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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

What Is Intrinsic Motivation And How Does It Work?

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What Is Intrinsic Motivation And How Does It Work?

“Excuse me. Do you have an answer to my question?” my cocky young interviewer asked me poignantly towards the beginning of an on-campus interview for an investment firm. “Yes,” I answered. “Of course.” I continued. “I’m just gathering my thoughts.” His question, “What motivates you?” and the answers he was suggesting when I didn’t respond immediately—money, recognition, and material items—had clearly caught me off guard.

It wasn’t the situation that made me uncomfortable as I was very confident, and this was not my first on-campus interview. I wasn’t nervous either as my interviewer, Keith, was pretty laid back and was not much older than I was. Translation: he didn’t intimidate me at all, although I knew he was trying to assert his authority.

The setting wasn’t throwing me off, despite the slew of coeds passing through my peripheral vision as Keith had suggested we hold our interview outside to keep it more casual.

So, what was it? What was keeping me from instantly answering his question? I searched my 20-year-old brain as I took a drink of water to buy a few more seconds when it hit me. Not only did I have an answer for him, but I also knew what was causing my struggle.

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

The answer to both questions was deep in my memory banks from a Psych 101 lecture on motivation my first year at the university. It was in this lecture that we defined the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

The American Psychological Association definitions are similar to those provided by my Psych professor.

  • Extrinsic motivation – an external incentive to engage in a specific activity, especially motivation arising from the expectation of punishment or reward.[1] It sounds like, “I really want that promotion to make more money.”
  • Intrinsic motivation – an incentive to engage in a specific activity that derives from pleasure in the activity itself rather than because of any external benefits that might be obtained.
  • [2] It sounds like, “I’m going to work really hard to get that promotion so I can be more fulfilled at work.”

As I sat across from Keith, I remembered the differences between the two and pinpointed the source of my mental struggle with his question. His suggested answers clearly showed that he was extrinsically motivated, whereas I was not and had never been throughout my life. This led me to quickly realize that I was intrinsically motivated in many areas, school, sports, work, and life in general.

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This begs some questions:

  • Where did my inherent, intrinsic motivation come from?
  • What exactly is an intrinsic motivation for most people?
  • How does it work?

Let’s take a more in-depth look to help you understand where this fits in your life and how to gain control over it.

In the Beginning

From the time when we were just children, we learn in every situation and environment and from our parents, friends, teachers, and society. This typically occurs by mimicking behavior as all social species do.

One of the first lessons we learn is that there are consequences that arise from our behavior. This takes many forms, such as being given a gold star on our homework to having our favorite toy taken away for misbehaving. With each situation, we quickly determine what motivates us to a specific behavior.

This is why psychologists say that Intrinsic motivation is centrally involved in spontaneous exploration and curiosity. It is a crucial concept in developmental psychology and has been argued to be a crucial mechanism for open-ended cognitive development in humans.[3]

During these formative years, these motivating factors influence us across multiple areas of our lives, whether we realize it or not.

Development

In the case of intrinsic motivation, we do things such as tasks because of the pleasure derived from the task itself. We are driven internally by our enjoyment, satisfaction, and internal growth. It doesn’t matter what others believe or what they do; we will still act in line with this inner drive.

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Using our earlier example, this is the individual that wants the fulfillment of the promotion. The psychological rewards may come from the enjoyment of the actual work, the satisfaction of the increased effort, or even the mental improvements that learning provides. In all cases, the rewards are all internally driven.

This can be an internal struggle for many people as they are torn between what they have to do and what they want to do. This struggle may appear in many areas of one’s life and may range from minor to major. Minor examples could be as simple as choosing what to eat or studying or playing video games. Major examples involve more long-term consequences, such as what elective to take in college or what area to live in.

Sometimes, this struggle can actually lead to the inability to decide, which can have other detrimental effects on the individual.

The most identifiable example of choosing a “have to” over a “want” involves two of the most significant areas of people’s lives: money and career. Many individuals choose a career that will provide the most substantial financial reward over another that they will enjoy more or even love.

