Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

Where does motivation come from and how do we find it? If only there were simple answers to these questions. Speaking of which, I had to build up the motivation to begin writing this blog post. Here I lay in bed, on a Sunday night, tempted to watch Netflix instead, but… somehow the irony of needing motivation to write a blog post on motivation got me here (and because I have intrinsic motivation to write of course, but we’ll get to that later).

The truth is, specific sources of motivation vary from person to person and the intensity of our motivation may shift each day. Motivation can fluctuate with the amount of sleep we get at night, whether we ate, how we feel, or even with the amount of traffic we had to get through on the way to work. Though, one question that can be extremely powerful in evaluating your ability to accomplish a goal is this:

Am I more intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to reach this goal?

So what does that mean? Simply put, intrinsic motivation comes from within and extrinsic motivation is rooted outside of ourselves. To be intrinsically motivated, we gain positive emotions when engaging in the behaviors necessary to complete a task. We might feel happiness, relaxation, pride, or strength.  When we are extrinsically motivated, we are driven to complete a task to escape punishment or to be given praise or reward.

Let’s use gaining a college degree in Psychology as an example. One person, lets call her Sandy, may genuinely be interested in the field, reading textbooks on the subject with ease as she is happy to learn the material. The other, Paul, decided to study Psychology because he wanted to make a lot of money and gain prestige. Let’s take another common goal, losing weight, using our same friends Sandy and Paul. Paul, extrinsically motivated, might do so because he thinks he would gain more complements on his appearance or others would be more attracted to him having lost the weight. Sandy, intrinsically motivated, decided to lose weight because eating well and exercising allows her to feel healthy and energized.

Take a second to think about it. What is your most pressing goal at the moment? Why do you want to achieve it? Take a piece of paper, yes a tangible piece of paper, dividing it in half. On one side list the intrinsic aspects motivating you, and on the other the extrinsic aspects. We can have a combination of each pulling us forward at the same time.

close up of text

After you’re done, take a look at the paper. Which list is longer? There isn’t anything inherently bad about extrinsic motivation, we all experience it. However, there is so much power in intrinsic motivation. Here’s the reason why (it comes back to the definition):

Extrinsic motivation relies on forces EXTERNAL to us, whereas, Intrinsic motivation arises WITHIN ourselves.

When we are driven by our own joy, our own excitement, our own love for an activity… we are much more likely to complete it. If your goal is laden with extrinsic motivators, and little to no intrinsic motivators, is it really worth your time and energy?

It’s totally up to you to decide that, but… you may find that these extrinsically laden goals drain you, because you likely don’t really want to put in the work to achieve them. If that’s the case with the goal you wrote down, consider letting it go and creating a new goal, one you truly want to achieve.

Now, I know this information won’t solve all your motivation problems, but hopefully it helps. 😊 Wishing you all the best in creating your healthy and FIT life ❤

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