete homework, it can also work well for anyone who has a hard time settling down to work. I used to notice that I graded papers much more efficiently when my boyfriend was sitting in the other room doing the same thing. While this might not work for everyone, I’ve always found that glancing up now and then to make a comment about something I’ve read does more than allow for a break in the action. The other person becomes a sounding board to bounce my ideas off of. Even Sherlock Holmes relied on Watson’s insights to solve his cases.

    7. Keep a corkboard in your workspace or someplace visible, with empowering quotations

    Personally, I find Yoda a great inspiration. It’s hard to quit anything when you’ve got “do or do not. There is no try” staring you in the face. Turn to your favorite books and movies, or your role-models. Pick your favorite inspirational quotes and keep them close to remind you that you can do whatever you set your mind to.

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    8. Daydream

    It might sound counter-intuitive, but I’m going somewhere with this. You probably remember being told off in Biology class for staring into the fathomless blue eyes of your lab partner instead of concentrating on the frog you were supposed to be dissecting. However, according to Margrit Tarpalaru, there’s a way to procrastinate “consciously, creatively, and, most importantly, guiltlessly.”

    Tarpalaru, a teacher who uses this technique to plow through grading, refers to it as the “micro-break,”[1] which many of us probably think of as that reflexive urge to check Facebook for five minutes, only to look up twenty minutes later and wonder how we got sucked into the social media vortex. Instead, Tarpalaru suggests techniques like a quick daydream.

    Glance up from the computer screen and spend a few minutes thinking about all of the glorious things that await you once you’ve gotten through the day, or the week: biking with your partner, having drinks with friends, the summer cruise you’re planning.

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    Like the other visualization techniques we’ve talked about, this practice keeps your eye on the prize, and it’s a conscious form of procrastination because you can’t have that drink, or board that cruise ship unless you meet that deadline, which inevitably forces your mind back on work.

    Featured photo credit: Becca Tapert via unsplash.com

    Reference

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