When you consider this, It’s not as surprising that a global Gallup poll showed that 85% of people are unhappy in their current job.[4] This is a depressing statistic indeed. These individuals are clearly not being motivated intrinsically and are being led by extrinsic motivators.

But is this a bad thing?

The answer depends on you. If you live a life of second-guessing and regret, then probably so. If you are happy, fulfilled in other ways, and content, then maybe not.

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Still, there are ways to foster your intrinsic motivation in any circumstance. A big component of this is where your mindset and focus lie in any task or situation.

Unlocking Your Intrinsic Motivation

Let’s say you need to dig a ditch. For many, this may seem like a chore that they would neither choose nor enjoy without being paid or forced to. Both of which are extrinsic motivators if you’ve been following along. But what if you were digging the ditch to create a swimming pool that will provide years of enjoyment for you and your family? This would certainly change things for you and most others.

You may then think to yourself, “Today is such a beautiful day!” Or “Man, this is great exercise!” If you choose to think this way, then isn’t it possible to get some satisfaction out of the digging experience? By focusing on the pleasure of being outside and the workout that digging is providing your body, you shift to a mindset ripe for growth.

While these might appear to be extrinsic thoughts, they are actually a form of what psychologist Abraham Maslow referred to as “growth motivation”—motivation that leads to growth from over and above basic needs.[5] At the heart of this growth are things such as talents, capacities, and creative tendencies.

According to Maslow, all of us have a hierarchy of needs. He proposed that motivation is the result of a person’s attempt at fulfilling five basic needs: physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization. He further theorized that these needs could create internal pressures that influence a person’s behavior. Growth motivation is a part of our self-actualization and our desire for self-fulfillment.

So, how does all this “psychobabble” fit in with your intrinsic motivation?

The psychobabble is the key to unlocking your intrinsic motivation. Once you understand where your internal growth comes from, you can shift your focus to this area rather than any external reward. In doing so, you will notice that work becomes pleasure and pain becomes progress with all of it leading to growth within yourself.

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It is truly a magical place within that will lead to years of success and happiness for you as it has for me. But how, you may be asking?

5 Tips to Help You Kickstart Your Intrinsic Motivation

  1. Start by taking a look at all components of each situation or task you are faced with.
  2. Break it down to individual components—think: Why? How? What?
  3. Focus on the aspect that will bring you internal satisfaction or enjoyment.
  4. Make this the cornerstone of the activity.
  5. Reflect and practice gratitude for at least this component—if not everything.

Need a little more help? Get this free Worksheet For Instant Motivation Boost. With this worksheet, you can figure what motivates you in a step-by-step way and kickstart your intrinsic motivation easily. Get your free worksheet here.

Final Thoughts

With practice, you will become more and more in tune with your desire for self-fulfillment and intrinsic motivation. This will lead to more gratitude and more enjoyment, and you’ll be off to the races or maybe a job interview like me.

My success didn’t come from being an investor with Keith’s firm. In fact, it didn’t come from the financial industry at all. It did come from learning to grow from the benefits of Intrinsic motivation in all situations.

In case you’re wondering, I finally answered Keith’s question with one of my own. “Keith, did you ever take Psych 101?”

More Tips on Staying Motivated

Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] APA Dictionary of Psychology: extrinsic motivation
[2] APA Dictionary of Psychology: intrinsic motivation
[3] Frontiers in Neurorobotics: What is intrinsic motivation? A typology of computational approaches
[4] Gallup: Dismal Employee Engagement Is a Sign of Global Mismanagement
[5] Simply Psychology: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

More by this author

Rick Ornelas

Rick Ornelas is a professional coach, speaker, and author of 12 Hours of Heaven; Lessons for a Better World. He teaches entrepreneurs how to level up their businesses to expand their social impact and spread positive change around the world.

Why You Should Stop Avoiding Difficult Tasks (And How to Do So) What Is Achievement Motivation And How To Use It How To Motivate Yourself To Study When You’re Too Busy With Work What Is Extrinsic Motivation and How Does It Work? What Is Intrinsic Motivation And How Does It Work?

