Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal desire to engage in an activity for its own sake rather than for any external reward. You’re driven by enjoyment, curiosity, or the satisfaction of mastering a skill. Many of us struggle to find the motivation to get certain things done. It can often feel like we’re spinning our wheels and not progressing. Find out how intrinsic motivation works and how you can harness it from within yourself to make measurable strides that get you ahead on the road to success. (Estimated reading time: 10 minutes)
“You alone are responsible for what you do, don’t do, or how you respond to what’s done to you.”– Darren Hardy
We’ve all struggled to find the motivation to get certain things done. It can often feel like we’re spinning our wheels and not progressing. Internal resistance prevents us from making measurable strides that get us ahead on the road to success.
If you experience a lack of motivation, the good news is that you’re not alone. There is a scientific explanation for why this happens. Intrinsic motivation, or the inner drive that comes from within, is a powerful force that can help you tap into your true potential and achieve your goals.
The most successful people in history were fueled by intrinsic motivation. Arnold Schwarzenegger is someone who exemplifies this. He has been known as the world’s greatest bodybuilder, the world’s highest-paid movie star, and the leader of the world’s sixth-largest economy.
Schwarzenegger’s achievements were no accident, but driven by his mindset. In his book, “Be Useful,” he writes, “For me, life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.”
Based on his inspirational journey and the wisdom he offers in his narration, it’s clear that Schwarzenegger was propelled by hunger, complemented by hard work, clear vision, curiosity, and problem-solving skills. Yet, none of these would have come to the surface without intrinsic motivation.
When an internal force drives you to succeed, you’ll do whatever it takes to realize your vision, including pushing through the inevitable challenges. Schwarzenegger learned this lesson during his bodybuilding days. “The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion…That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.”
Too many of us are disconnected from the internal drive that gives us the ammunition to achieve our dreams. By understanding the science and psychological factors that influence and hamper motivation, you can harness them to propel you toward success and unleash your full potential.
If someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came from a strict post-war household in rural Austria, could gradually build a bridge to achieving his deepest desires by simply channeling his inner drive and following his inner GPS, so can we. Schwarzenegger says we can rely on our own resources when we remember that “The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to conquer.”
Understanding intrinsic motivation
Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal desire to engage in an activity for its own sake rather than for any external reward or incentive. You’re driven by personal enjoyment, curiosity, or the satisfaction of mastering a skill.
When you are intrinsically motivated, you are more likely to experience a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction from the process of pursuing your goals because you’re focused on the process and not the end result.
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a model for understanding the motivations of human behavior, Abraham Maslow placed self-actualization needs at the top. The lower tier includes physiological needs, safety, love and belonging, and self-esteem. The self-actualization needs include the need for value, meaning, and purpose, which are components of intrinsic motivation.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs implies that once our basic needs are met, pursuing higher goals that bring us true fulfillment is essential to our psychological well-being, creativity, and long-term success.
When intrinsically motivated, you are more likely to persist in facing challenges, take on new tasks, and experience greater satisfaction and happiness in your endeavors.
The difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
Based on the incentive theories of motivation, all types of motivation can be divided into two major groups: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Unlike intrinsic motivation, which comes from within, extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards or punishments. This can include things like money, praise, or recognition.
While extrinsic motivation can be effective in the short term, it often lacks the long-term staying power and satisfaction that comes with intrinsic motivation. If you’re in a job where your boss perpetually gives you tasks you don’t particularly enjoy but promises you an eventual raise if you follow through because you need the job and the money, that’s exactly what you will do.
On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is deeply rooted in our innate need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. When these psychological needs are met, we are more likely to experience intrinsic motivation and greater well-being.
For example, if a college student dreams of traveling to France for the summer to experience French life and culture, they are more likely to commit to learning French than someone taking the class to fulfill the language requirement for their degree.
The psychology behind intrinsic motivation
To understand the science behind intrinsic motivation, exploring the psychological factors that influence it is essential. Research has identified three key factors that contribute to intrinsic motivation:
1. Autonomy: This refers to the sense of control and choice in our actions. When we feel autonomous, we are more likely to be intrinsically motivated because we perceive our actions as stemming from our own decisions and values as opposed to those of others. You can achieve autonomy by giving yourself choices and opportunities for self-direction in pursuing your goals.
2. Competence: The belief in our ability to successfully complete a task or achieve a goal. When we feel competent, we are more likely to be intrinsically motivated because we have confidence in our skills and abilities. Building competence can be done through deliberate practice, seeking feedback and setting achievable goals. That’s why we like doing things we’re good at and avoid those we’re not.
3. Relatedness: This speaks to our need for social connection and a sense of belonging. When we feel a sense of relatedness with other people, we are more likely to have intrinsic motivation because we value the relationships and interactions that come with pursuing our goals. You can build relatedness by seeking support from others, collaborating with like-minded individuals, and sharing your progress with a supportive community.
Why intrinsic motivation is the key to mastery
When you are intrinsically motivated, you are more likely to experience increased productivity, creativity, and a higher quality of work, which can lead to mastery in your chosen field.
