I’d like to read about motivation – why some people are intrinsically motivated and why others are extrinsically motivated

Motivation is a fascinating topic. What motivates us – or not – has probably been the study of psychologists for as long as psychology has been in existence. So much has been written on ways of increasing motivation too; some of it has also been found wanting. As a taster, next week I’ll explain a motivational tool that has stood up to the rigours of analysis with real beneficial long-term benefits rather than short-term satisfaction so do please come back next Friday.

Intrinsically motivated means motivation that has come from within yourself rather than as a result of rewards, which is extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is generally more beneficial in the long-term as well. I wrote before about a state called Hedonistic Habituation: where increasingly greater levels of stimulus are required to achieve satisfaction. Here lies the potential flaw with extrinsic motivation: unless the rewards are greater the next time the satisfaction receptors are not stimulated sufficiently resulting in dissatisfaction and a loss of motivation. Intrinsic motivation is more effective since this is met by what is known as intentional changes and they arise through commitment, attitude and effort. The stimulus does not need to be greater with each subsequent event; it is not externally controlled but intrinsically controlled.

Therefore, when we are intrinsically motivated to do something: doing it for the effort and desire required it is generally more productive and we are more creative as a result. As Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile put it, “Let creativity be its own reward”. Quoting her further (Perry and Amabile 1999) she went on to say:

People are at their most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself and not by external pressures or incentives. Consider, for example, the experience of a firm I’ve been studying in the last few months, called E Ink, which is developing a revolutionary electronic-display technology that enables retailers to change any sign in their store in a matter of minutes. The signs are very light and flexible and do not require electricity after the message has been changed. The company is creating something completely different, while simultaneously addressing an enormous technical and marketing challenge. Every person I’ve talked to – from the CEO right through to the people doing the day-to-day technical work — is excited by the opportunity before them. Each is intrinsically motivated; that is, they find rewards in the challenge of the work itself.

What makes some people more intrinsically motivated and others more extrinsically motivated? There are no doubt many reasons; however, I suspect that upbringing, relationships with peers, colleagues and bosses and a general feeling of self-worth may offer us insights.

When self-worth is high; when there’s the desire to go for it, and show little concern for failure; those internal driving forces are very much in evidence. There is no requirement to look for self-worth in what is done or received as a reward: self-worth is high irrespective of the outcome. Simply put, the joy is in the activity itself and not the outcome.

I suspect too that for those who are heavily extrinsically motivated the separation between what they do and what they have and who they are is not clearly defined for them. In this situation there is a risk that self-worth only comes from what they possess or what they have (generally extrinsically motivated conditions). Sadly, we can never have enough; we can never do enough. Such situations will often lead to one outcome: frustration.

Those who are principally intrinsically motivated recognise that external factors are of little consequence to them. The motivation is in the task itself. How is it that these people are like they are? Perhaps these people are just born that way; however, I also suspect that the majority of people have heard these words and words like them a lot in their lifetime: “You can do it!” and “You’ve worked so hard today, well done.” In other words: a can do mindset. Sadly, the sorts of words that can motivate us to strive can often be missing from those key influential people in society: namely parents, teachers and bosses. When we’re not encouraged to work hard (an internal driving force) to achieve something and don’t receive sufficient affirmation of who we are (I will discuss the concept of affirmation in another post since it is a complex driving force with both internal and external elements to it) we start to look for purely external gratification in its various forms. Incidentally, naturally gifted children especially need to be motivated to work hard. How come? They can do it; however, they may well disengage unless hard work and commitment become watch words for them. Genius is 90% perspiration so they say and it is that commitment and hard work – and not the extrinsic rewards – that must be the principal driving force not just for gifted children but for all of us.

However, I am not saying that external reward is a bad thing; far from it. As I will discuss over the coming weeks, extrinsically rewarding yourself is a good thing. What drives though is best when it’s internal; the external reward is simply the icing on the cake!

In summary, find ways to increase intrinsic motivation: research shows us that we will be more satisfied in the long term and more creative. If you find yourself frequently relying on extrinsic motivation may be take look at what might be going on. You might want to ask yourself: When did I first decide that I needed extrinsic rewards? How might I change what’s going on? Powerchange has all sorts of ways of helping you regain control and live a more satisfied life. Want to know more? Please do contact me.