Intrinsic Motivation: Learn How To Trigger It

In this article, we discuss the different aspects of intrinsic motivation: its definition, how to trigger yourself, the difference between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation, and the science behind it. Let’s start!

What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation means doing an activity for its own sake rather than to attain some other goal. It is often cited that performing an act in itself holds the meaning of it. If you are intrinsically motivated, you’ll be driven by your desire to perform a task because it is personally rewarding and satisfies your needs.

Why is intrinsic motivation important?

Intrinsic motivation is the main type of motivation that can make you do something without any external factors. It helps you perform better on tasks and activities because you are more likely to engage in day-to-day tasks wholeheartedly.

Next to this, intrinsic motivation helps with the cognitive development of a person. Being internally motivated will develop your mind to perform for itself. Hence, it will help to set goals and standards to grow by. Consequently, you will develop the right skills for the future. For example, if you enjoy driving, your brain will be more open to learning the different aspects of driving. It will make its own connections, not motivated by external factors.

Human motivation

The complexity of human motivation

Human motivation can be complex to understand. It is very difficult to understand what makes a human being tick. The brain is complex. Scientists have conducted thousands of studies trying to find out the best way to motivate people. However, they still argue about whether extrinsic or intrinsic motivation provides the most effective approach. The good thing about the theory is that it gives insight into what a person is motivated by and how to motivate them more effectively. However, there are also other factors that influence the way we behave and reason.

No extrinsic motivation

Intrinsically motivated tasks or activities should not have any form of external rewards or punishments. This means that extrinsic motivations aren’t involved. The more external factors an individual has, the less likely they are to participate in tasks wholeheartedly. This is because external factors control their behavior instead of internal ones, like satisfaction. Extrinsic motivation makes employees more concerned about external rewards. On the contrary, intrinsic motivation give meaning and purpose to their tasks.

Intrinsic motivation

Rewards for intrinsically motivated behaviors

Intrinsically motivated behaviors are rewarding because they are satisfying to us. We get pleasure from the task itself, the outcome of completing it, or because we feel that our skills are improving while working on them. The rewards come from positive feedback from within us. This positive feedback can be a feeling of curiosity, autonomy, mastery, fun, connecting, competence, progress, and strength. There can also be an optimal challenge towards the activity, which grabs our interest. If we can do it, it makes us feel accomplished from within. Something is intrinsically motivating when a person does it for the pure enjoyment of it. There is an intrinsic value to doing it, the effort holds appeal from within the mind.

Try to be curious

To be curious about something means that you have a natural desire to learn and understand a particular thing or subject. You will want to know, explore, and discover more about it. This strong desire to do things that you’re interested in means that you’ll find intrinsic motivation to engage yourself in them. Wanting to know more about a subject or wanting to explore something new will make you feel eager to learn and explore the different aspects of it. Consequently, you will perform better on tasks associated with it.

Feel autonomy over what you are doing

When you feel in control of your actions, decisions, and behaviors you are intrinsically motivated (also known as autonomy). A sense of autonomy helps you make decisions on what activities you want to do based on what interests you the most. This is the reason why you might want to prepare for an exam on your own rather than asking your parents or friends to help you.

Intrinsic motivators

Master the activity you are performing

The desire of wanting to get better at something, improve your skills and learn how to do certain activities can make you intrinsically motivated to pursue tasks involving these activities. The pleasure and confidence that you get after becoming good at something can motivate you to do more and engage yourself in similar activities which will help you improve and refine your skills further. You want to become better at what you’re doing because it gives a sense of gratification. It means that the more time, energy, effort, care, or resources that you put into something, the more you will get out of it. What is more, intrinsic motivation will boost your creativity and enthusiasm.

Smiling and have fun while you do it

Engaging yourself in tasks and activities that you find fun, energizing, and exciting will help you become intrinsically motivated to perform them. You want to participate in these tasks or activities because they are enjoyable. This means that the pleasure is created from within rather than being externally supplied as rewards.

Feeling a connection with like-minded people

Being part of a social community is an important factor in intrinsic motivation since it can help you be more positively influenced by your peers to do tasks. This means that the desire to be part of a social community or group can make you intrinsically motivated to engage yourself in activities undertaken by your peers. You want to take part in these activities because you are able to connect with other people and becoming part of the community makes you feel accepted by others. Social connection motivates you to engage yourself in activities that are undertaken by your peers.

