‘Why do we do the things we do?’
‘What drives our behaviour?’
The above are two questions I ponder over almost daily. I’m so intrigued to understand why we perform certain roles and engage in certain things in society… Is it because we genuinely enjoy what we’re doing, or is it because we hope to receive some sort of external reward from it? To gain some clarification regarding the very questions I have asked here, I will dedicate today’s post to exploring intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation…
So first, what is it? Its all well and good throwing about words like ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation, but what do those words actually mean?
Well, the Oxford Dictionary definitions of the two words are as follows:
Intrinsic motivation: ‘An incentive to do something that arises from factors within the individual, such as a need to reach your full potential in life.’
Extrinsic motivation: ‘An incentive to do something that arises from factors outside the individual, such as rewards or penalties.’
To put the above definitions into a ‘real life’ scenario, lets imagine there are two students in a classroom who both do their homework to the best of their ability. One student does it because she is genuinely interested in the subject and enjoys widening her knowledge, whereas the other does it because she seeks approval from her teachers, since this is what is likely to result in her being awarded good grades. The former student is intrinsically motivated, whereas the latter is most certainly extrinsically motivated.
In case you’re still having difficulty distinguishing between the two, the main difference is this; to be intrinsically motivated means to do something because it is what you deeply value and makes you ‘light up’ inside, whereas to be extrinsically motivated means to do something because it is what you feel you ‘should’ be doing in order for you to receive a reward as a result, regardless of whether or not it is something you genuinely want to do…
In terms of my mental health, I regularly ask myself; ‘why am I engaging in this?’ If I am engaging in exercise, for example, I strive to identify why that is. Is it because exercising makes me feel good, or is it because I believe exercise makes me look good? There is most definitely a stark difference between the two reasons. Exercising because you enjoy the mental and physical health benefits it brings is a form of intrinsic motivation, but exercising because you want to change the way your body looks to gain approval from others, that is a form of extrinsic motivation.
‘I exercise because I love my body, not because I hate it.’
Whilst on the topic of exercise, I thought it would be a good time to throw in one of my favourite quotes. They are words that I strive to live my life by. I try to rephrase my thinking from ‘I have to do this workout’, to, ‘I get to do this workout.’ This really helps me to shift my perspective on movement, encouraging me to do it for reasons that are intrinsic as opposed to extrinsic.
Aside from questioning my relationship with exercise and my body, I also think about my intrinsic and extrinsic motivation when considering wider areas of my mental health too. To give you an example, when I’m feeling anxious about going somewhere, I ask myself; ‘am I avoiding going because I dislike the activity and don’t really know anyone who will be there, or am I avoiding it because I worry about how people will perceive me/whether I will be judged in a negative light?’ If I find myself answering with the latter response, I am able to recognise that my anxiety is coming from a place of extrinsic motivation, and I must therefore strive to prioritise my intrinsic motivation instead.
Although I have been very much boasting the benefits of being intrinsically motivated throughout this post thus far, it is also important to note that you can be both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. For example, I go looking round charity shops for things to buy and sell because doing so makes me feel happy and gives me a sense of fulfilment (intrinsic motivation.) The outcome of me looking round charity shops for things to buy and sell I os that I make a bit of money (extrinsic motivation.) It is therefore fine to be both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated, but you shouldn’t rely on extrinsic motivation alone to make you feel good. Why? Because the fact is; relying on extrinsic motivation and only extrinsic motivation will only make you feel “good” for superficial reasons.
So now you know the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, I want to encourage you to really question which has a hold over you the next time you are making a decision. It could be a big decision like applying for a job (‘am I applying for this job because I feel really passionate about the industry, or am I applying because I like the idea of a pay rise?’), or it could even be a small, seemingly insignificant decision like buying a new dress (‘am I buying this dress because I love the way it makes me feel about myself, or am I buying it to live up to societies expectations of what it means to be a woman?’)
When you begin to question your motivation for doing things in the ways I have suggested, your whole perspective on life will start to shift, and your life will improve for the better, trust me.
So, get questioning.
Get motivated (intrinsically, of course.)