What is Intrinsic Motivation

What does it mean to be motivated from within? Learn the benefits of intrinsic motivation and how you can increase it within yourself.

Some people just seem to love what they do. Such individuals always find themselves in roles they are passionate about and taking part in activities which lead to fulfillment. Have you ever wondered what they are doing right?

Perhaps right now you routinely find yourself stuck doing a job you despise. Or maybe, there is no joy left in your sport because you perform with only one goal in mind, achievement.

The difference between someone who consistently does what they love and someone who does what they must boils down to motivation. Are you extrinsically or intrinsically motivated?

Both have their place in our lives. However, if what you’re after is more fulfillment, joy, and passion, you need to begin focusing on how to cultivate intrinsic motivation.

What is Intrinsic Motivation

Psychology Today defines intrinsic motivation as a drive that comes from within. It is not driven by external rewards or an anticipated result.

The key words that come to mind when thinking about intrinsic motivation are passion, love, and joy. If you are performing an activity or playing a sport for any of these three reasons, your motivation is derived from within.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation means you are driven by rewards, accolades, and recognition.

When you are intrinsically motivated, it’s the act itself which fuels behavior. Take everything else away, money, accolades, status, recognition, and what do you have left? The activity you are performing.

Intrinsic motivation can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint. For example, we may believe our sport is played due to the love of the game. However, is it the love of the game itself, or is it the feeling of winning or chasing that championship we love the most?

To get a better understanding of what exactly intrinsic motivation is, let’s take a look at a few examples.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation

  1. Playing a sport because you love it. You love to train, you love to practice, you love to play. Every part of the sport brings you joy. If they weren’t keeping score, you’d still want to get out on the field because the activity itself is where you find fulfillment.
  2. Studying because you love to learn. Instead of being forced to study, you will pick up a new book or research a new topic because you enjoy learning. It’s fun to challenge yourself and discover new ideas and concepts.
  3. Exercising because you enjoy how you feel. You run, weightlift, or perform any other type of exercise because the act itself is where you find joy. Weight loss and a good physique are a byproduct of the happiness you feel while exercising.
  4. Calling someone because you enjoy the connection. You will reach out to friends or family members out of love. You talk to them because that conversation is where you find happiness, not out of a desire to get something in return.

All of these examples have one aspect in common: the activity is where there is joy, not a future outcome.

That is the heart of intrinsic motivation. You find the drive to work from within. This doesn’t mean there won’t be any rewards. If you play your sport out of passion, there’s a high chance of you performing well.

In turn, you’ll put your team in a better position to win and you may be given accolades for your high performance. However, that wasn’t what fueled you.

Another example I really love is the one about exercise. Sometimes focusing on the outcome of your hard work leaves you frustrated. If results aren’t coming soon enough, you may feel like giving up.

But, if the reason you are exercising in the first place came from within, there won’t be any concern regarding results. Of course, they will come. Though once again, they are a byproduct, not the initial aim.

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

Why should you bother trying to generate intrinsic motivation?

There is no shortage of external rewards in this world, so why not continue to rely on them for your motivation?

Well, there are four benefits I am going to highlight, that truly encompass just how powerful this motivation style can be.

These are going to be focused on performance. Showing you how intrinsic motivation can lead to those outcomes, that inevitably, we all desire.

Intrinsic Motivation Forms Habits

On your way to success, one of the best tools you can employ is the utilization of good habits. These are activities you do repeatedly, which are propelling you towards your goals.

A habit is defined as a behavior that is repeatedly regularly, mostly occurring on a subconscious level.

We all have habits, it’s just a question of whether they are positive and healthy habits, or destructive ones.

So, how does intrinsic motivation form habits? Well, habits must start on a conscious level. It is the repetition of an act, performed willingly, which then transforms over time into being habitual.

How long it takes to develop a habit will differ for each person. What holds true, however, is it will take some time.

Finding extrinsic motivation to keep pushing yourself to perform an activity on a daily basis until it develops into a habit can be difficult.

By having your motivation come from within, there is a much better chance of you sticking with the activity until it forms itself into a habit.

“Finding extrinsic motivation to keep pushing yourself to perform an activity on a daily basis until it develops into a habit can be difficult. By having your motivation come from within, there is a much better chance of you sticking with the activity until it forms itself into a habit.”

Intrinsic Motivation Increases Learning

When you’re forced to learn something, be it a subject in school, a new task at work, or a new skill within your sport, how easy is it for you to learn?

In my experience, when I’ve HAD to learn something, I actually learned much less. That’s because the inner drive was not there to truly understand the material. I was learning for some external purpose.

On the other hand, when my learning was driven by intrinsic motivation, the material was absorbed much easier, and retained as true knowledge.

When you are fueled by the love for learning or mastering a skill, understanding comes quickly and easily.

Whether you are learning new material or a new skill, being motivated to do so intrinsically will lead to an increase in mastery of what you’re learning.

Intrinsic Motivation Leads to Greater Resilience

You must have resilience in life. We are all faced with adversities, often on a daily basis. These setbacks and failures increase the larger your goals are and the more success you desire.