Getting progress with what you are doing

When you feel you are getting better at what you are doing, you experience intrinsic motivation to continue doing those activities. You will want to gain ground in those activities because you have a desire for self-improvement.  The satisfaction of knowing that you are continually getting better at something can motivate you to do similar actions or behaviors. In other words, having a sense of improvement with what you do increases the likelihood that you will do it since it gives you a positive reason to continue with the activity.

Trigger intrinsic motivation

Guidelines on how to trigger intrinsic motivation

If you find a way to trigger intrinsic motivation in yourself, then you will easily accomplish the things that are important to you. Below, we list a few guidelines that can help you become intrinsically motivated to do tasks or activities:

Be aware of the task

You need awareness of what the task or activity is about to determine if it’s something that can make you intrinsically motivated. Analyze what it entails and what skills you need to become successful at doing it before engaging yourself in the task. Take an example of a kid who wants to grow plants. He or she would be more inclined towards gardening or planting flowers if they understand that it’s something that can help them develop their creativity and imagination rather than just a chore that needs to be done every week without knowing the benefits of it. You should know what your tasks are about or you’ll end up doing them for the wrong reasons which will not make you intrinsically motivated.

Challenge yourself

Intrinsic motivation is more likely to increase if you challenge yourself. See a task as an activity that you need to accomplish and embrace it. If you feel that your task is more difficult than what you can achieve, then it will motivate you to prove yourself.

Flow theory

Flow – Getting into the state of intrinsic motivation

Flow theory explains the psychological state of mind that occurs when you are so immersed in an activity that you lose track of time. A flow state is a state of intrinsic motivation where a task feels challenging. You feel like you are in the zone when you are fully engaged in the activity.

As this state increases, it becomes easier for you to feel intrinsically motivated by the things that you do. This happens because you get a sense of reward and fulfillment. To put it in other terms, by being in a state of flow your intrinsic motivation becomes more evident and prominent. You continue what you are doing because it motivates you to keep on doing it.

When you want to get into flow with an activity it is important to:

  • Start an activity
  • Have a clear goal with the activity
  • Focus on the moment
  • Do the activity repeatedly
  • Find an optimal challenge
  • Look back at your work proudly

Starting an activity is essential

In a flow state, the internal rewards that you get from the activity motivate you to continue with what you are doing. Therefore to get in the flow state it is important that you start an activity. Starting an activity will test if it is challenging enough to keep you intrinsically motivated.

Have a clear goal with the activity

Having clear, well-defined goals helps us understand what activities are required to complete the task. A goal keeps us focused and helps us know what we are doing at every point. If a task has a clear end goal, it is easier to be intrinsically motivated by the activity since you can concentrate on achieving your goals.

Intrinsic motivators

Focus on the moment

Lose thoughts about the past and future by focusing on the present moment. Flow state is in the moment where your focus is only on the task that you are doing. This means that you concentrate on what you are doing and do not worry about anything else. When something triggers you to think about another time or place, you lose the moment and will not be intrinsically motivated by the task. So try to remove these triggers when trying to get into a flow state.

Doing a task repeatedly

When you do more tasks in a row, your interest in the activity increases. Doing an activity more often will help you to get in the flow state since you feel that you have already mastered it. The repetition of actions will allow you to reach an immersion state which is essential for triggering intrinsic motivation. For example, cleaning the house can become less of a chore if you do it every day rather than doing it once every week.

Find an optimal challenge

If the activity is too easy for you, then there is no challenge to it. Therefore it will not motivate you to continue doing it. But if it is too challenging for you, then it will feel too difficult to accomplish. As a consequence, it will not motivate you to do it.

There needs to be a challenge to find the activity interesting enough and keep on doing it. If there’s no balance between being just easy enough or just hard enough, then it may not be intrinsically motivating for you to continue with the activity.

Rewarding your hard work with a dopamine hit

Every time you achieve something or accomplish a task, your brain rewards you with a dopamine hit. Intrinsically motivated activities are things that will make it easier for you to get these dopamine hits which can boost your motivation levels even more. Do things that give you the opportunity to experience this pleasure of satisfaction where you feel good that you’ve achieved something. Be aware of the activity you are doing, and see that you are doing it for the right reasons. Provide positive feedback for yourself. This will help you to stay motivated with your task.

Extrinsic motivation

What is extrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation occurs when someone is motivated by an external factor. External factors can both be psychological rewards or tangible rewards. Psychological rewards could be social pressure taking away, or praise from others. Tangible rewards could be money, prizes, and stickers.

Being extrinsically motivated

Being extrinsically motivated can be great, but it can also have some downsides. If you feel stimulated by something external, then you probably won’t get the best out of yourself. If you’re motivated by something external then your motivation might not last forever and that could be a problem if it’s not the right kind of reward. Money is one of the most obvious external rewards, but everybody knows that money only makes you happy to a certain degree.

Differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations can both help you achieve physiological and basic psychological needs. The distinction between internal and external motivation is crucial. When we do something because we enjoy it or satisfy a deep-seated need, we are acting from an inside position. On the other hand, when we perform an activity for a reward, such as a badge or money, we are acting from an outside position. In other words, we can do something for its own sake, or we can do it for an external reward.

Doing something for its own sake is a strong motivator. This is because we learn what the activity is about and become highly skilled at it. When we do something for an external reward, however, our motivation for performing the activity changes with the availability of rewards. The more available rewards are, the more motivated we can be to work toward accomplishing them.

For example, when you are playing basketball for fun, you will work hard to improve your dribbling and defense skills. When you play professionally, however, motivation can go up and down. When you lose and earn less money, praise and also people might shame you. This would demotivate you to continue playing.

How extrinsic motivation can undermine intrinsic motivation?

When you are intrinsically motivated you will usually put in much more effort than you would if you were extrinsically motivated. However, if your focus shifts to the external reward instead of the internal rewards, you might lose your internal motivation.

Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation

The science behind intrinsic motivation

The science behind intrinsic motivation is the self-determination theory and flow theory.

Self Determination Theory

This theory is from Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, and comes from the year 1985. It is concerned with what it is that makes us choose certain activities rather than others. The three basic human needs are competence, relatedness, and autonomy. If you experience all these things when doing a particular task then your motivation will be high.

  • Autonomy: It is the degree to which people have free choice over what they are doing. It means that you are in complete control of your actions. The self-determination theory tells us that when an action satisfies all three basic needs, then it will be intrinsically motivating for someone to do this task again.
  • Relatedness: This is about being part of a social group. When people are in subordinated roles that is they have less control over their lives then they might not feel that it is worth putting much effort into things. However, when they are in subordinated roles but have good relations with the other members of the group, this will increase motivation. When people have a sense of being connected to others, motivation increases. One example could be when you really care for something and someone else also cares about the same thing, so it makes you want to do more because you are connecting with them through your similar interests.
  • Competence: When people feel confident in what they are doing it results in them being motivated to continue doing the task. They perceive that they can do what is required of them and this makes them feel good about themselves. If people lack competence or think that they lack it, then they might be reluctant to take on tasks.

Flow theory

Flow Theory

This theory was created by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1970). Flow theory is about describing the state of “being in the zone” or “in the flow”.

When an individual’s skill matches the challenge of a given situation, they will be completely involved in the task at hand. When they are in flow, there is no sense of time or place, their focus becomes one with the activity, and actions seem almost effortless. During this state of extreme concentration, people often report feeling happy and content because all of their needs are fulfilled.

Flow is an internal state of balance that is self-reinforced by its rewarding nature. In the flow state, you will do an activity for internal pleasure. You are not thinking about the external reward afterward, but are solely focused on the activity. For example, a basketball player will be fully involved in the game and will not be thinking of the money he is getting later on. Instead, he is using all his concentration and skills to try to play and win.

Supporting intrinsic motivation

How to support the intrinsic motivation of someone else?

Managers, parents, and teachers often want to motivate the people around them. How should they do this to make sure that the individual is intrinsically motivated? You can increase a person’s intrinsic motivation by:

  • Giving room for their passion
  • Giving them control
  • Helping them forget external motivators
  • Letting them work for the greater good
  • Not using punishment
  • Making goals attainable but challenging
  • Connecting with the person
  • Talking about what they like about it
  • Helping them master something fun
  • Increasing self-esteem and confidence in their abilities
  • Associating the task with already intrinsically motivating tasks

Increasing intrinsic motivation in someone is difficult. First, you need to find out why they are not intrinsically motivated. After this, you can test approaches to increase their motivation. Keep in mind that tasks need to be challenging, but attainable for them.

Intrinsic motivation

A word from Sublime People

Intrinsic motivation is an important aspect of life. Whether you are at school, university, or work, intrinsic motivation can help you achieve much more than extrinsic motivation. You will keep doing an activity for much longer because of the enjoyment and excitement that it brings. The less someone needs to be externally rewarded in order to do a task, the more intrinsically motivated they will be doing a specific activity.

What do you think about intrinsic motivation? Leave us a comment!