Intrinsic Motivation

Why do we do what we do? Why do we behave in certain ways? Motivation! Motivation – be that intrinsic or extrinsic – leads us to behave in a certain way at a certain time. Motivation is clearly an important part of our lives, our student’s lives, and our children’s lives. Motivation determines if we continue to attend our job, do our homework, follow the rules, and so much more; but our motivation comes in two forms – internal and external or intrinsic and extrinsic.

So what exactly is the difference between these two motivations? Well, external or extrinsic motivation, as defined by VeryWell Mind and Healthline, is when you are motivated by external gratification or reward. These external rewards can be a multitude of things, but a clear example is money, grades, praise, or an award. A simple example of this are those jobs that aren’t so great, but the paycheck makes it worth it, so you continue to show up and work for the money. Another example of extrinsic motivation is trying to win a competition just for the trophy, award, or recognition not because you enjoy the game or challenge. However, MindBodyGreen’s article notes that extrinsic motivation only motivates people for a short period of time and once the reward is achieved, they are no longer interested in the task at hand. For example, you’re not going to put extra effort into a job that you do not like, regardless of the paycheck. 

Intrinsic or internal motivation, as defined by PsychCentral and VeryWell Mind, is when an internal feeling, thought, or desire motivates us to act in a particular way. Intrinsic motivation comes from an internal satisfaction or enjoyment of the behavior compared to an external reward. An example of intrinsic motivation is seen when someone decides to take up a new hobby or is passionate about learning a certain topic, because it is an enjoyable activity for that individual. Another example of intrinsic motivation is seen when an employee or student puts in extra effort in a project or assignment without the desire for “extra credit” or a pay increase, instead they act this way because it is how they want to act and they feel better about themselves by putting in this extra effort.

So how do we increase our own intrinsic motivation? How do we increase intrinsic motivation in our students? Positive Psychology notes six main factors in encouraging intrinsic motivation. These factors include autonomy, competence, alignment with personal values, connectedness, timing of extrinsic rewards, and the removal of external factors that might be impeding intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation might be hindered by physical exhaustion, hunger, self-consciousness, or other personal factors. 

 MindBodyGreen’s article reminds us of the importance of SMART goals (see our Resilience blog for a little more information on SMART goals) when trying to increase intrinsic motivation for large or daunting tasks. Setting goals also provides a sense of accomplishment, which in turn can increase intrinsic motivation for future similar tasks. 

Another way to encourage intrinsic motivation in students (and adults) is to help them to understand that knowledge is always changing and always growing. Edutopia notes in their article Nurturing Intrinsic Motivation in Students that helping students to understand that competence and mastery is never ending, there is always more to learn about a topic. However, it is utterly important to acknowledge these accomplishments of mastery along the way – intrinsic motivation needs a little boost from extrinsic motivation, especially when it comes to challenging or “boring” topics. A few other ways to encourage intrinsic motivation, as noted by Healthline, is by encouraging curiosity about a topic, offering challenges and competitions, and cooperation with others. 


We hope that this information intrinsically motivates you to find a new hobby, take on a new challenge, or put in that extra effort to encourage your students to try a little more.