9 Extrinsic Motivation Examples You See Throughout Life

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One classic commercial from the 80’s-90’s that you probably remember (if you’re of age) was for Klondike bars. I’m sure you can recite the song in your head: What would you do-ooo…for a Klondike bar!

There was a whole series of these commercials portraying people doing silly things such as acting like a chicken or hugging a cactus in order to gain the reward of this ice cream treat. It was a catchy (and memorable) marketing strategy that relied on the lure of extrinsic motivation to sell a product.

When you think of the things that motivate you in life, they probably vary from small sweet treats or a paycheck to larger incentives such as gaining a sense of fulfillment or happiness in life. But these are very different types of motivating factors–one is extrinsic motivation and the other is intrinsic.

But what is the difference, and why does it matter? In this article, we will start by defining the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Then, we will look at nine examples of extrinsic motivating factors that you’ll come across in life to further clarify the difference between the two.

What is The Difference Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation?

We have talked about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation before, but seeing as motivation is a huge factor in how we behave on a daily basis, it’s an important topic to continue to explore.

Intrinsic motivation comes from the inherent value of the activity you’re doing, meaning that you find the process to be rewarding. On the other hand, the idea of extrinsic motivation jumps over the process and moves directly to the outcome. It’s derived from the desire to gain an incentive of some sort that’s independent from the activity.

The rewards involved with extrinsic motivation can be tangible or psychological. Psychological extrinsic motivating factors could be something like praise, acclimation, or avoiding an adverse outcome (such as getting in trouble). These aren’t things that you can hold, but they’re rewards that are independent from the activity.

The downside to relying on extrinsic motivation to get something done is that once the reward is gone or its value has been lost, there’s no more enticement to engage in the activity. For example, if you depend on your job to get a paycheck and you were told that you were no longer going to be paid for your work, you probably wouldn’t show up the next day.

This isn’t to say that everyone would up and quit without giving it a second thought if they were no longer getting paid to do their job. People’s careers often give them a sense of purpose, which is hard to walk away from.  And, people also sometimes choose to work without getting paid–such as for an internship or a volunteer opportunity. This is because there is an internal force, like personal growth or satisfaction, that’s driving the need to engage in the task.

Studies have found that the type of motivation fueling a behavior is more influential than the amount of incentives at hand when it comes to factors such as performance, mental health, problem-solving ability, creativity, and learning. So, even if a large amount of money is at stake, gaining a sense of personal fulfillment from doing something is considered to be more valuable.

Extrinsic motivation brings in a factor of control, which makes people feel pressured to behave in certain ways. Alternatively, intrinsic motivation allows for autonomy, which gives people free will over their actions. Both of these types of motivation incite desired behaviors, but while extrinsic motivation can be helpful, you really want to focus on intrinsic motivation to get yourself to complete your important goals

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation often work together to fuel human behavior. You may be passionate about your job, so you go above and beyond because it gives you a sense of fulfillment, and you’re also driven by opportunities for recognition or bonuses. But overall, having intrinsic motivation to do something is more effective than extrinsic motivation if the desired behavior is long-term.

Let’s take a look at some examples of extrinsic motivation that are common in life.

9 Extrinsic Motivation Examples You See Throughout Life

1. Working for a Paycheck

Starting with the obvious, I’m sure if money weren’t an issue, many of us would quit our jobs. When you think of money as a motivator, you may think that a higher paying job may lead to better results–so if you were to get a raise at work, you would start engaging more or trying harder.

However, studies show that the relationship between your paycheck and how much effort you put forth at work is more complicated than that. The research actually shows that if you were able to choose your income, it wouldn’t impact your job satisfaction.

A meta-analysis that covered 120 years of studies found that there’s a very weak correlation between salary and job satisfaction–those who earned a relatively high salary reported similar levels of job satisfaction as those earning much lower wages. What’s more, there was no significant difference found in employee engagement relative to their pay.

This suggests that companies who want their employees to be engaged shouldn’t simply turn to financial incentives to motivate their staff, because this source of extrinsic motivation won’t increase employees’ sense of commitment or obligation to their job.

2. Helping Someone to Get Something in Return

Whether it’s being in their good graces or receiving a favor in return, when someone asks you for help, you probably think, “What’s in it for me?” Otherwise, why would this person think you would agree to help them? They’re asking for an exchange of your time and energy in return for fulfilling their needs.

