For most of us, there is one great obstacle that can stand in the way of completing a major project or achieving a major goal and that is motivation. Motivation can be affected by a number of different things, but the end result is the same: procrastination and a lack of production.
At the same time, not everyone is created equally. That means that what works for me from a motivational standpoint may not work for you and vice versa. So, there are no guaranteed methods of motivation for everyone.
When searching for motivation or motivational techniques, there’s a decent chance that you may have heard of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. Having a better understanding of the two different types will give you a better understanding of how they impact our lives.
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What Is Intrinsic & Extrinsic Motivation
To put it in the simplest terms, intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes naturally and does not have a given reward. Maybe you really enjoy playing the guitar because it is a learning experience and you are deeply invested in music.
Extrinsic motivation, meanwhile, is the kind of motivation that comes from trying to earn a reward of some sort. This can be working through homework or studying for a test to achieve a grade or having to complete a task because it is required of you.
Here are a couple of examples of each intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation can be participating in sports because you find the activity to be fun. Or, maybe you clean up your room because you like to keep things neat and organized. Or, taking on a challenge at work because you find the subject matter to be interesting.
All of those are motivations that have no direct reward, but offer fulfillment, joy, and personal satisfaction among other things.
Extrinsic motivation, meanwhile, can be the opposite of those examples. Instead of playing for fun, you partake in a sport to win awards. Or, you clean your room because your parents told you that you have to do so. Maybe you are studying or taking on a challenge because you want a good grade or to earn a scholarship.
In the latter examples, there is a direct reward for the completion of those tasks. The factors themselves can be motivating in different ways, depending on the person.
Which Method Is Better?
While there is no exact science to motivation – we are all unique and different, after all – there is a belief that intrinsic motivation is the better of the two. It is true that both can be strong motivating factors, but there may not be a reward available to provide that extrinsic motivation. When that isn’t there, you may have difficulty finding the motivation that you need to complete the task.
Generally speaking, intrinsic motivation tends to be a more effective method. This is known as the “natural motivator” in that the motivation required to perform a task or project comes from within. This means that you find the motivation on your own without any external factors coming into play.
It has also been shown that developing intrinsic motivation can have beneficial effects. When implementing intrinsic motivation, it leads to a greater self-confidence, less of a likelihood that distractions will have an impact, and a variety of other positive effects that can make you more efficient and more likely to feel motivated to take on a task.
There is also something known as the overjustification effect where offering external rewards for an internally rewarding behavior can actually lead to a reduction in that intrinsic motivation. For example, let’s say that kids who played with a toy because they liked it became less interested in it after becoming extrinsically motivated.
That is definitely not to say extrinsic motivation is not a bad thing – it is great for tasks that do not appeal to you or seem unpleasant to have to deal with. Additionally, it can induce interest and participation in projects or tasks that you might not have had an interest in.
They can also be a great motivating factor to get people to learn or acquire new pieces of knowledge or skills. When you learn those skills, you may be more inclined to be intrinsically motivated to pursue that particular activity.
Lastly, external rewards can make for a great source of feedback. This gives you the idea of when your performance has achieved a standard level of deserving of reinforcement. Avoid using extrinsic motivation if you find the activity to already be intrinsically rewarding.
When Would I Want to Use Extrinsic Motivation?
As stated previously, whenever possible it is better to use intrinsic motivation because of the impact it can have on avoiding distractions, instilling confidence, and providing a better overall level of productivity.
But there will definitely be times where intrinsic motivation is just not possible and that is completely normal as well. Depending on the task at hand, people sometimes have no internal desire to take part in that task or activity and know that they have to do it.
The thing is, you don’t want to offer excessive external rewards. When using excessive external rewarding, it only dampens the potential for intrinsic motivation, thus creating a dependence on that external reward.
Still, there are three general conclusions on extrinsic rewards and the level of influence that they have on intrinsic motivation.
The first is that unexpected external rewards tend to not have a negative impact on intrinsic value. Let’s say that you happen to get a good grade while learning about a subject that you enjoy learning about. Even earning this good grade and the praise won’t change your underlying motivation toward that subject. Doing this too much, though, can create an expectation of those rewards.
Secondly, getting praise can actually help to increase that internal motivation. When offered positive feedback and praise for doing something better than others, there has been a marked uptick in intrinsic motivation.
Lastly, intrinsic motivation can actually decrease when those external rewards are given for completing a task doing the bare minimum. This basically means that if you get rewarded for doing the bare minimum, what motivation do you have for going above and beyond the task required?
When Using Intrinsic Motivation Is Best
As stated previously, there does not always have to be an actual reward at the end of the tunnel for good work. Managers can try giving sincere positive feedback that conveys attainable standards. This promotes a stronger intrinsic motivational factor.
That praise comes at no cost and can be modified so that it does not act quite like extrinsic motivation. Those external rewards can diminish the motivation in an individual if they come to expect it every time they do something well.
If it is at all possible to find joy or motivation in a task, that should be the method to choose. After all, that intrinsic motivation can be strengthened over time, making you less likely to procrastinate unless you have extreme feelings of dislike for whatever the goal or task is.
The simple fact of the matter is that, when people are invested in whatever it is they are doing, there is a stronger chance that they will complete the task or project in a far more satisfactory manner. If it is something that they drag their feet on because they don’t like it, they may do the bare minimum to get through it and nothing more.
It also depends on the person in question. If you tend to be a self-starter, finding that intrinsic motivation can be easier than it may be with someone who has a harder time getting going. When that intrinsic motivation just isn’t there, getting started can feel like moving through quicksand.
It is also important to keep in mind that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can play a substantial role in the learning settings. There is a belief by experts that those external rewards – grades, gold stars, report cards in the school setting – can actually undermine those intrinsic motivational factors while others suggest that those things help students to feel more confident in their abilities and develop their intrinsic motivation.
Ultimately, whatever motivational methods best get you going mean getting the job done. For adults, that is all that matters as our livelihood is often on the line should we not complete the task at hand. But in learning situations, where there is more flexibility, finding different methods of motivation can go a long way.
The goal is to find methods that develop motivation, be it internally or externally. Doing this is meant to limit procrastination, temper those times where it feels easy to be distracted, and other detrimental moments that prohibit productivity and hinder projects or tasks. That differs from person to person, but intrinsic motivation appears to be the way to go.