Intrinsic Motivation: When You Love Doing What You’re Doing
What drives us to join a dance class or paint a picture? What makes some people choose a certain career path knowing that their economic stability will be challenged? What is it that gives us the energy to strive to reach our goals? The leading force behind all of these decisions is intrinsic motivation. In this article, we’ll talk about how to stay strong and meet your goals when you’re faced with challenges.
What is intrinsic motivation?
Motivation is a psychological process that helps us carry out and complete determined actions. We can be motivated to do anything, from taking a nap to running from danger. Motivation makes it possible to better adapt to the challenges and situations that we face on a daily basis.
The causes behind motivational processes vary significantly from person to person, and can even change for a single person depending on the circumstances. It’s possible to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation depending on the reasons behind the action.
Intrinsic motivation comes from the inside and happens when you are truly interested in something, without seeking a reward in return. One example of intrinsic motivation may be working at or spending time volunteering at an NGO, knowing that you won’t receive any type of economic compensation.
Extrinsic motivation, however, is driven by the rewards or benefits that we receive in exchange (or avoiding a punishment) for doing something. Think about when someone works extra hard to get a raise at work. In this case, they aren’t working hard for an internal desire to succeed, but rather to receive an economic benefit. There are a number of differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, but the main difference is the expectation of receiving benefits or avoiding punishment.
The same task or action can be extrinsically motivated for some and intrinsically motivated for others. For example, there are some people who go to the gym to get something out of it: to lose weight, while others work out for the exercise itself.
This article will focus on intrinsic motivation. Find out its essential aspects and how to improve it.
Intrinsic motivation: Characteristics
- You can influence intrinsic motivation: You may find that sometimes it’s hard to figure out what challenges will help you get the most from yourself. However, there is always time to find activities that pique your interest.
- Rewards can make intrinsic motivation disappear: It’s been shown in a number of experiments and cultures that paying for certain tasks may cause a decrease in performance. How can this be possible? According to the theory of overjustification, interest in a job decreases if we are rewarded extrinsically. For example, if you like to draw and you are paid for your word as an illustrator, you may find that your passion starts to feel like an obligation.
- There are also rewards that strengthen intrinsic motivation: What we said in the previous point is true (reward can have a negative effect on motivation), it’s also true that receiving gratification from people we care about can help strengthen motivation.
- The difficult of a task affects intrinsic motivation: Challenges teach us to be perseverant and develop our skills as well as possible.We need to be able to believe that it’s possible to overcome any challenge that we’re presented with. On the other hand, tasks that are too easy will be boring and might not be interesting to us. Once you find the perfect balance, you can enjoy the task and get “into the swing of things”, as Csikszentmihalyi says (we’ll talk more about him in the last section).
Intrinsic Motivation: Application and Examples
Intrinsic motivation at schools
Learning, especially at school, is made up of a variety of subjects, some of which may seem more interesting than others. Facing these more challenging subjects can be difficult, and even the subjects that you like can make you feel unmotivated sometimes. What can you do you keep yourself from feeling this lack of motivation?
First, it’s important to reinforce good, productive behavior and reward studying and other activities that are beneficial to learning. Rather than threats and punishment, using positive reinforcement will help associate studying with positive experiences, helping to improve motivation. It’s important to try to make learning a fun activity, rather than a means to an end. The importance of motivation in learning is endless.
It’s easier to learn effectively if you value what you’re learning, spark a curiosity for the information, create good study habits, connect to the content, and find a way to make it relevant to your daily life.
Intrinsic motivation at work
Intrinsic motivation at work is one of the keys to success in a work environment. We all know the familiar sensation of watching the clock move minute by minute until you can finally start the weekend. However, you’ve probably also realized that when this happens, your productivity drops and you have poorer results. These situations can make you feel even less motivated to work.
Having the job of your dreams may not be as easy as you thought, but luckily there are ways to help you become more motivated at work like taking breaks, being friendly with co-workers, keeping yourself from falling into a rut, and changing up your daily tasks.
Taking some time to dedicate to altruistic activities or activities that help others and not yourself, can also improve motivation in the office. Corporate social responsibility can benefit not only those who are receiving the direct benefits but also those who offer the help.
There are other techniques that many companies use to improve motivation among their workers, like giving them an opportunity to develop personal projects, paying for educational or advancement opportunities, and recognizing a job well-done. Happy, smiling workers are more productive and useful than employees who race out the door at the end of the day.
Intrinsic motivation in daily life
There are a number of situations that we come across in our daily lives that we could do easier and better if we had intrinsic motivation. For example, maybe you would spend more time cooking and creating healthy masterpieces if you enjoyed it, rather than cooking just to eat the next day.
