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When I had my first child, I remember preparing a bag of sweets as a reward for them when they finished first grade. It was the night before their little graduation ceremony, and I recalled all the times my own mom had rewarded me with sweets. I had not learned about intrinsic motivation and how to increase intrinsic motivation until I was much older.
The result of my receiving that first bag of sweets was that I chased after temporary highs, never valued anything I couldn’t hold in my hands and eventually developed a nasty weight problem. Was I destined to repeat my mom’s error by rewarding my child with a tangible extrinsic reward?
That night, I read up on intrinsic rewards. I learned how to increase your intrinsic motivation and what intrinsic motivation does for your life, as opposed to extrinsic motivation. It was like my life suddenly fell into place in a whole new way. My eyes were open.
I could finally understand intrinsic motivation and why it made such a difference to my life. More importantly, I could set my child on the journey to intrinsic motivation and gear her up for success.
What Is Intrinsic Motivation?
Intrinsic motivation or self-determination is when you do something for the sake of doing it and because of how the activity makes you feel. The activity is the reward.
An activity that provides inherent pleasure and satisfaction, such as running because it makes you feel good, is an intrinsically motivated pursuit. When you run the race to win a medal, you are following an extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is about rewards that you feel based on how you feel due to your own actions, such as joy, satisfaction, happiness, and pride.
The casual runner is happy with the feeling of their body working well, while the runner who competes wants to get an external reward that someone else gives to them. Essentially, extrinsic motivation is how you become motivated to win an outside reward that someone gives you.
An intrinsic motivation is an action that helps you achieve a goal you set yourself where the only reward is feeling satisfied. You give the reward to yourself through your actions, not through the actions of someone else. This is also how you start to formulate a personal mission statement.
Different Types of Intrinsic Motivation
Motivation is a reason to do something. When your reason is because doing it makes you feel happy, it’s an intrinsic motivation—the reward is the journey (not the destination) or the activity.
When your reason for doing something is because it makes others happy and that you are elevated in their eyes and receive public acclaim, you are doing it for extrinsic reasons. However, not all intrinsic motivations are the same, and an action can be motivated by intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, so you should focus clearly on the intrinsic.
There are three types of intrinsic motivation when we categorize the reasons for intrinsic motivation:
When you can increase your ability to do things, you feel a boost in motivation. Like a child who learns to crawl and then becomes motivated to walk, the motivation or reward is that they improve their skill. The better the skill, the better you feel about yourself.
Intrinsic motivation is often about improving on a skill, because that skill makes you feel competent and good. There is great satisfaction in feeling competent about yourself and your abilities.
Children also learn to be autonomous. As humans, we don’t like depending on others for things in life. While we do have a “herd-culture,” we also want to be independent. This is why we leave home, start our own lives as adults, and want to become self-sufficient.
Being autonomous and not having to look to others for our needs is hugely satisfying.
While we want to be autonomous, we also want to feel like we belong. We want to identify with others in our species. Being connected to the human race is about the motivation to form relations, understand the thoughts and feelings of others, and also understand our own feelings and thoughts. When you identify with yourself and with others and find understanding and insight, you feel satisfied.
What Is the Difference Between Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation?
To say that extrinsic motivation is merely when you chase after something tangible, like a trophy or money, is a rather simplistic view. Essentially, extrinsic motivation differs from intrinsic motivation in that when an outside force is the motivating factor, it is extrinsic. When the motivation comes from inside you, it’sintrinsic.
Extrinsic motivation is not always bad. Yet, it can cause demoralization when you work for a reward that should be yours, but lose out in the end (through no fault of your own). An example of this is running a race to win the grand prize of a gold medal, but despite your best effort, you come in fourth place.
While you will feel like a failure if you are chasing that first place and a medal, you will not feel like a failure when you are competing against yourself. Despite not winning the race, you may have set your personal best time. Because intrinsic motivation places the reward in your own mind, you can control how and when you feel satisfied.
Extrinsic motivation places the reward external to you and your efforts. Hard work may win the race, but it may also not be enough to win against competitors, which means failure and success lies external to you. Feeling satisfied isn’t up to you then.
3 Benefits of Increased Intrinsic Motivation
By shifting the focus of your motivation to being intrinsically motivated and not so extrinsically focused, you can develop a higher level of motivation.