In his book, “Mastery”, author Robert Greene writes that this inner force seeks to guide you toward your Life’s Task – what you are meant to accomplish in your lifetime. The first step to understanding this is understanding who you are and what makes you unique. Greene says that we must be inward-looking to get clarity about what intrinsically motivates us, and find our way to the path that’s right for us.
Intrinsic motivation also promotes a growth mindset, which is the belief that our abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort and learning. When you have a growth mindset, you are more likely to embrace challenges and view failures as opportunities for growth.
Greene believes that growth comes from having a sense of purpose and direction. When we’re called to accomplish something that speaks to our souls, it instills a religious-like quest that gives us the faith to move mountains.
Furthermore, tapping into your inner drive can help you maintain a sense of focus, resilience, and passion for your goals. It can provide you with the energy and determination needed to overcome obstacles and persevere, even when faced with adversity.
Strategies to boost and maintain intrinsic motivation
While intrinsic motivation can be powerful, it’s important to recognize that it can fluctuate over time. To boost and maintain your intrinsic motivation, consider implementing the following strategies:
1. Identify your personal intrinsic motivators
It’s essential to identify your personal intrinsic motivators to harness the power of intrinsic motivation. These activities, interests, or goals naturally ignite your passion and curiosity. Reflect on the activities you find enjoyable and fulfilling, then consider how to incorporate them into your goals and pursuits.
Ask yourself what truly matters to you and what gives you a sense of purpose. Is it the opportunity to be creative? The satisfaction of helping others? The joy of learning something new? By identifying your personal intrinsic motivators, you can align your goals and actions with your values and passions, fueling your intrinsic motivation.
2. Set goals that align with your intrinsic motivators
Once you have identified your intrinsic motivators, setting goals that align with them will give them form and direction. When your goals are aligned with your intrinsic motivators, you are more likely to experience a sense of purpose, enjoyment, and fulfillment in pursuing them.
Start by setting meaningful and specific goals that are challenging yet achievable. Break them down into smaller, manageable steps to maintain a sense of progress and momentum. By setting goals that align with your intrinsic motivators, you will feel a greater sense of purpose and drive, making staying motivated and committed to your goals easier.
3. Cultivate a growth mindset for sustained intrinsic motivation
A growth mindset is essential for sustaining intrinsic motivation. It involves believing your abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort, learning, and perseverance. Cultivating a growth mindset can help you embrace challenges, view failures as opportunities for growth, and maintain a sense of curiosity and resilience.
To cultivate a growth mindset, start by reframing your failures and setbacks as learning experiences. Embrace challenges as opportunities to stretch and grow your skills. Seek feedback and view it as a chance to improve. Adopting a growth mindset will make you more likely to maintain your intrinsic motivation and continuously improve on your path to achieving your goals.
4. Overcome obstacles and setbacks with strength and resilience
While intrinsic motivation can provide the drive and determination needed to achieve your goals, it’s important to acknowledge that obstacles and setbacks are inevitable.
View setbacks as learning opportunities and opportunities for growth. Embrace the lessons they provide and use them to adjust your approach and strategies.
Remember, setbacks are not indications of failure but stepping stones to success. Stay focused on your intrinsic motivators, adjust your course as needed, and keep moving forward.
5. Create a supportive environment
Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who share your goals and values. Seek support and encouragement from others because success is not a one-person show.
Guard your personal space and only welcome people who can enhance your life with their friendship and counsel. Ask for constructive feedback and help from them when you need it. This saves time and offers valuable insight that points you to where you need to direct your energy and focus.
Expose yourself to intrinsically motivated people. Learn their teachings, mindset, and practices, and absorb principles, knowledge, and behaviors you can incorporate into your life.
6. Celebrate your progress
Acknowledge and celebrate your progress, no matter how small. This will help you maintain a sense of motivation and momentum. Don’t focus on what you didn’t do right. This will make you feel less competent and motivated.
Write down a list of your top 50 or 100 successes. Refer to this whenever you’re experiencing slowdowns, lulls, and disappointments. Another exercise you could try is writing all your wins (big and small) down daily or weekly. Read over them, give yourself a pat on the back, and appreciate the skill and effort you put into making them a reality.
By celebrating the wins, you build the muscle and habit of expecting to win in the future.
7. Practice self-care
Take care of your physical and mental well-being. Prioritize rest, exercise, and activities that recharge and rejuvenate you. During these solitary sessions, you can engage in soul-enhancing activities such as meditation, writing, prayer, and repeating mantras and affirmations.
If your mind is turbulent, having a grounding practice can bring you back to a state of inner peace. Our minds are preoccupied with worries and concerns, and we quickly become ungrounded and out of balance.
Spiritual grounding can help us get out of our heads and reestablish a harmonious energy flow between the mind, body, and spirit. If you cannot find happiness within yourself, are distracted by busy thoughts, or are overwhelmed by a never-ending to-do list, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and realign with your center.
Accepting that our journey on Earth will come to a close and that our time is limited, we’ll feel the urge to make the best of every moment we’re given. Our mortality is the biggest reason we should feel motivated to do our best, regardless of the outcome of our actions. As long as we use our life force intentionally, we have lived a purposeful existence.
All my best on your journey,
Questions for you: What are the things in your life that motivate you? How can you incorporate them into your daily practice so that you stay in this inspired state?
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