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Last Updated on November 22, 2021

20 All-Time Best Motivational Books to Inspire You

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20 All-Time Best Motivational Books to Inspire You

Sometimes going through life can be a little bit of a roller coaster. There are many ups and just as many downs as we journey through the high and low points.

Life becomes a little simpler when you accept that as we pursue our goals, there will inevitably be challenges and barriers along the way. This is why a few extra sources of inspiration, such as motivational books, never hurt anyone.

The following motivational books were selected because they can fulfill this need for you. These books will challenge you to question your current perspectives and grow in unexpected ways.

The following motivational books will provide you with a source of inspiration great enough to light your internal fire!

1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Fankl

    Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s discusses in-depth his experience with living in Nazi death camps and describes the lessons it taught him about spiritual survival. Frankl puts forth a convincing argument that avoiding suffering isn’t realistic. However, through choosing how we cope with that suffering and the meaning we ascribe to it, we retain the ability to move forward with renewed purpose.

    This certainly is a book for the generations that anyone can gain value from. Man’s Search for Meaning has been listed as one of the most influential books in America and has currently sold over 10 million copies in twenty-four languages.

    If you’re looking for motivational books that can help you learn about the value of ascribing meaning to suffering, this is one for you!

    Get the book here!

    2. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

      Of all the motivational books out there, this is a must-read for those who are into life design.

      Through this book, Jen provides her readers with simple exercises to help people identify their self-limiting beliefs, attitudes, and habits. She provides some great advice and does so in a humorous way to truly captivate her audience and motivate them to begin achieving the success they want from their lives.

      Jen’s goal is to help her readers truly understand why they have developed certain thought and behavior patterns. She helps us to focus on the things that we can change and accept the things which we cannot.

      Overall, the book offers a new comical approach towards inspiring and motivating its audiences, and can be enjoyed by anyone who decides to pick it up.

      Get the book here!

      3. Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World by William H. McRaven

        If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.

        Make Your Bed is a book which outlines the lessons contained in a speech given by Admiral William H. McRaven. In this speech, he shared the 10 principles he learned during Navy Seal training that helped him overcome the various challenges he faced throughout his career.

        This speech went viral, gaining over 10 million views as it clearly explained how anyone can use these lessons to better both themselves and the world around them. This book recounts tales from his service and offers simple and practical wisdom and words of advice and encouragement which will inspire readers to achieve more in their daily lives!

        Get the book here!

        4. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

          The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a wonderful story about an inspiring journey towards self-discovery. Mysticism and wisdom combine in this classic novel that has sold millions of copies worldwide.

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          This story outlines the journey of a young shepherd boy who desires to travel the world in search of treasure but ends up discovering a vastly different type of riches than he initially imagined.

          Overall, this book encourages each of us to listen to our hearts, recognize our unique opportunities in life, and pursue our passions.

          Get the book here!

          5. Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

            Charles Duhigg’s Smarter, Faster, Better outlines 8 productivity concepts that help certain companies and individuals accomplish so much more than others. This book outlines the differences between the perspectives of some of the worlds top performers and those who are less successful.

            These productivity concepts explain how everyday people can improve their everyday lives. Overall, this book can help anyone learn how to succeed and ensure that their average day is productive and not just busy.

            Get the book here!

            6. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

              Don Miguel Ruiz uses his book The Four Agreements to reveal the limiting beliefs that we commonly hold which rob us of joy and cause us to endure needless suffering. This book provides an insightful code of conduct which imparts its wisdom in an accessible manner to its readers.

              The Four Agreements encourages self-reflection and encourages us to do better within our everyday lives. This is why the book has sold over 6 million copies in the U.S. alone and has been a New York Times bestseller for over 8 years.

              Get the book here!

              7. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

                In this book, psychologist Angela Duckworth, takes her readers on a journey to argue that the secret to being a success relies largely on an individual’s grit, a unique blend of passion and persistence.

                The insights offered by Duckworth in this book encourage us to never underestimate the power of consistent, long-term action towards a goal, especially when you’re passionate about it.

                Duckworth addresses the thoughts which commonly intrude into our heads when we fail and gives us methods to combat them.

                If the idea that success is about your perseverance and your ability to persist even when times get tough resonates with you, this is one of the motivational books for you.

                Get the book here!

                8. Mindset: the New Psychology for Success by Carol S. Dweck

                  Psychologist Carol Dweck outlines years of research in her book Mindset. She argues that the mindset we adopt is a huge predictor of our success and achievement. She believes that nearly every area of human endeavor can be influenced by the mindset we adopt and how we select to approach our goals.

                  She discusses the downsides of adopting a fixed mindset as well as the benefits commonly associated with adopting a growth-oriented mindset. Whereas one mindset believes our abilities are fixed, the other believes our skills and abilities can be developed assuming we are willing to put in the effort.

                  This is a highly motivating paradigm shift which can encourage amazing accomplishments.

                  Get the book here!

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                  9. Choose Yourself by James Altucher

                    Choose Yourself by James Altucher is one of the best motivational books around. James argues that the most valuable asset we have and the one which we should be investing the most time, effort, and resources into is — ourselves. This whole book is about how we can achieve success simply by choosing to invest in ourselves and our growth.

                    This book is sure to inspire and motivate you to invest in developing your talents further and would be an excellent resource for anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset.

                    Get the book here!

                    10. High-Hanging Fruit: Build Something Great by Going Where No One Else Will by Mark Rampolla

                      High-hanging Fruit by Mark Rampolla encourages us to reach higher in our life endeavors, especially business if we want to achieve more success and leave our mark on the world.

                      In this novel, the reader is encouraged to find ways to align their passion, purpose, and integrity to achieve success. These lessons can benefit anyone in any field of work and encourage us to stand up for our beliefs and what’s important to us.

                      Overall, Rampolla wants each of us to remain true to our ore values so that we can each reach our personal definitions of success and promote significant changes in areas of life we are passionate about.

                      Get the book here!

                      11. The Power of Positive Thinking: 10 Traits for Maximum Results by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

                        This international bestseller has sold over 5 million copies worldwide and has helped many people live more fulfilling lives through adopting Dr. Peale’s message of faith and inspiration.

                        Not only does this book help people to achieve happiness and higher levels of life-satisfaction, but it also teaches us that each life is worthwhile.

                        This book instills a belief in one’s self and a feeling of determination and motivation to pursue our goals with power, control, and persistence.

                        Overall, it’s a great motivational book for those individuals seeking a boost of motivation in their daily lives.

                        Get the book here!

                        12. Girl Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis

                          When it comes to motivational books, Rachel Hollis nails it!

                          Girl, Stop Apologizing was written primarily for a female audience she was trying to inspire. She wrote this book because all too often, she was seeing women failing to live up to their full potential due to the fear of falling short of perfection and not being enough.

                          In this New York Times #1 bestselling author, Rachel seeks to send a wake-up call to the women currently defining themselves through the lens established by other individuals, instead of how they wish to define themselves.

                          She encourages women everywhere to stop talking themselves out of their dreams and to begin fully pursuing them. To help her audience she provides a lot of great information regarding which excuses we should say goodbye to, which habits to adopt, and the skills that will provide you with the confidence to live your best life!

                          Get the book here!

                          13. Now, Discover Your Strengths By Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton

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                            This book takes a unique approach, claiming that not anyone can become anything they want, despite what we were told as children. However, when discussed in-depth, the opinion is quite freeing.

                            This book’s main purpose is to encourage us to ignore those routes which are likely to lead us to dead ends, in favor of pursuing those which we are passionate about and that are more likely to bring us greater success and happiness.

                            Why waste so much time trying to fix our weaknesses when we can double-down on our strengths and allow them to flourish and grow?

                            Definitely think about adding this one to your collection of motivational books.

                            Get the book here!

                            14. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

                              This book, originally published in 1937, was written during the Great Depression and addresses the highly effective and important steps to take if we wish to encourage ourselves to become wealthy. Equally important, Hill outlines the steps we should avoid in this process as well.

