24 Dec What is the Difference Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
What drives you? I mean, what really motivates you to get up in the morning, tackle the day’s challenges, and accomplish your goals? If you’re like most people, your motivation arises from two sources: intrinsic motivation that comes from within yourself, and extrinsic motivation that comes from external rewards and pressures. But what is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation? Understanding the distinction can help us harness motivation more effectively to achieve personal fulfillment and success.
Intrinsic Motivation Comes From Within
Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior driven by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation arises from within rather than relying on pressure or incentives from external sources. With intrinsic motivation, you engage in an activity because you find it inherently interesting, enjoyable, and satisfying.
For example, you might play a sport or musical instrument solely for the love of playing rather than prize money, trophies, or your parents’ praise. The sheer joy of playing provides enough incentive to keep you practicing. Or you might tackle a challenging crossword puzzle just because you find solving puzzles intellectually stimulating and exciting. When intrinsically motivated, you do something for its own sake rather than as a means to an end.
Signs of intrinsic motivation include:
- Curiosity and interest: You want to learn more about a topic or get better at a skill purely out of curiosity rather than because someone told you to.
- Enjoyment and satisfaction: An activity gives you an internal rush of positive feelings. It’s fun!
- Self-expression and autonomy: You feel free to do activities your own way and express your creativity.
Overall, you tend to intrinsically enjoy activities that let you use your skills, challenge you optimally, give a sense of control, connect to personal values, and provide ongoing novelty and learning.
Extrinsic Motivation Relies On External Rewards
In contrast, extrinsic motivation relies on external drives rather than internal desire. With extrinsic motivation, you engage in activities to earn a reward or avoid punishment rather than for pure enjoyment and interest. Extrinsically motivated behaviors aim toward outcomes separate from the activity itself.
Common extrinsic motivators include:
- Money, prizes, and accolades
- Grades, test scores, and academic recognition
- Praise and positive feedback
- Fear of punishment, critiques, or disappointing others
For example, you might not find practicing sales pitches all that fun or rewarding. But if practicing leads to a promotion and pay raise, that extrinsic incentive drives you to keep rehearsing. Or you might hate taking out the trash but do so promptly to avoid your parent’s nagging.
When extrinsically driven, you see tasks as a means to some external end rather than activities worth doing for their own sake. While extrinsic motivators can be highly effective at getting things done, they don’t always sustain long-term motivation.
Key Differences Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
While both intrinsic and extrinsic motives can inspire action, research shows some key differences in how the two types of motivation influence attitudes, performance quality, and well-being:
Internal source vs. external source
As the names suggest, intrinsic motivation arises from internal drives while extrinsic motivation relies on external pressures and incentives. With intrinsic motivation, rewarding yourself and taking pride in your accomplishments sustains momentum. With extrinsic motivation, you depend on others doling out rewards and penalties to keep you moving.
Higher quality engagement
Studies find that intrinsic motivation encourages greater creativity, cognitive flexibility, and conceptual understanding compared to extrinsic motivation. When intrinsically motivated, you tend to immerse yourself in activities, taking on optimal challenges, pursuing new perspectives, and making personal meaning from your efforts. In contrast, extrinsically motivated behaviors often involve more robotic adherence to strict guidelines aimed at predictable outcomes.
Intrinsic motivation contributes more directly to happiness and life satisfaction than extrinsic motivation. When you have control over activities that excite you and align with your values, you tend to experience greater vitality and self-esteem. Of course, money can buy comforts that support well-being. But day-to-day quality of life correlates more strongly with intrinsic motives.
While extrinsic rewards and penalties effectively get quick compliance, intrinsic enjoyment better supports sticking with activities long-term. If you don’t genuinely enjoy practicing an instrument, for example, you might quit once parents stop pushing you to practice for rewards. Without inner satisfaction, motivation dwindles when external pressures fade. Inner passion fuels ongoing persistence.
Now, intrinsic and extrinsic motives aren’t mutually exclusive. Many activities that provide internal satisfaction also lead to external gains, blurring intrinsic and extrinsic lines. For example, you might genuinely enjoy playing sports while also relishing trophies and attention. Both inner passion and outer results can work synergistically to motivate best efforts.
But understanding where your motivation leans more intrinsic or extrinsic can help guide strategies for sustaining engagement and fulfillment long-term.
