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Last Updated on February 11, 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.

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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 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.

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Last Updated on February 17, 2020

What Is Self-Actualization? 13 Traits of Self-Actualized People

What Is Self-Actualization? 13 Traits of Self-Actualized People

Have you ever heard of self-actualization? As someone who has been a personal development junkie for several years now, I was shocked to learn about self-actualization recently.

When I came across the term, I couldn’t help but think, “What is this self-actualization thing, and how have I gone so many years without hearing about it?”

Maybe you’re in the same boat. Perhaps you’ve read up on tons of other topics like self-limiting beliefs, how to gain more self-awareness, how to be more self-confident, but you’ve never heard of self-actualization.

Don’t fret! I’m going to give you a crash course on what self-actualization is and which 13 traits are most commonly found in a self-actualized person.

What is Self Actualization?

When I explore a new topic, I can’t help but start with examining the definition. This one comes from Google Dictionary:

“The realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone.”

The concept of self-actualization came from Abraham Maslow. Maslow was an American psychologist who is best known for his hierarchy of innate human needs. Like all hierarchy’s, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is listed in order of priority and is often represented as a pyramid.

    At the bottom are physiological needs, such as food and water. Up from there is safety and then belongingness, which would include intimate relationships and friends. Above belongingness is esteem or things like prestige and the feeling of accomplishment.

    On the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy rests self-actualization. And as we’ve seen in the definition, this means that the highest of human needs is to achieve one’s full potential.

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    So, if becoming a self-actualized person means realizing our greatest talents and achieving our greatest potential, how do we go about doing that? How do we achieve self-actualization?

    13 Traits of a Self-Actualized Person

    Let’s start by examining the top 13 traits of a highly self-actualized person and work backward from there.

    1. They Practice Acceptance

    Self-actualized people accept themselves and other people as they are, and they have no expectations for how people should be otherwise. They understand that no one is perfect, and they accept their own quirks, desires, and flaws as well as those of others.

    While many people wish they were different in some way, self-actualized people do not. They love themselves for who they are, and they do not apologize or feel guilt or shame for who they are.

    2. They Are Authentic and True

    A self-actualized individual has a strong sense of who they are. They have a deep understanding of their beliefs and values, and they live in congruence with those beliefs and values.

    Because they accept and understand themselves, they are authentic and true to themselves. They do not pretend to be anything they are not. Not only are self-actualized people authentic, but they seek authenticity as well, both in people and in the world. They are quick to spot dishonesty.

    3. They Possess a Strong Sense of Realism

    Another characteristic of a self-actualized person is their sense of realism.

    To the average person, self-actualized people seem to have sound judgment or excellent gut instincts, but it’s far more than that. Their ability to logically and rationally evaluate the world allows them to spot dishonesties, fakes, and inconsistencies.

    Self-actualized people seek truth in everything they encounter, which gives then a keen ability to see behind the scenes more often than most people.

    4. They Live in the Here and Now

    Because self-actualized people are accepting and are grounded in reality, they are exceptionally good at living in the here and now. Self-actualized people do have goals, but they don’t focus on the future at the expense of the present.

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    For the self-actualized, the journey towards a goal is just as important as achieving the goal, if not slightly more so.

    5. They Are Autonomous and Independent

    Self-actualized people are highly independent and do not conform to the norms of society. They do not depend on people, the world, or any external factors for their happiness. Instead, they draw satisfaction from their own development and personal growth.

    They are comfortable being alone, and because they are so independent, self-actualized people are not bothered by the opinions that others may have about them. They accept themselves as they are, and the opinions of others cannot change that.

    6. They Have Excellent Moral Intuition

    Self-actualized people do not allow themselves to be molded by culture or by society. They have an excellent moral compass, and they are deliberate about their decisions. They reject what they see as bad or evil, and they adopt what they see as good.

    Because they are driven by their own moral intuition, they have a strong code of ethics that cannot be swayed by society.

    The self-actualized do not accept everything as black and white, right or wrong, They evaluate all sides of an issue and make their own decisions based on what they believe to be right and just.

    7. They Seek Growth and Development

    Self-actualized people not only draw happiness from personal growth, but they are also intrinsically motivated to develop their potential.

    They have moved beyond Maslow’s first four hierarchies are no longer motivated by basic human needs. They know that they are capable of more in life and they’re driven to see how much they can grow.

    They also view their growth as a tool to help more people, not just themselves.

    8. They are Problem-Solving, Humanitarians

    Self-actualized people have a genuine desire to help the human race. They are quick to spot problems in the world and, because they are problem solvers, they don’t hesitate to look for solutions.

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    This genuine desire to help is not rooted in personal gain, glory, recognition, or any other self-serving motive. Self-actualized people have a strong sense of purpose and want to leave the world better than they found it.

    9. They Have a Strong Sense of Purpose

    Because self-actualized people are humanitarians and they seek never-ending personal growth. They often times adopt a mission or purpose that is far beyond themselves or their own needs.

    This mission is typically meant to solve a problem for the good of all mankind and gives them a powerful sense of purpose. This purpose demands much of their energy, and they are more than happy to spend their time making a significant impact on the world.

    10. They Seek Peak Experiences

    Self-actualized people seek frequent peak experiences. These are not everyday experiences of joy—they are experiences that involve a heightened sense of wonder, awe, or ecstasy—a feeling of transcendence.[1]

    Peak performances tend to be highly significant to one’s life. They are fulfilling, thrilling, intrinsically rewarding, and in many cases, feel very spiritual.

    While rare, peak experiences can happen for anyone at any time, those who are self-actualized deliberately seek out these experiences routinely.

    11. They Embrace the Unknown

    While most people fear the unknown, self-actualized people embrace it. Self-actualized people understand that to grow as a person, you have to step beyond your comfort zone and into the unknown.

    Self-actualized people seek to reach their full potential, which means they have to explore the unknown. They cannot reach their full potential by staying where they are. They cannot cling to the familiar.

    They do not fear the unknown. Instead, the self-actualized welcome and embrace the unknown—they accept it and learn from it. They are not afraid of the many curve balls that life tends to throw their way.

    12. They Are Unconventional and Spontaneous

    Because they are not afraid of the unknown, self-actualized people tend to be very spontaneous and unconventional. While they are able to follow most social and cultural expectations, they have no problem doing their own thing when they decide it’s appropriate.

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    They do not feel confined by the norms of society and are willing to explore the unknown world beyond those expectations, even if the new experience is not a social norm.

    13. They Have a Thoughtful Sense of Humor

    Self-actualized people have a deep and thoughtful sense of humor. They are very good at finding the humor in most situations, and they enjoy laughing at themselves.

    On the other hand, they never use humor to embarrass or ridicule other people, and they never make jokes at the expense of others.

    The Path to Self-Actualization

    So there you have it: 13 traits that self-actualized people share. To get on the path to self-actualization, you can study these traits and seek to live a life that mirrors them.

    There’s no step-by-step plan to follow to become self-actualized. However, these 13 traits offer you a guide to becoming more self-actualized over time. Remember, becoming self-actualized is not a destination; it’s a journey.

    You can learn to be more present in your life, to accept yourself and those around you, and to be more spontaneous and unconventional. You can work towards finding your purpose in life, to becoming more humanitarian, and embracing the unknown.

    As you live your life, focus on improving these 13 areas of your life, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming self-actualized.

    Good luck!

    More About Self-Discovery

    Featured photo credit: Denys Nevozhai via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Very Well Mind: Peak Experiences in Psychology

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