Intrinsic VS Extrinsic Goals: Which is Better for Your Success?

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Have you ever wanted to create a more successful life for yourself? One way to enhance your quality of life can be to know the differences between intrinsic vs extrinsic goals. In doing so, you will be able to better understand which one will help you improve your chances of having additional success in your life.

Personally speaking, I'd rather set intrinsic goals because these have greater meaning for me. On the other hand, you might feel as though extrinsic goals are a better fit for your lifestyle. While we can all probably relate to wanting to achieve both types of goals at some point or another, you'll likely choose either one or the other.  In this post, I'll explain the differences between intrinsic vs extrinsic goals.

A Definition of Intrinsic Goals and Extrinsic Goals

Intrinsic goals are goals that are personally meaningful to someone. These satisfy your meaningful wants and needs as a human being. Internal motivators are a sense of competence, relatedness, and autonomy. This can relate to self-acceptance, personal growth, relationships, contribution, and physical health.

When considering these types of goals, you can also think about your core values, interests, and passions. Some examples of intrinsic goals are:

  • having a job you authentically love and enjoy
  • studying because you really want to learn more about a topic
  • exercising to boost your energy and take care of your health

Extrinsic goals are about gaining something external. You could be seeking signs of self-worth that are outside of yourself or the approval and validation of others.  In contrast to intrinsic goals, which involve the process of reaching a goal, extrinsic goals have to do with the outcome and the prize you get at the end. These types of goals involve using power over others, attaining wealth, becoming famous, and being in the public eye. Examples of extrinsic goals include:

  • having a job for power and money
  • studying to obtain higher grades
  • exercising to get attention for your enhanced appearance

Intrinsic Goals Pros and Cons

Pros of Intrinsic Goals

  • Intrinsic goals can give you great personal fulfillment since the motivation behind these is internal and has nothing to do with power or money. When you're living by your personal values, you can feel a sense of purpose and meaning. Whether you're volunteering or working a 9 to 5 job that makes you feel like a better person, what you gain will be meaningful. Doing activities with purpose can be beneficial to your health and well-being and this can positively affect your everyday existence.
  • Intrinsic goals can make you happy on the inside, which can give you a genuine desire to improve. This can be because you're doing what you enjoy without selfishness. Instead, you're focusing on positive feelings and goals that actually matter to you. Positivity can lead to even more positivity, which can naturally lead to you making personal progress. One way this might happen is if you're doing a job you love that helps people in some way. For instance, you or someone else could find a lot of meaning in being a therapist. A person in this career may enjoy helping people with mental health issues so much that it leads to giving away services for free in the community. And this can be personal progress and self-improvement because it's a selfless act. 
  • Having intrinsic goals can help you be more creative, because whatever you're doing will give you additional ideas. One reason this can happen is that you'll be focused on something you care about which can boost positivity and imagination.
    To illustrate, you might care about studying because the topic you're reading about is interesting to you. Since you'll be taking pleasure in reading about the topic, new ideas begin to form in your mind. For this reason, you start to cultivate creativity. 
  • Intrinsic goals can help you stay committed to whatever you may be doing. This can be because you'll be involved in activities for reasons that matter to you. For example, you could start exercising to improve your health. Since you care about your health, you're more likely to stay motivated and commit to exercise on a regular basis. 

Cons of Intrinsic Goals

  • If you can't actually see tangible results, then you might want to give up. It might not matter if someone tries to teach or tell you that you'll be rewarded now or later on, because you need to see the results in front of you. Seeing tangible results might even be the only way you'll commit to any goals at all.  
  • With intrinsic goals, you might not feel like you have enough of a reason to start in the first place. While extrinsic goals can give you the motivation to get going, intrinsic goals may not seem worth achieving, since you may not even know where or why to get started. You simply need motivation and can't find it. 
  • Intrinsic goals can take extra effort, which may even require maturity, patience, and persistence. Although making an honest effort can be highly rewarding for people, you might not see or even want to see the meaning behind intrinsic goals. And if you can't see the meaning, you won't want to commit to and work hard for your goals and will eventually give up. 