What happens when all you are motivated by is an extrinsic drive to gain recognition, or win an award? Being pummeled over and over again with adversity can make having resilience difficult.

Over time you may decide the external reward you’re after is not worth all the struggle and failure you are forced to face.

All this changes when your goal-oriented mindset is fueled by an underlying intrinsic drive to perform the act.

You know that yes, success will be nice, because of course, you want to attain your goals. But that is not what truly fuels your need and desire to work or perform.

That comes from within. The activity gives you so much joy and fulfillment. When this is the case, failures do not matter as much, and adversity doesn’t deliver its normal sting.

The more you love the work you do, the more you are driven by intrinsic motivation, the greater resilience you will exhibit.

Intrinsic Motivation Reduces Anxiety

Where does anxiety live? In the future.

When you are struggling with anxiety, the driving force is a worry about something to come. You are concerned an event in the future will not go the way you want. That event could even be your life in general.

Knowing that anxiety is fueled by future worries being experienced in the present, how can intrinsic motivation work to reduce the levels of anxiety you feel?

It all boils down to why you are fearful in the first place. The worries experienced within anxiety are attached to fear. There is a fear of something going wrong, which you then try to control from happening.

In terms of performances, this fear typically has to do with failing. Whatever failure means to you, that is where the fear is focused, resulting in your current state of anxiety.

Now, if you were driven to perform largely out of intrinsic reasons, do you think your fears would be so large? Probably not, because you are less concerned about the outcome.

Extrinsic motivation thrives on results. You are motivated by what will happen if you perform this act or succeed within your performance.

On the other hand, when your drive comes from within, it’s not so important what happens. If you succeed, good, if you fail, okay, the important part is you were able to do what you love.

By utilizing intrinsic motivation, the level of anxiety you experience will be reduced.

How to Increase Intrinsic Motivation

Some people are naturally more inclined towards one motivation style or the other. It’s important to understand yourself in order to gain insight into what the driving force is behind your actions.

That doesn’t mean you can’t work to become motivated by one form or the other. With intrinsic motivation, the application is going to be very goal and situational specific.

I’ve found this to be true with either motivational style. Sometimes extrinsic motivation is needed, and other times you desire to be driven from within.

Neither is right or wrong, it all depends on what your goals are and what motivation style you feel will be the most beneficial for you.

If you do wish to begin utilizing intrinsic motivation more often, there are four steps that will help you increase the level of intrinsic motivation in your life.

Step #1: Chase Your Passion

One of the easiest ways to utilize intrinsic motivation is to follow your passions. Being motivated intrinsically means you are driven by joy.

It’s easy to feel fulfillment when partaking in an activity which aligns with your passions. For instance, if you are passionate about your sport, that can be enough of a drive for you to perform.

You will find enjoyment in practice and games, no matter the outcome. There is an underlying feeling of passion for the activity, allowing the results to be as they will.

So, how do you chase your passion to make the most of intrinsic motivation? It all starts with understanding the reason behind your behavior.

“One of the easiest ways to utilize intrinsic motivation is to follow your passions. Being motivated intrinsically means you are driven by joy.”

Step #2: Find Your Why

Have you stopped to think about why you do what you do?

There are many reasons for our behavior, but when you are wanting your actions to be driven by intrinsic motivation, you must get to the core why.

Why do you play your sport? What is it that brought you to it in the first place? Was it because your parents played that sport, or maybe your siblings, so you felt a need to follow in their footsteps?

Did you begin with extrinsic motivation and feel as though you forced yourself to develop passion along the way?

When you want to increase your inner drive by following your passion, you have to start thinking about why you are passionate about the activity in the first place. What about it gives you that feeling within of being drawn to perform?

Understanding the why behind your behavior will help you not only gain deeper insight into why you love what you do, but also provide an idea of some activities you may not be as passionate about as you once thought.

Step #3: Focus on Being in the Moment

Once you find yourself in an activity your passionate about, and understand why, that doesn’t mean extrinsic outcomes won’t creep into your mind.

What can you do to keep your mind focused on the intrinsic drive you want to be fueled by? It all comes down to where you center your attention.

In the moment, you want to do your best to be fully immersed in the activity. Focus your attention on the process.

If the activity is what you’re supposed to enjoy doing, don’t you want to give that your full attention? Don’t allow your mind to wander into the future or concern yourself with the outcome of your performance.

The best part is, the more you focus on being in the moment, the better your actions will be, and the higher chance you have of the results going in your favor.

Final Thoughts

By following these steps, you can utilize the power of intrinsic motivation. Your actions will be fueled by the inner desire and enjoyment you receive from the activity.

This will help alleviate anxiety regarding the outcome, and when adversity comes your way, you won’t be fazed.

Success or failure, it doesn’t matter. Your reason for performing comes from within, let the results be as they will.

What actions and behaviors in your life are driven by intrinsic motivation?

I hope that you enjoyed this article, and if you did, please feel free to share it with others.

If you have any questions about motivation or any other performance psychology topic, please feel free to reach out to me.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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