                              Readers have continually enjoyed some of the timeless information, words of wisdom, and excellent advice that is presented by Hill in this book. This book is about so much more than getting rich; it’s about figuring out how to get what you want from life!

                              Get the book here!

                              15. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

                                In this self-help guide, Mark Manson tells us to cut it out and to stop trying to be positive all the time so that we can figure out what we need to do to truly become better and happier people.

                                This book offers a refreshing take which counters the motivational books currently out there. Mark refuses to sugarcoat his lessons and tells it how it is through his brutally honest approach. Mark encourages us to accept our faults and limitations, the fact that life is not always fair, and that despite our best efforts, not everybody is going to win.

                                Overall, this book presents some great philosophical wisdom for our modern generation and has empowered many individuals to gain control over their actions and their life as a whole.

                                Get the book here!

                                16. Everything Is F*cked by Mark Manson

                                  Mark Manson follows his previous #1 international bestseller with this guide discussing the problems we currently have surrounding hope.

                                  Despite believing that we live in the best time in human history, Mark outlines that everything seems to be pretty messed up. There is global warming, corrupt governments, collapsing economies, and everyone is getting offended far too easily. Mark examines our relationships with money, entertainment, and the internet, and discusses that too much of these good things can destroy us.

                                  In this book, Mark challenges us to be more open and honest with ourselves and to connect more with the world around us.

                                  Get the book here!

                                  17. Hustle: The Power to Charge Your Life with Money, Meaning, and Momentum by Neil Patel

                                    Hustle offers a game-changing guide to finding success by encouraging us to outsmart the system. Too many of us feel like we’re fighting a system that’s stacked against us and forcing us to live unfulfilling lives. This book will encourage you to break free from the rat-race and begin achieving more success on your terms through projects you actually enjoy!

                                    This book will help you redefine what hustling means and will help you realize your best path to success is through taking charge of your dreams, creating your own luck, and staying true to yourself.

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                                    If you’re looking for actionable and practical advice that goes beyond simply motivating you, this is a book you will certainly enjoy reading.

                                    Get the book here!

                                    18. Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop

                                      This book presents a refreshing take on self-empowerment and provides an honest, no-nonsense, tough-love guide which aims to help you challenge and get over your self-limiting beliefs

                                      In this book, Bishop gives you the tools and advice required to overcome your self-imposed limitations and to begin creating your unrestrained best-self. He argues that commonly, it isn’t other people standing in our way nor is it our circumstances. Commonly, it’s our negative mindsets and beliefs which are holding us back.

                                      So if you’re looking for motivational books to help you get over these limiting beliefs, you will not regret investing in this novel.

                                      Get the book here!

                                      19. The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins

                                        In The 5 Second Rule, Mel Robbins reminds us of the vast amount of support we have received from individuals throughout our lives; and that this should push and motivate us to overcome the excuses we have created to impede our progress and achievement.

                                        Through discussing a variety of different habits and entertaining stories, Mel Robbins argues that it only takes us about 5 seconds to become confident, stop procrastination, overcome fear, and live overall happier lifestyles. Just like we can all hold ourselves back, we can also push ourselves forward.

                                        This is a motivational book that is great for anyone looking to quickly add a positive push to their daily life.

                                        Get the book here!

                                        20. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

                                          This novel which shared the wisdom Mitch Albom received from his college professor Morrie Schwartz, has sold over 12 million copies around the world.

                                          In this book, Mitch joins Morrie through the final months of his dying professor’s life every Tuesday to discuss the important messages of life in a truly beautiful and heartwarming fashion.

                                          In the end, the two come together to create one final class: lessons on how to live a good life.

                                          This book is going to inevitably touch your heart and inspire you in ways many other motivational books could never even dream of doing.

                                          Get this book here!

                                          Final Thoughts

                                          If you are able to pick up even just 2 or 3 of these motivational books, you will be well on your way to living a more inspired life.

                                          Happy reading and stay motivated!

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                                          Featured photo credit: Florencia Viadana via unsplash.com

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