Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: Finding and Understanding What Moves You

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Aristotle called it internal and external goods, those things that move us to do things, to take action – our motivators. He believed that the highest good is happiness and all the activities that people engage in are ultimately directed to that end.

But ask 10 people what happiness means to them, and you are very likely to get 10 very different answers.

So, with happiness being such a fluid and personal concept, it stands to reason that the methods we use to get us to that point will be quite varied as well. The things that motivate us, that move us to take action (or do nothing) are as personal as our own fingerprints. What motivates you may not have any effect on your coworker.

What moves you?

There are two distinct types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Recognizing which of these spur you on can be very beneficial for moving up in your career, growing your business, or bettering yourself on a personal level.

What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is, to use Aristotle’s words, “internal goods.” If you’ve ever felt a sense of pride or accomplishment for a job well done, you’ve experienced internal goods. When those internal goods inspire you to take action, in other words, when you do something that can help you achieve those internal goods, then they become internal or intrinsic motivation. Internal rewards cannot be bought. They are intangible and are the products of our emotions, our sense of self-worth. They are the feelings that spring from doing things as simple as cleaning your home or as complex as building a multi-million-dollar corporation.

What is extrinsic motivation?

Just as intrinsic motivation comes from within, extrinsic motivation relies on external goods. This is typically in the form of some tangible reward like money, a promotion or a trophy. For most people, the extrinsic motivation of a paycheck is what keeps them showing up for work on time and doing a good job. It may not be the only reason, but it usually factors into the equation somewhere. It is often easier to get people to do something if you are offering an external reward – that’s just human nature. On some level, though, this needs to be balanced with intrinsic motivators as well.

Self-motivation in the professional journey

Understanding how you are motivated and identifying your specific motivators can help you in your professional journey. Once you’ve identified what they are, you can purposely seek them out and use them to advance in your career or build your business.

For instance, if money is a primary motivator, you can use that to improve your performance on your job. You know that if you are late for work, your pay will be docked. In other words, you will lose money. If you aren’t productive, you could miss out on your yearly bonus. By the same token, if you are intrinsically motivated, then gravitating toward projects that feed those internal rewards can help keep you on task.

Discover your personal motivators

To find out what motivates you, think about what being happy looks like to you. What is your personal, unique idea of happiness? Is it owning things like big houses and fancy cars? Or, is it more a sense of contentment and peace? Maybe happiness to you is having a large farm where you can house lots of rescue animals. Everyone has their own idea of “happy”; you just need to find yours.

Next, turn that idea into your own unique motivators. Make a list of the reasons why you work, but not necessarily why you like your job. Look at both the intrinsic and extrinsic goods that you reap, and convert them into your motivators. You can then use them to achieve greater success in every aspect of your life.

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