Let’s say this is a co-worker asking for help on a project because they put it off for too long. In return, they may offer you an IOU for when you may need help in the future. This can serve as an extrinsic source of motivation to go out of your way, but you may also consider the intrinsic reward of feeling like an important part of a team.

3. Using a Store Loyalty Card

Many stores offer loyalty cards or rewards programs to their customers to help ensure customers always choose their store over their competitors. These cards or programs typically come with benefits such as additional savings or an opportunity for future discounts.

However, what happens when the reward goes away? Will customers continue to shop at that store? According to Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory, which we reviewed in this article on the 7 top motivational theories, once rewards such as these are terminated, people return to their pre-reward behaviors. Because of this, marketing professionals recognize that loyalty programs may not always result in genuine brand loyalty or an intrinsic motivation for customers to continue to return.

4. Paying Taxes to Avoid Getting in Trouble

I personally hate organizing all of the necessary documents every year to send in my taxes. I’m not sure that anyone particularly enjoys or looks forward to this task. However, we do it to avoid getting in trouble with the government or being charged a fine.

This is an example of an extrinsic motivating factor that isn’t something you’re seeking to gain (except maybe if you’re expecting a tax return), it’s a punishment you’re trying to avoid.

5. Going to College to Make Your Family Proud

For some, going to college is the “expected” next step after high school, but their sights are set on something else. Making your family proud or meeting their expectations is an extrinsic motivating factor if going to college isn’t in your heart of hearts. This may also be true if your course of study isn’t actually your passion–it’s simply what your family wants you to do so you can follow in their footsteps.

These external pressures can strongly impact one’s course of action after high school.

6. Spending More on Designer Clothes

If an item of clothing makes you feel confident and it happens to be from a designer brand, that’s one thing. However, if you spend hundreds of dollars on a shirt just so you can display its logo to impress other people, your motivation is coming from an external source.

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Your motivation is coming from an external source ,if you spend a lot of money on a shirt just so you can display its logo to impress other people.

It’s easy to save money on clothes if you’re buying purely for functional reasons, but it’s also easy to believe that splurging on a luxury item will make you happy. But of course, this feeling of happiness is fleeting. What’s more, research shows that this rewarding feeling decreases with each big purchase you make. 

7. Exercise

When gyms and fitness centers try to gain new members, their marketing strategies often highlight some potential benefits of exercising, such as losing weight and looking good on the beach this summer. I can’t recall seeing any such ads that try to convince the public that running on a treadmill is fun.

The potential outcome of looking great in a bathing suit is completely separate from the process of working out, and by focusing on this extrinsic motivating factor, one’s adherence to an exercise schedule may be limited if (when) they don’t see immediate results.

Studies have actually found that appearance-related motivations for exercising are negatively related to the amount of time spent exercising per week, whereas factors such as enjoyment and ability are positively related to this measure. But it’s difficult to convince someone of the personal enjoyment of exercising without them experiencing it for themselves.

8. In Parenting

Parents often use extrinsic motivating factors when teaching their children how to behave well. Whether it’s rewarding your child throughout potty training or taking away a toy for not listening, parents look to external motivators to instill desired priorities into their children.

Now, while directing your children’s behaviors through external rewards is certainly a short-term means to an end, you can’t expect a three-year-old to feel a sense of inherent personal satisfaction from picking up their toys, so showing some praise for doing this positive behavior is a common tactic parents use.

9. Studying to Get a Good Grade

If you only want to do well in school to receive the validation from your teacher or peers, you probably won’t be motivated or feel like being productive when that sense of validation isn’t at your disposal.

For example, if you have an optional assignment that won’t be graded, will you take the time and effort to do it because it will help you increase your understanding of the material? If you’re relying on extrinsic motivation, the answer is likely going to be no.

Final Thoughts on Examples of Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation isn’t bad–these rewards can be effective in keeping people motivated, and can be especially useful when you have to do something that’s difficult or you’re not really interested in, like a mundane task for work. This type of motivation is just short-term and has an end in sight, so it will only get you but so far.  

And, consider this: the more you’re given an extrinsic reward (praise) for doing something that comes with a natural reward (a sense of accomplishment), the more you’ll expect to get out of doing the behavior. This may impact your ability to be successful in the future once the potential for gaining that extrinsic reward is gone, which can limit your motivation to succeed.

In the end, it’s best to rely on a mixture of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to accomplish the things that you really want to get done in life. While you may need some extrinsic motivation to get you through some tough spots, rely on intrinsic motivation for your long-term success.

Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.

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9 Extrinsic Motivation Examples You See Throughout Life