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Published on May 12, 2021

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation: Is One Better Than The Other?

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation: Is One Better Than The Other?

Have you observed the behavior of children as they carry out daily tasks? They may naturally be inclined towards playing games with friends but would need a push to do their homework. Children may enjoy eating junk food by themselves but need adult monitoring while reluctantly having vegetables.

As these kids grow up, the behavior remains the same. There are many reasons we do certain things. Sometimes, we’re internally motivated to make something happen, and other times we’re driven externally. Such a dichotomy involves contrasting intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation:[1]

“When intrinsically motivated, people engage in an activity because they find it interesting and inherently satisfying. By contrast, when extrinsically motivated, people engage in an activity to obtain some instrumentally separable consequence, such as the attainment of a reward, the avoidance of punishment, or the achievement of some valued outcome.”

Read on to learn more about intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation and find out how reward-oriented behavior influences our productivity and how we can regulate it!

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What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

All the theories that describe what classifies as intrinsic motivation talk about a natural drive from within to pursue an activity because it gives us pleasure.

Some psychology researchers have associated intrinsic behavior with basic human needs, creativity, performance enhancement, and contentment.[2] When we carry out a task that fulfills our natural urges, such as hunger, thirst, and sleep, we are better equipped with the drive to complete a task. Other times, we might simply do something because it stimulates the aesthetic experience of being in that state of activity, such as hobbies.

Simply put, activities that bring us satisfaction and joy are powered by intrinsic motivation because an internal reward system fuels them.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation

  • Studying because you enjoy the process of gaining knowledge and not simply because you want good grades
  • Helping out a friend/family member with something out of love without expecting anything in return from them
  • Standing in the kitchen for hours to prepare your favorite meal because the end product satiates your hunger and gives you joy
  • Pursuing a hobby, such as gardening, trekking, camping, and playing sports, among others, to experience an aesthetic pleasure
  • Running a marathon to feel physically rejuvenated instead of seeking the prize money
  • Taking up extra responsibility at work/school to improve your skills without the intention of gaining recognition or earning someone’s favor

What Is Extrinsic Motivation?

When we are not inherently motivated to perform a task because it does not bring about a sense of satisfaction, we are extrinsically motivated. Such motivation facilitates our desire to attain a reward or avoid punishment.

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Not all the work we do brings us joy, owing to its repetitive nature, urgency, necessity, frequency, duration, or monotony. Whether it is dragging ourselves to work/school every morning or working on weekends, we tend to undertake tasks that might not inherently please or satisfy us. Usually, an external force or ulterior motive drives us to complete such tasks. Rewards like money, praise, and fame drive our motivation extrinsically.

However, extrinsic motivation does not necessarily mean that we are unwilling to do something. We just seek an external reward from it. For example, a person might like writing but goes the extra mile to make money out of it.

Point to be noted: Offering external rewards for something that already rewards inherently can decrease motivation, known as the overjustification effect.[3]

Examples of Extrinsic Motivation

  • Working a part-time job to make extra money while still being a student
  • Participating in competitions to win prizes and earn fame
  • Attending classes regularly not because the lecture is exciting but to maintain the attendance record
  • Going to the office on lazy days to avoid pay-cut
  • Completing a task well before time to earn praise and recognition
  • Doing something you don’t like just to avoid public judgment
  • Doing chores to flatter parents before requesting something from them

The 3 Regulators of Productivity

As social beings, we interact with our surroundings to tend to our satisfaction and gain. Despite being interlinked with various social factors, we still act independently as individually identifiable beings with preferences and opinions.

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Daniel H. Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, talks about the evolving state of the digital economy and leaders can adopt more effective methods of motivation. He proposes three principles of increasing productivity: autonomy, mastery (alternatively, competence), and purpose. Detaching his propositions from the workplace context to universalize it, I shall discuss the impact of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation on these three principles.

  • Autonomy refers to the amount of creativity and control we hold over individual expression without any external influence. It determines our independence in making choices and deciding the course of future actions.
  • Mastery or competence is our capacity to execute a task to the best of our ability without any external help. Our competency level governs how well we can perform when tasked with something.
  • Purpose alludes to the yearning within individuals to contribute to humankind’s more meaningful existence beyond the self.

Productivity is a cumulative result of the above three that motivation regulates. In the following section, we shall explore the differing impacts of the two kinds of motivation on individual performance: intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation: Is There a Third Option?

In a psychological study, Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci found out that “conditions supportive of autonomy and competence reliably facilitated this vital expression of the human growth tendency, whereas conditions that controlled behavior and hindered perceived reflectance undermined its expression.”[4]

In other words, whether a task is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, it should not negatively impact our natural abilities.

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They also concluded that “Excessive control, nonoptimal challenges, and lack of connectedness…disrupt the inherent actualizing and organizational tendencies endowed by nature, and thus such factors result not only in the lack of initiative and responsibility but also in distress.” Simply put, unachievable challenges and emotional detachment can diminish individuals’ natural abilities and negatively impact performance.

Hence, it is safe to conclude that positive motivation is the key to performance enhancement without mentally, physically, or emotionally tiring out an individual. Whether it is at school, work, or social circles, superiors must ensure that an assigned task must be positively motivated in a way that warrants commitment, interest, and productivity. Hence, the type of motivation is not significant to performance as long as it does not hinder the three principles of productivity.

How Can You Positively Motivate Others?

Provide regular feedback: Individuals putting in efforts to make something happen, like hearing about their strengths and weaknesses. But before doing that, you must establish feedback-giving as a positive and encouraging process towards development within the social setup!

  • Set attainable goals: Asking too much from people negatively impacts performance as it does not respect their abilities. It can also be severely discouraging as it prevents individuals from giving their best, thinking that it is unattainable.
  • Challenge them by gradually increasing the level: Once you have gauged a person’s skill level, you can slowly give them more significant tasks to expand their abilities.
  • Inspire them: Setting an example is the best way to motivate others. You could perform your best to let people know what you expect from them.
  • Establish a trust relationship: Trust is the key to maintaining any human relationship, whether personal or professional. Ensuring the existence of this emotion comforts and inspires them to do better.
  • Maintain a healthy reward system: Humans cannot resist rewards, whether intrinsic or extrinsic. Maintaining a healthy reward system can propel others to work harder and productively.
  • Seek feedback from them: Finally, seeking feedback is just as important as giving it. Don’t forget to ask people’s opinions on the changes you can make to your approach!

Final Thoughts

Looking at your life with a bird’s eye view isn’t always easy. You sometimes need external motivators who see your potential and help you pave a path to success. But even when you have external motivators backing you up, paying close attention to your internal dialogue will help you cross the roadblocks.

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And do not forget, motivation isn’t the goal in itself—it’s the pathway to a long journey where you achieve more milestones, and looking at the bird’s eye view of your life becomes easier. Have a happy journey!

More About Motivation

Featured photo credit: Stephen Leonardi via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Jay Mandel

Jay is an Entrepreneur and the Founder of Your Brand Coach

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Last Updated on June 2, 2021

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