There is something to be said for intrinsic motivation and how it increases your persistence. When you are motivated by your own satisfaction, you will push so much harder to achieve what you set your mind to. The satisfaction isn’t a single event or object at the end of the labor. Instead, satisfaction is dribbled throughout your efforts, which further motivates you to keep going.
A benefit of intrinsic motivation is that you become more invested in the task. Feeling like you are connected to the task means you will continue to work harder as you are working at yourself and not just the task.
We often see this kind of motivational effect when emergency services personnel continue searching for survivors after a crash or fire even long past their own physical ability. There is no financial or public reward that can motivate this level of dedication, but intrinsic motivation can.
We all continue to learn in life. When your learning process is intrinsically motivated, you will feel much more motivated to continue learning. There is great satisfaction in expanding your mind and building your thoughts, which is where intrinsic motivation really shines.
5 Steps to Increase Intrinsic Motivation in Yourself
Increasing intrinsic motivation is about helping your mind to focus on what the activity does for you, instead of looking at an external reward like the sweets for my daughter. Reward is then in your hands, not in the hands of someone else.
Sounds great, right? And the best part is it’s within your reach. Here are some surefire ways to boost your intrinsic motivation:
Step 1: Identify the Reward
Whatever you are busy with at the moment—identify the reward for doing it. No matter how small the task, there is some reward. Even seemingly meaningless chores like cooking or cleaning have a reward. Find it. Find your core value.
Once you have identified the reward for doing the activity, think about it. Is this reward extrinsic or intrinsic? Awareness of intrinsic rewards helps build intrinsic motivation.
Even a simple reward such as seeing your family eat the meal you cooked can be meaningful. Tasting your own food and sharing that food with your family is even more powerful. Focus on the reward that gives you the most power.
Step 2: Find the Fun and Engage With It
Doing meaningless things can be really draining. However, you are the one who assigns the meaning. If you choose to look for a fun way to engage in an otherwise dull task, you can redefine whether that task is dull or interesting.
Consciously choosing to make a dull task fun can help you become motivated to do it. Washing dishes with your favorite music playing can become the highlight of your day as you sing along with the soapy suds. You have the intrinsic power to make it worth it.
The reward? Having time to do something you love while you do something that’s not normally fun is a great use of time.
Step 3: Assign a Value to Tasks
When you believe that you are making a difference, you will feel an intrinsic motivation to keep going. While there may seem to be no reward for doing a selfless task, the reward is in feeling good about helping others.
Unfortunately, we tend to think of big tasks and a massive impact, but you can make a difference to someone else by a simple task that may seem totally meaningless to you. Think about the tasks in your life. Each day, what do you do for others without even realizing it?
Do you take a cup of coffee to your colleague who always looks down? Perhaps you clear out the trays in the staff kitchen because you feel like it’s the right thing to do. Whatever you do in your day, look for the impact this task has on others. That is the value.
You matter. You make a difference, and your motivation is what makes it all happen. When you see value, you will start to create more of it.
Tip: Use a vision board to help you assign value to tasks and keep track of what matters to you.
Step 4: List Your Joy
You’ve heard of counting your blessings, right? Well, it’s time to list the things that bring you joy. Every task or activity that brings you happiness or makes you feel good when you do it has soul currency. It helps you “buy” more motivation.
When you are feeling utterly unmotivated, you can create intrinsic motivation by choosing an activity you enjoy doing and spending some time on that while you recharge your motivation tank.
Step 5: Learn and Grow
Intrinsic motivation is a bit like an extra muscle you never knew you had. When you exercise it, you will start using it more and more. Set yourself goals that you know you can achieve, and then move the bar just a little further as you stretch those intrinsic motivation muscles.
If you can run a mile, you can push just a little further and run a mile and a half. You do this because you believe you can, not because of some external reward for doing so. This is a great method for learning new skills or mastering hobbies.
Final Thoughts on How to Increase Intrinsic Motivation
Learning how to increase intrinsic motivation is an essential life-skill. When you have mastered the art of being a self-determined individual, there is nothing you can’t do.
If you’re wondering, I decided against simply giving my daughter the sweets and instead created a treasure hunt, where she was rewarded at each step with one treat. While still extrinsic, the real reward for her accomplishments was the experience and fun of the treasure hunt. And a memory we will always share.
For more information on how you can set goals that are intrinsically motivated, read our ultimate guide on goal setting ideas.