Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: What Motivates You?

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We’re all motivated by something in life; whether it be money, fame, pleasure, or pain.

Dwight D. Eisenhower said:

“Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.”

If Eisenhower is correct, this means we don’t actually do anything we don’t want to do, and we must be motivated in some way to complete a task. Even if the motivation comes from fear, it’s still technically motivation.

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What Are Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation?

Motivation can be broken down into two different categories: Intrinsic motivation and Extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation can be defined as internal fulfillment. Your motivation to do something is driven by your own personal enjoyment. You do something simply because you love it or you hope to better yourself in some way.

Extrinsic Motivation can be defined by external fulfillment. Your motivation to do something is fueled by what you receive in return. You do something because of the reward, the social status, or even to avoid punishment.

Which Motivator Do You Identify With the Most?

Do you find yourself identifying more with one primary motivator? Some people run because they love it, and others run to stay in shape. It’s important to understand that neither is right or wrong, just different.

Money might not be important to you, and therefore you feel quite content working for a low paying salary. Your job brings you joy because you simply love to do it.

Take teachers for example. It’s pretty well known that teachers don’t make bundles of money. But it takes a lot of work to become a certified teacher. Most states require a 4-year degree.

That’s a lot of time spent and money spent to work at a job that is underpaid, and underappreciated, which is why most teachers love their job for the work itself. Thank goodness, because if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have doctors and lawyers.

Perhaps the opposite is true. Maybe you don’t enjoy your job but you get paid well, so you keep doing it for financial gain.

Careerbliss performed a study back in 2013 to figure out what jobs are not satisfying, even with a high earning paycheck.

It didn’t surprise me that the first occupation on the list was an attorney. They go to school for a very long time, and work a ton of hours.

Depending on the circumstance, I can see a little bit of myself in both motivators. Is that possible?

Personal Examples

Last week I paid my bills, not because I enjoyed spending the money, but because it is necessary. I enjoy spending money on some things but bills are not one of them.

I took zero pleasure in shelling out a thousand bucks to my mortgage company. But I did it because I had to. If I had not completed the task, I would have ended up with a late fee and eventually become homeless.

This is an example of extrinsic motivation, fear of punishment.

Last night I watched a movie with my husband on Netflix. The movie we chose wasn’t for a research project or to provide a movie rating review. We watched it because it looked intriguing, and we wanted to spend time together.

It served one purpose: personal pleasure. This is an example of intrinsic motivation.

Can Our Motivation for Something Change?

It’s quite possible to start out pursuing a task by one motivator and have it change to another?

Maybe you started out researching a subject for a class project(external reasons) but found yourself digging further into the research because you found it interesting(internal reasons).

Perhaps you started doing something because you enjoyed it. After it becomes a full time job, you don’t enjoy it as much.

A Personal Example

I’m a singer, and have been singing since I was a little girl. When I was 6-years-old, my mom would prop me up on the coffee table to sing “Part Of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. I knew one day that I would be a star, and it was my dream to become a professional singer.

I loved everything about singing. The sounds that I could create with my voice, and all the different harmony options. I enjoyed the challenge of learning a new song, and eventually writing songs of my own.

I loved to sing for other people, and enjoyed bringing a smile to their faces. I was motivated by internal reasons. I did it because I loved it.

In my 20’s I was fortunate enough to turn my love for singing into a full time career. One that ended up taking off for me quite well.

I wasn’t famous by any means, but I was getting paid decently, and traveling the country every week to perform in a different venue. I was doing what I’d set out to do.

One might think I was living my dream but as it turned out, my motivation for singing transformed into something else. Singing went from internal (I started out singing for pleasure) to external (I ended up singing for cash).

Singing suddenly became an inconvenience to me. It became something I had to do instead of something I wanted to do.

The money was never enough, and my talent became more about achievement, status, and power versus love. The job that I’d always dreamed of having had turned into something I no longer enjoyed.

I ended up quitting my band. Without that passion I once had (intrinsic motivation), the money wasn’t enough to keep me going.

Taking a break all together helped me find a balance for both motivators. Now I sing on my own accord. Whether it be for money, or for free.

Can You Relate?

What about you? Can you see pieces of yourself in my story? No matter what the activity or talent may be, we can all get lost in both motivators. That’s why I believe, that with everything in life, it’s best to find a balance.

If you are too externally motivated by something, you can grow to resent it. If you are too internally motivated by something, it can hold you back in life.

Because let’s face it, we all need money to some extent. Whether it’s to pay the bills, purchase food, put gas in our car, or even to keep a roof over our head, we all have to be somewhat extrinsically motivated.

On the flip side (unless you’re a sociopath) there must be something in life you take organic pleasure in. Even if it is eating an entire cake, it’s still something!

Time to Pay Attention

Perhaps you used to read a lot, but now you have a long commute to work, and it’s taking up most of your free time. Lack of free time is causing you to feel unhappy. Your extrinsic commute to work can be transformed into an intrinsic commute by joining Audible, and listening to your books while driving. You kill two birds with one stone.

Or maybe you enjoy your low-paying job but also love to go shopping. You could take a part-time job at your favorite retail store, and get a discount on all of your favorite things. This would mean you are incorporating both motivators into one.

It’s up to you to examine your own self, and identify what your primary motivators could be helping or holding you back. Upon understanding what really drives you to do something, you can find a higher level of motivation, and ultimate happiness.

We can discover a newfound love for anything in life, and look for a solution for a love that might be lost. The choice is yours to make. Choose happiness, choose motivation.

Additional Resources

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About the author

Jessica Ayers
Jessica Ayers is a professional singer/performer/musician, blogger, and stay-at-home mom. She enjoys writing freelance for various websites as well as her own thesingingwidow.com. She is currently working on her first novel/personal memoir, "One Stray Bullet". It will take readers on a journey of grief, widowhood, motherhood, and self discovery. Jessica is also pursuing a career in motivational speaking as well as attending Florida State University in pursuit of a Bachelors in communication.

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