An unmotivated man is an unmoving man. Without motivation, humanity lacks the willingness to accomplish anything and the drive to push forward through challenges. Trying to accomplish a goal without motivation is like trying to drive a car with a dead battery. You might be able to push it to make it move a short distance, but the effort required is much higher than it would be if it had a working battery.
Motivation is a very broad topic. The American Psychological Association gives multiple different definitions of motivation, including “a person’s willingness to exert physical or mental effort in pursuit of a goal or outcome” and “the impetus that gives purpose or direction to behavior and operates in humans at a conscious or unconscious level.” Motivation can be broken up into two main categories: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
The main difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is that intrinsic motivation comes from some internal source, such as a general interest, and extrinsic motivation comes from an external source, such as a reward.
More specifically, extrinsic motivation comes from outside sources, such as a specific reward, money, fame, etc. This type of motivation is typically associated with more negative feelings, such as pressure or fear (of losing the reward, of punishment, of not being the best, etc.). This may result in a worse long-term effect. Additionally, extrinsic motivation is typically less stable and less reliable since taking away the reward also removes the motivation.
Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is stronger. It typically stems from an interest, curiosity, or some internalized value. It is like the battery in the aforementioned car analogy, while extrinsic motivation is like the people pushing the car. The people pushing the car will eventually get worn out, likely sooner rather than later, and the car is yet again in its immobile state. However, with a battery, the car moves with an ease of motion it could not have gotten from any external sources. Thus, intrinsic motivation is stronger.
Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation are not always exclusive, though. It is wholly possible to be both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated simultaneously. You may be working on a project that you need to complete for school or work, but at the same time, you are genuinely interested in the topic and want to learn more about it.
Another real-world example of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation working simultaneously would be of me writing this article and tutoring at work. I genuinely enjoy researching and learning more about anything educational, especially if it’s something that I can apply to my studies at school. I also love sharing what I learn, which is part of my motivation for working as a tutor outside of school. While my main motivation for these is intrinsic, I also enjoy numerous extrinsic motivators for each of these. I get a sense of accomplishment and something to add to my resume, I get monetary compensation for tutoring, and I get to see the effects of my work on other people through testimony from my supervisors and improved grades from my students.
How to Improve Motivation
Here are some ways you might be able to improve your motivation:
- Set realistic goals – if you set an unreachable goal, you will experience hopelessness and be more inclined to give up
- Have a support group – having other people keep you accountable and encourage you can put you in the right mindset and keep you motivated
- Reward yourself – you will likely feel more motivated if you know that you will receive a concrete reward for your effort
- Keep a positive, open mindset – negativity can severely hinder your success and motivation, so being open to new ideas and staying positive is essential
These are primarily ways to kickstart extrinsic motivation; improving intrinsic motivation is a slightly different process. The Self-Determination Theory explains the psychology of motivation, especially intrinsic motivation, and may help explain ways to improve intrinsic motivation.
The Self-Determination Theory
The self-determination theory describes both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. It describes self-determination as one’s ability to be personally responsible for their actions and having a strong internal motivation.
The three major psychological needs for motivation, especially for intrinsic motivation, are autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomy requires a certain level of freedom in one’s life, allowing them to make their own decision. Competence is knowing that we have accomplished something, and relatedness is the desire to be accepted into a friend group or to have strong interpersonal relationships. If what we are doing satisfies any or all of these needs, we will be more motivated to work.
ROWE (results-only work environment) shows how effective the applications of the self-determination theory are. This type of environment functions by giving employees full autonomy and is results-based rather than hours-based. Studies show that this actually results in higher productivity, higher employer happiness, and lower turnover rates. There have also been other adaptations of the Self-Determination Theory, all with positive results.
As Stephen Covey, prominent educator and author, says,
“Motivation is a fire from within. If someone tries to light that fire, chances are it will burn very briefly.”
Motivation is key to success, and finding ways to improve motivation is invaluable.
Read more articles on personal development on our Zealousness blog Personal Development – iN Education Inc. (ineducationonline.org)
- “Apa Dictionary of Psychology.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. Accessed March 6, 2023. https://dictionary.apa.org/motivation.
- Nickerson, Charlotte. “Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation: What’s the Difference?” Study Guides for Psychology Students – Simply Psychology, February 8, 2023. https://simplypsychology.org/differences-between-extrinsic-and-intrinsic-motivation.html#:~:text=Intrinsic%20motivation%20describes%20the%20undertaking,comes%20from%20outside%20the%20individual.
- Sáez, Francisco. Rowe: Results only work environment. Accessed March 6, 2023. https://facilethings.com/blog/en/rowe-results-only-work-environment.
- “Theory.” selfdeterminationtheoryorg. Accessed March 6, 2023. https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/theory/.