Personal relationships also play a large role in our intrinsic motivation. Creating bonds with other people motivates us to take up new activities or do something you’ve never done. Going out with friends to eat or see a movie are powerful motivators that will help you get to an art exhibit or other show that you’ve never seen before.
Intrinsic motivation: Benefits
- Improves productivity: Intrinsic motivation helps us have more original ideas and be more creative in our decision making. Because of this, we tend to get less tired when working on tasks with a positive attitude.
- Improves well-being: Knowing which activities makes you happy means that you can spend more time doing them, rather than doing something that you dread. Working on tasks that you enjoy can become an endless fountain of personal and professional satisfaction.
- Raises self-esteem and self-efficiency: The amount of effort that you spend on tasks that motivated you are usually reinforced by significant progress and can make you feel competent and satisfied with your work. Who doesn’t like seeing progress being made on their work?
- Makes you more independent: Intrinsic motivation pushes you to learn more about the areas and activities that you enjoy and are interested in, which means working without anyone telling you to and taking initiative when starting something new.
- It’s longer lasting than extrinsic motivation: It’s common for motivation to subside once you’ve reached your initial goal. If your motivation extrinsic, you might not feel the need to continue working hard after you finish your last final. However, if you actually enjoy learning the material, you’ll be able to get more out of every class, even when your exams have finished for the semester.
All this talk of intrinsic motivation shouldn’t overlook the importance of extrinsic motivation! For example, a company can’t lower the wages of its employees because they would probably find work elsewhere.
It’s also possible to have both types of motivation. You can start an activity like yoga with the hopes of feeling more relaxed and less anxious, but end up going because you really love it. The best way to achieve this is to stay away from making external or separate rewards your main goal.
How can you develop intrinsic motivation? 5 tips
1. Avoid routine
Monotony causes boredom and can make you tired and lazy. For example, if you like to go running in the morning to wake up and get ready for the day, try to take a new route and explore the area! Adding an extra challenge can help keep you interested in running (not to mention that it’s a great way to train your brain in the city! -along with brain games, of course-)
2. Keep a positive attitude
It’s important to work to reach your goals without putting too much pressure on yourself to be the best. Trusting yourself is crucial to your overall wellbeing. It is also important remember that the key to intrinsic motivation is enjoying the activity itself, not the potential outcome that it may bring. Try to do what you need to do without any negativity or pressure.
3. Set realistic goals
Trying to reach unrealistic goals will end up being counterproductive and can cause you to lose your intrinsic motivation. Be critical of your goals and evaluate whether or not is a realistic goal that you’ll be able to accomplish. It’s better to focus on what you can improve and activities that will help you improve than to get stuck on things that went wrong.
4. Reward yourself
We’ve already said that intrinsic motivation isn’t about the rewards, but recognizing when you’ve done a good job and letting yourself feel good about it is essential to continuing to have the intrinsic motivation that allowed you to get there. You can even think about indulging every once in awhile as a little reward.
5. Spend time with like-minded people
If you love dancing, find a group of friends who you can dance with and make new choreography. It’s important to share your experiences with other people who enjoy the same activities. Luckily, we live in a time where it’s easy to find groups for any type of activity.
Intrinsic Motivation: Authors
Maslow is one of the most relevant theories when it comes to motivation. This humanist psychologist is especially known for having created Maslow’s Pyramid that provides a hierarchy of human needs. Intrinsic motivation is particularly linked to the top of the pyramid, based on the necessities of self-realization. This is where we are able to reach maximum existence and develop our potential.
This psychologist created the theory of self-efficacy, which is the idea that a person’s opinion about the execution of a task depends on their expectations of success, perseverance, and how much they dedicate to it. For example, if you see that after spending time and working to improve, your Spanish or French improves, you’ll feel proud and able to perfect the language at some point.
–Eduard Deci and Richard Ryan
These two psychologists worked together to create the theory of self-determination, which is the idea that we do activities that we enjoy, rather than those that we don’t enjoy and aren’t interested in. This theory is especially relevant and applied to athletics. It is important to be independent when making decisions.
This specialist in positive psychology is dedicated to studying the state of flow that takes place when we focus on a task that is neither too easy nor too difficult. In these situations, you tend to lose the sense of time and can spend hours on a single task. A common example of this is when a painter is completely absorbed in their work and they lose track of time.
Csikszentmihalyi is an expert in creativity and has interviewed a number of experts in order to better understand their flow. In this video, he will explain part of his discoveries and the importance of intrinsic motivation.
Thanks for writing! If you have any questions, leave me a comment below 🙂
This article was originally written in Spanish and translated to English.
Redactora con formación en diversas áreas como la psicología, la sociología y la comunicación. Especialmente interesada en psicología social.