While intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are both forms of motivation, they have important differences. The main distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is that intrinsic motivation involves an internal reason for doing something or pursuing an objective while extrinsic motivation involves an external reason or reward for engaging in an activity or a goal.
What Is Intrinsic Motivation?
Intrinsic motivation involves engaging in an activity or doing something despite there being no obvious external rewards. A person is doing the activity simply because it is inherently enjoyable to them, aligned with their values, or is something they are interested in. He or she is doing the activity for the sake of doing that activity.
Intrinsic motivation usually includes pursuing an activity because it is aligned with the person’s values, interests, strengths, joys, curiosities, or passions in life. For example, Thomas Freidman describes intrinsic motivation in his best-selling book, The World is Flat, when he writes, “That innocent passion for a certain job, without knowing the salary or the working hours or the preparation required, is what you need to get back in touch with. It’s that childlike feeling of, “I want to do that because I want to do that – and I don’t have to explain why.”1
Examples of Intrinsic Motivation
Some examples of intrinsic motivation include exercising because you want to relieve stress, reading a book because you are interested in learning about the subject, going to work because the work itself provides your life with meaning, or spending time with your family because you love being around them.
Other examples of intrinsic motivation may be more intangible. For example, a person may be intrinsically motivated to develop a character trait such as honesty, authenticity, or creativity because those are character traits or inner values that are important and meaningful for that person to develop and express.
What Is Extrinsic Motivation?
Extrinsic motivation involves pursuing an activity because there is some external reward or punishment. A reward is something added that positively reinforces the behavior or increases the chances that the behavior will occur again. Alternatively, a punishment is something added that decreases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. Therefore, extrinsic motivation encourages behavior through external rewards or discourages behavior through punishments.
Extrinsic motivation arises from influences, incentives, or forces outside of us. Additionally, people may be extrinsically motivated to engage in an activity even if it is not enjoyable. An individual engages in extrinsic motivation because he or she expects to get something or some outcome in the future (e.g., money, praise, a promotion). Additionally, a person may be extrinsically motivated to avoid some bad outcome or something unpleasant happening (e.g., losing a job, illness, criticism).
Examples of Extrinsic Motivation
Some examples of extrinsic motivation that involve rewards include exercising to lose weight, reading a book to pass a test, going to work to make money, or spending time with your family so they will do something nice for you in the future. Other examples of extrinsic motivation that involve engaging in activity to avoid a punishment include exercising to avoid getting an illness such as diabetes, completing your work on time to avoid getting fired, or studying for a test to avoid failing a class.
Extrinsic motivation can also involve intangible rewards or punishments. For example, a person may work hard in order to get recognition or respect from their boss or spend time with their family to receive praise or gain their approval. Further a person may engage in an activity to avoid an intangible punishment such as being shamed or embarrassed. For instance, a person may reduce their alcohol intake to decrease being shamed by their family.
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: Key Differences
Some of the key differences between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation include the reason why you are engaged in the activity, whether you enjoy the activity, and whether the activity fulfills an inner or outer purpose. More specifically, intrinsic motivation involves engaging in an activity because it inherently brings a subjective experience of inner satisfaction, joy, or purpose without any expectation of an external reward.
For example, when children play and learn because they eager, curious, and want to learn about their environments, they are intrinsically motivated.2 Alternatively, extrinsic motivation involves pursuing an activity or goal because it leads to an external reward or avoids a punishment.
Additionally, extrinsic motivation may involve engaging in activity that is enjoyable, but may also involve engaging in an activity that is not enjoyable to obtain some desirable future outcome or avoid some negative consequence. Alternatively, intrinsic motivation usually involves engaging in an activity because that activity is enjoyable or meaningful.
The differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are outlined in the table below:
|Intrinsic Motivation||Extrinsic Motivation|
|Reducing alcohol consumption because you feel more at peace with yourself sober||Decreasing alcohol consumption to avoid getting arrested for drunk driving|
|Going to a yoga class because it is relaxing||Going to a yoga class to try to meet someone to take on a date|
|Eating food because food tastes good||Eating food to lose weight|
|Being kind for the sake of being kind without any expectation of anything in return||Being kind to someone because you expect something in return|
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: Which Is Better?
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be useful in different situations. For example, extrinsic motivation may be more useful than intrinsic motivation in situations when people do not want to engage in the activity, but there is an external reward for engaging in that activity. For example, extrinsic motivation may be useful to help students study for and pass a class they are not interested in studying for in school. Extrinsic motivation may also help people avoid activities they enjoy but have harmful consequences such as reducing drug or alcohol consumption because they do not want to go to jail.
However, one of the risks of extrinsic motivation is that it can reduce intrinsic motivation through a process called overjustification. For example, in one study, one group of children were given or believed they would be given a ribbon and a gold star for drawing pictures. Another group of children in the same study were assigned to draw without an expected reward (e.g., ribbon or gold star). The children in the study who were given a ribbon and a gold star for drawing pictures spent less time drawing than the group of children who were given no reward. The children given the award, therefore, had less intrinsic motivation but also didn’t produce as much.3
This study suggests that if an individual is extrinsically motivated then that individual will be more focused on gaining the reward rather than spending time on the task. This process may be seen in smoking cessation. For example, one study found that smokers with higher levels of intrinsic motivation compared to extrinsic motivation were more likely to achieve abstinence from smoking.4 However, another study found that rewards or extrinsic motivation does not decrease intrinsic motivation. Thus, it likely depends on the individual, environment, and goals to determine whether intrinsic or extrinsic motivation works better.5
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Can Intrinsic & Extrinsic Motivation Co-Exist?
