Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation: Which is Best? (Hint: Both!)
Do you want to understand the differences between intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation?
The driving force behind human behavior and our psychological needs typically fall into one of these two categories.
For example, you may be more motivated to learn a new skill because it makes you feel good. Internal motivation — intrinsic motivation — pushes you to achieve your goal.
Or it could be the promise of an external reward at the other end that sees you through to the end — which is an example of extrinsic motivation.
We'll explain what intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is, discuss the benefits of each, and provide examples.
Let's dive in.
What is Intrinsic Motivation?
Intrinsic motivation involves doing something simply because of the pure enjoyment it gives you.
Or, you feel an internal drive towards performing a task because internal rewards are more about personal satisfaction, purpose, or it's the right thing to do.
The promise of a prize or profit isn't your driving force.
Of course, an external motivator — or the "carrot and stick" approach — can be an extrinsic incentive.
Money is excellent external motivation in our jobs, but we search for an intrinsic reward once we're satisfied with our pay. Thus, we become more motivated by internal factors.
Let's look in closer detail at the three intrinsic motivators.
What are the 3 types of intrinsic motivation?
Autonomy is our desire to take charge of our own lives. When we are given absolute autonomy, we're more engaged and intrinsically motivated to complete a task.
Mastery is the desire for constant self-improvement. We love to "get better at stuff." We enjoy the satisfaction of personal and professional achievements.
Purpose is the desire to do things that matter — to make a difference. With so many hours spent working, we need that time to matter. We want to understand how our role and efforts contribute to the organization.
Examples of Intrinsic Motivation
An intrinsic motivator can take many forms, whether it be in the workplace or in your personal life. Examples of intrinsic motivation include:
- Playing sport because you love the rush of endorphins (and perhaps the social aspect)
- Reading self-help books because you want to change your mindset
- Learning a new language because you love to travel
- Furthering your education because you want to open up your career options
- Working overtime because you're passionate about your work
- Cleaning your home because you like to feel tidy and organized
What Is Extrinsic Motivation?
With extrinsic motivation, an external factor motivates you. You're not inspired to do something for the pure joy it brings you.
But it could be the promise of public recognition, improving your social status, or a financial incentive.
Or, you're doing it to avoid a less-than-positive outcome or punishment from an external source.
Being extrinsically motivated isn't necessarily a bad thing.
It's just the nature of being human. In fact, an extrinsic factor can be highly beneficial in some situations — especially when you need to complete a task you don't enjoy.
Let's look at the four types of extrinsic motivation.
What are the 4 types of extrinsic motivation?
External regulation involves doing something to satisfy an external demand or receive a tangible reward. Such as cleaning the house before your mother-in-law arrives.
Introjected regulation means we have accepted the outcome as necessary, but we don't fully accept it.
For example, a child spends countless hours practicing the piano for a recital because she doesn't want others to look down on her if she doesn't play well.
We often perform these acts to reduce guilt or anxiety, boost our pride or ego, or maintain our feeling of self-worth.
Regulation Through Identification
Identification is where we consciously value a goal and believe the activity is essential to us. We're not acting out of obligation.
For example, studying hard for the SATs to be accepted by your college of choice.
Integrated regulation means we have internalized the extrinsic cause and found it aligns with our values and needs. Then the action becomes self-initiated — it is autonomous and not controlled by an external source.
Although this form of motivation is extrinsic, it shares many similar qualities with intrinsic motivation. Hence, this is the best type of extrinsic motivator.
Examples of Extrinsic Motivation
Extrinsic motivation is easy to identify. An extrinsic motivation example can include:
- Studying for an exam (to please your parents or teachers)
- Exercising to be bikini-ready (so you're not embarrassed on the beach)
- Working to pay the bills (not because you enjoy your job)
- Volunteering because it looks good on your resume
- Visiting new places to build followers on social media
- Pursuing a particular career to make your parents happy
- Promising yourself to buy those new shoes when you get that promotion at work
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: What's the Difference?
You may think that extrinsic motivation is less desirable than intrinsic motivation.
But intrinsic motivation is not always possible in every situation. Let's be honest. Sometimes we simply have no internal desire to engage in an activity.
So, what are intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in the workplace?
If you have a deadline looming and don't want to get on your boss's wrong side, extrinsic motivation drives you to finish the project.
Conversely, if you help a colleague who's struggling with their workload, that's intrinsic motivation. You came to their rescue because it's the right thing to do.
Both intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation are examples of powerful motivators.
The key is finding the optimal motivation balance between the two.
When Intrinsic Motivation is Best
Sincere praise or positive feedback from others helps to increase our intrinsic motivation.
Who doesn't love to feel appreciated and told they're doing a great job?
Conversely, external rewards can decrease intrinsic motivation if they're given out willy-nilly.
Let's look at some areas where we can apply intrinsic motivation effectively.
If you want to foster intrinsic motivation among your team, consider providing mindful feedback. But, don't go overboard, or you risk your staff losing intrinsic motivation.
If you can give people a challenge, it will naturally motivate them and boost their confidence. Equally, if your workers are intrigued by a project, they'll be more engaged in finding a solution.
As a team member, if your manager gives you positive and motivating feedback — give it back. This makes them intrinsically motivated to continue managing you successfully.
You may think lavishing praise on your child motivates them to complete tasks or achieve a goal.
And, of course, praise can increase intrinsic motivation.
But there are times when extrinsic motivation is essential.
When Extrinsic Motivation is Best
Extrinsic rewards aren't always about offering bribes — although they can be highly effective.
Sometimes, we just aren't internally motivated to complete a task. That's where extrinsic motivation comes in to get the job done.
An extrinsic reward can help encourage an interest in a task that we have no desire to perform, such as a student studying for a test on a Friday night.
However, be careful of the phenomenon known as "overjustification." Offering excessive external rewards can reduce intrinsic motivation if a person already finds the behavior internally rewarding.
Therefore, give extrinsic rewards sparingly so that their value and effect remain constant.
Offer your team bonuses, awards for recognition, commissions, and promotions. This will help motivate them to learn new skills, take on new challenges, or hit that quarterly goal.
But, you must give them the time and resources to explore skills and projects they're already excited about independently.
If you make it part of their regular responsibilities, you could risk demotivating them.
Work for the rewards you want without exhausting yourself in the pursuit of extrinsic prizes.
Keep yourself balanced and explore activities that you enjoy just for the sake of doing them, not for the reward you receive for doing it.
Extrinsic motivation may come from external rewards such as a good grade, candy, or praise.
Yet, offering excessive rewards can be problematic — such as the "overjustification effect."
If you provide a reward for an activity that a child feels is already fun, the play activity may feel like work.
Find a Balance
We all need a higher vision for ourselves to succeed in our personal and work life. When considering intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, both types are necessary to drive us to greater heights.
It's up to you to work out what intrinsic vs. extrinsic factors motivate you, your staff, or your children.
You may even find your strongest intrinsic motivation wanes at times.
And that's okay.
But drawing from that inner fire can help you bounce back after a tough day.