Extrinsic Goals Pros and Cons

Pros of Extrinsic Goals

  • Since extrinsic goals can benefit you as an individual, this can provide you with the motivation you need to start working towards accomplishment. You may find it easy to go for it, and this can lead to better things. For one thing, if you're motivated to exercise to sculpt your body and gain attention, you'll likely commit to this goal until you succeed. 
  • Groups can get motivated since extrinsic goals can be plenty of fun. This can create a sociable environment where everyone joins in and gets involved in achieving the goal.  Although the motivation may not last as long as people would like, sometimes it's necessary to be extrinsically motivated to find a reason to get started on working towards a goal. 
  • Extrinsic goals can help you be productive if you're tempted by getting a promotion, higher status, and more money in your job. By desiring these things, you may work harder and achieve your goals. This can be a great idea if you can't find any other way to be productive or if you don't enjoy having a particular purpose. Everyone needs a reason to make a bigger effort and this can be the beginning of getting what you really want. Moving up in your job and getting what you want could give you the desire to improve yourself more.

Cons of Extrinsic Goals

  • When you don't have the best of intentions from the get-go, you'll likely have regrets later on. This could happen if you gain power over others and use this power to be disrespectful. In this case, you might regret being cruel for no good reason, especially to those who don't deserve it. Not living by the most ethical of standards can cause you to regret your actions and even lose relationships. 
  • In social situations, you might not be as positive as you'd like to be. You could have emotional outbursts for no apparent reason or you might lack the emotion everyone needs to be satisfied in life. Your negative attitude and ego could make it a challenge to communicate appropriately or even to just relax and have fun in a healthy way. 
  • Having extrinsic goals can lead to narcissism. While this may not seem like a problem right now, you probably won't be making any real friends either. Plus, you might begin to hate yourself for having an ego. This can cause your inner world to become dark and lonely.  
  • Not living by your core values can cause you to have mental health issues and make you feel depressed. Consequently, life can be meaningless when you have extrinsic goals and no real purpose. Another problem you might have is anxiety from worrying about what could happen to you because you're not living a purposeful enough life. Further, you might lack hope for the future and a reason to live and become suicidal. 
  • Extrinsic goals can make you a less deep individual who lacks meaning and purpose. This can affect you internally and cause you to be shallow and devoid of purpose. And if you don't have a purpose, you won't have a good enough reason to see your goals through to the end. This can make extrinsic goals not worth it at all, since you won't get enough, in the long run, to be satisfied.   

To Sum up the Pros and Cons

We've created an infographic below that recaps the pros and cons of intrinsic vs extrinsic goals. This can be helpful in clarifying things for you. 

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How to Decide Between Intrinsic Goals and Extrinsic Goals

When deciding between intrinsic and extrinsic goals, your specific scenario counts. If you're looking to gain depth, purpose, and meaning, then intrinsic goals should be the best option. Alternatively, you might desire attention in the form of fame, fortune, and other external factors. This means you'll want to choose extrinsic goals.

Of course, many people such as me believe intrinsic goals are better since you'll have greater life satisfaction, now and especially in the future. No matter what, considering what's really important in your life and how intrinsic and extrinsic goals can benefit you, can help you choose the one that's right for you.

Focus on intrinsic goals if:

  • You have or want a higher purpose that's not related to wealth or status.
  • You don't need encouragement or attention to get what you want.
  • You'd like to improve yourself by being less selfish and outwardly motivated.
  • You want to do an activity that aligns with your personal values and gives you long-term satisfaction. 

Focus on extrinsic goals if:

  • You want people to admire you for what you earn, such as a luxurious car, designer clothes, or a lavish house. 
  • You want power over people by having a particular career or celebrity status.
  • You like receiving praise from friends, family, coworkers, and/or others. 
  • You want to be rewarded with attention, money, fame, or something else that's external. 

Final Thoughts on Intrinsic VS Extrinsic Goals

On the whole, we believe comparing intrinsic vs extrinsic goals can be extremely worthwhile for any person seeking to make the most of their life.  In fact, by differentiating between the two, I've personally gained a deeper understanding of what I truly want in life.

My hope is you’ve gained similar insight and now possess enough knowledge to be as successful as you can be. And if you enjoyed reading this article, you might like to read one of our other interesting posts regarding goals vs expectations. There is a difference… and we think you’ll find it enlightening on your quest for happiness.

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