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can co-exist. Psychologists often use both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to help people change their behavior and get motivated to accomplish their goals. For example, a psychologist may use extrinsic motivation to help a person reduce their alcohol consumption by focusing on external reasons (e.g., avoiding going to jail, improved relationships with family members, better health). Additionally, a psychologist may use intrinsic motivation to help people reduce alcohol consumption (e.g., enhanced self-esteem, aligned with person’s values, enjoy subjective experience of being sober rather than intoxicated).
Anyone can use intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to help them achieve their goals. For example, a person may use extrinsic motivation to pursue external reasons for a certain career such as money, prestige, status, and power. However, that person can also use intrinsic motivation to help them in that same career such as picking a career that he or she is interested in, finds inherently rewarding, is enjoyable, and connects them with a deeper inner calling. Combining both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can create powerful reasons to pursue a goal or not engage in a potentially harmful activity.
4 Ways to Utilize Intrinsic Motivation
Here are 4 tips to help you tap into intrinsic motivation:
1. Reconnect With the Initial Vision or Inspiration that Excited You
That initial vision, passion or dream provided you with enough courage to take the initial steps in faith. Don’t let your exhaustion or stress get in the way of you taking the remaining necessary steps in faith in order to achieve your goals. Sometimes along the way we have to do things that are difficult, unwanted, or tough to live our life purpose. By reconnecting with that initial feeling or vision, we can increase intrinsic motivation when we are exhausted. That initial inspiration is still present and capable of making you feel alive and intrinsically motivated. Give yourself permission to daydream about that initial vision and feel how good it will feel when you accomplish your goals.
2. Ask Yourself What You Need to Manage Life Circumstances
Sometimes, we might not like our current life circumstances and they may distract us from being motivated, but we know deep down that we can handle them. In fact, sometimes our current life circumstances are capable of helping us develop the strengths, skills, qualities, personality traits, or characteristics we need to develop in order to be the person we need to become to accomplish our goals. We can increase intrinsic motivation by focusing on the process of developing a skill or quality in the midst of difficult circumstances.
3. Focus on What You Are Grateful For
By focusing on what we are grateful for, it switches our attention in our mind. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, mad at life, or down, gratitude allows us to focus on unexpected joys in life. This fills up our energy and increases our motivation. We may not have achieved our dreams yet or developed into the person we want to become, but chances are you have made giant strides over the course of your life. Being grateful for our progress as well as the little things along the way can help increase intrinsic motivation.
4. Allow Time for Self-Care
Find some activity that relaxes you, whether it is watching Netflix, meeting with a friend, or doing yoga and make it a priority. Every day, take at least 30 minutes to decompress and re-energize yourself. Just knowing that you have this time to relax can help influence you to be more motivated to take on the more difficult tasks throughout the day.
When to Use Extrinsic Motivation
Extrinsic motivation is best used to help you to engage in activities that you don’t like doing. For example, you may not like doing the dishes. However, if you focus on the end result of doing the dishes such as keeping your house clean or your spouse happy, then that may help you be more likely to do the dishes. Extrinsic motivation is also helpful for people who do not like their jobs, but need their job to provide for their family or pay their bills.
For example, a person may not like or enjoy the work they are doing. However, a person can use extrinsic motivation to focus on what the work is providing for them, such as money to take care of their family, basic living expenses, building wealth for retirement, or creating enough free time to pursue activities or passions they truly do enjoy.
Parents can also use extrinsic motivation to help influence their children, especially young children, to engage in certain behaviors. For example, if a child is potty training, then a parent can offer a reward or praise when the child goes to the bathroom in a toilet. Similarly, a parent may create punishment to discourage a child from engaging in a certain behavior. For instance a parent may give a child extra chores if the child does not do their homework.
How to Find a Balance Between Intrinsic & Extrinsic Motivation
It is important for parents and individuals to find a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Excessive extrinsic motivation may lead to overjustification, which diminishes intrinsic motivation and enjoyment of the task. Someone will know when they are using too much extrinsic motivation and not enough intrinsic motivation when they are no longer enjoying the activity or feeling burned out. Thus, one way to find a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is to focus on what you enjoy about the activity and/or are grateful for when you are engaged in an activity, rather than simply focusing on the end result.
Another way to find balance in extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation is to find a deeper meaning or purpose in the activity or how that activity connects with your core values or inner calling. For example, a person may not particularly enjoy their job, but can find greater meaning in the work because it connects with their core values. More specifically, if that person inherently values hard work, discipline, or integrity without any expectation of anything in return or regardless of the activity, then that person can view their work as an opportunity to live their core values such as working hard, developing discipline, serving others, or practicing integrity (in addition to providing income) even if he or she does not enjoy that work.
One can monitor whether they are using too much extrinsic motivation by looking at where they are placing their attention. If your attention is only on the end result or expected outcome of an activity, then that may be a sign you are too extrinsically motivated, leading to potential burn out, lack of enjoyment, or lack of deeper meaning. Alternatively, if you find yourself enjoying the activity, finding meaning in the process, or fully engaged in the process, then you are likely finding a good balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation