The Pivotal Differences Between Intrinsic And Extrinsic Motivation

Take a minute to think about the sources of your motivation. What makes you do the things you do?

Do you go to work to get a paycheck, or because you genuinely enjoy your job?

Do you drive the speed limit to avoid punishment, or because you value your safety and enjoy taking the time to take a break from everyday life in the car?

These are perfect examples that show the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Many things can motivate you to do what you do, but the primary difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is whether you are driven by an internal desire or by some external force that can be positive or negative.

Motivation refers to the driving force behind people's actions, wants, and needs. It directs how people behave and explains what causes people to repeat their behaviors.

A motive is what leads to one's actions or their inclination to act in a specific way.

Motivation is part of a cycle where thoughts affect behaviors, which drive one's performance, that then makes an impact on their thoughts again. Every part of this cycle takes into account one's attitudes, intentions, beliefs, and effort.

While some believe that motivation only exists in someone's mind, others believe it is an outcome of one's participation in social groups or in their own cultural context.

You may know from personal experience that motivation is often a result of both internal and external variables influencing your choices and actions.

Two Essential Types of Motivation

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation comes from your own feelings and from your personal values.

This internal motivation allows you to strive to achieve a goal so you can gain personal satisfaction. You enjoy the process of doing the work and get satisfaction from the operation.

Intrinsic motivators urge people to continue doing the work they are doing. In fact, it is suggested that people are more creative  and curious when they are intrinsically motivated.

If the work reinforces your values, you have an additional reason to press on, as values give your life meaning, and meaning provides a deep level of satisfaction.

What Is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation means there is something outside of yourself which is motivating you.

For example, if you have a deadline on a project, and you will not get a bonus unless you meet that deadline, that is a clear extrinsic motivator for you to get the work done.

There are actually two extrinsic motivators in this example: meeting your boss's expectations (gaining his approval) and getting your financial bonus.

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This shows that while extrinsic motivation can come from another person, it can also be some sort of tangible reward which you desire to gain or a goal you wish to achieve.

What Is The Problem With Too Much Extrinsic Motivation?

There are several problems with extrinsic motivation.

First, extrinsic rewards don't often lead people to make permanent changes. When someone receives an extrinsic reward, they are not as likely to alter their behavior for the long term, as they might with an internal motivator.

Additionally, once the extrinsic motivator goes away, the person who is working is likely to revert to their original level of effort.

Extrinsic motivators often don't change attitudes which define one's behavior. People who are extrinsically motivated are not able to make a lasting commitment to a new set of values.

Extrinsic rewards can also lose their level of effectiveness if they are overused.

For example, Ms. Jones gives a piece of candy to each student who receives an A on a quiz, test, project, or activity. However, if a student has 25 pieces of candy sitting inside their desk, there is not much motivation to continue to receive high grades.

Additionally, students may begin to feel the task they are doing is not important, but rather it is just a means to an end for getting a prize.

Or, students may become dependent on these rewards and not work toward the goal if they do not get rewarded.

Children raised without extrinsic rewards often learn to appreciate the processes of doing tasks and learning along the way.

Once they finish a task, they are not only satisfied with a short-term reward for doing a good job, but they also have a sense of satisfaction for completing the necessary work.

Rewards that work best are achievable, so students are not tempted to give up, yet they are not so easy to get that students do not have to expend any effort to achieve them.

The only way to provide such a reward is intrinsically, so the student feels an amount of pride in the work which they put into it.

How To Build Intrinsic Motivation

There are several ways to build intrinsic motivation so that external factors will not be necessary to gain results.

First, make mastery desirable. Make it appealing to students and employees to be a master at what they do so they develop a sense of enjoyment for the process.

Also, add a higher purpose to any task. Those who feel as if they are working towards a larger goal are likely to stay more motivated than those who think their goal is small or insignificant.

For students, allow them to feel as if they are in control of their education and that they can make choices about what they are learning.

Then keep reminding them that they are doing the right thing by doing hard work. This will require students to have self-direction rather than compliance, which gives them autonomy.

Being self-directed is an important internal motivator not only for students, but for adults as well. When you have the power to make decisions about the work you do, you will feel more inclined to do it well and stick with it.

Intrinsic motivation also increases as students get satisfaction from helping their classmates (or as workers help their colleagues) and when they can compare their performance favorably to others.

Allow people to trust in their success, and they will be more likely to enjoy the process.

Finally, model intrinsic behavior for those you want to influence. Demonstrate an appropriate approach to your work, expectations, beliefs, and values so you can transmit that motivation to those around you.

People who have intrinsic motivation to do their everyday job are more likely to be successful in the long run and stay in their career, continuing to promote themselves to leadership roles.

While extrinsic motivation works in the short term, it takes intrinsic motivation—a true passion for the process of what one is doing—for someone to want to continue what they’re doing.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes.” Let your internal fire ignite your desire to put on your work clothes and get it done — whatever it is.

Find your reason “why” and align your actions with your values so you have an impetus for sticking to your goals.