Harnessing Intrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic motivation energizes. When you deeply enjoy activities for their own sake, you bring enthusiasm, creative problem-solving, and perseverance. Harnessing intrinsic motivation involves:
Pursuing passions: Identify activities that give you feelings of interest, enjoyment, and personal expressiveness for their own sake, then find opportunities to integrate these passions into your work and lifestyle. Reflect on peak experiences when you lose yourself in flow. Seek similar activities that spark curiosity and joy.
Seeking challenges: Channel intrinsic motivation into taking on challenges that call upon your skills and capacities for growth rather than overwhelm you. Stretch yourself incrementally while keeping tasks within your optimal zone of challenge. Break ambitious goals into digestible sub-goals so you feel ongoing self-efficacy.
Cultivating autonomy: Seek contexts that support self-directed action aligned with your values and interests rather than controlling commands and incentives. Advocate for control over your tasks, tools, techniques and pace. Initiate personally meaningful projects.
Adding variety: Introduce novelty and variety into routine tasks to stimulate interest. Learn new aspects, tackle problems from creative angles, and add expressive twists.
Leveraging Extrinsic Motivation
While intrinsic enjoyment of activities is ideal, realistically, responsibilities often require doing mundane or difficult tasks that you find minimally interesting. Leveraging extrinsic motivation becomes key to persevering through drudgery and hardship. Strategies include:
Offering incentives: Know what rewards motivate you and tie these to specific accomplishments. For less palatable tasks, add extra incentives to get the job done. Use whatever works – money, accolades, promotions, grades, etc.
Imposing consequences: Be aware of penalties that effectively get you to comply. If you tend to procrastinate on certain tasks, impose punitive consequences to get yourself in gear, like monetary fines or unpleasant chores.
Tracking progress: Break intimidating goals into mini-goals and track progress. Tangible evidence of advancement can provide ongoing extrinsic motivation to continue. Publish progress for external accountability.
Reframing meaning: While tedious tasks may not seem inherently interesting, connect their necessity to deeper meaning and purpose. Practicing guitar scales mindlessly isn’t fun but reframing this as vital to becoming an accomplished musician can add motivation.
Offering praise: Don’t underestimate the power of positive feedback and encouragement. While wanting endless external validation isn’t ideal, getting regular praise and cheers can energize extrinsic motivation to keep moving forward during rough patches.
A Balanced Motivation Approach
Ultimately, integrating intrinsic joys and extrinsic incentives works best for sustaining motivation and performance long-term. Relying solely on intrinsic passion without real-world rewards risks wavering persistence when passion alone falters. Depending wholly on extrinsic pressures without inner satisfaction breeds robotic disengagement over time.
Aim to cultivate intrinsic enjoyment of responsibilities where possible to fuel engagement through challenges. Tap extrinsic motivators as needed during periods or aspects lacking inherent appeal. Use a balance of inner drive and outer reward tailored to each situation.
Assess what currently motivates you more intrinsically vs. extrinsically. Are there responsibilities you dread where reframing meaning or injecting variety could spark self-generated interest? Are there passions you neglect due to lack of external discipline? Leverage both sources of motivation toward their strengths.
In the end
All that matters is that you take action toward meaningful goals. Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators can drive progress and accomplishments if applied strategically. Don’t underestimate the galvanizing power of doing what you love for its inherent rewards. But also leverage external motivators pragmatically when inner passion needs a boost. Integrate these two sources of motivation to propel your best self forward.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can extrinsic motivation undermine intrinsic motivation?
A: Overreliance on extrinsic rewards can undermine intrinsic interest in some cases. Getting rewarded for fun activities you’d otherwise enjoy can signal that the activity is not worth doing for its own sake. Use care when incentivizing intrinsically satisfying behaviors. Stress intrinsic aims and meaning alongside extrinsic gains rather than letting outer rewards dominate.
Q: Is intrinsic motivation always better than extrinsic motivation?
A: Not always. Sure, intrinsic enjoyment enhances engagement and creativity. But in some practical cases, extrinsic motivation powers progress more effectively. To push through an exceptionally tedious task, an extrinsic kick can get you to push through better than seeking intrinsic appeal. Balance intrinsic interests with extrinsic incentives calibrated to each situation and task’s demands.
Q: Can both types of motivation occur simultaneously?
A: Absolutely! Realistically, most goal pursuits include both intrinsic and extrinsic motives co-occurring. You might enjoy painting for its own sake, for example, while still getting thrilled about selling your artwork. Look for synergies where inner passions and outer goals coincide. By nurturing personal meaning and purpose alongside real-world outcomes, you harness the best of both motivational worlds.