Intrinsic motivation is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation, but also more difficult to achieve

Intrinsic motivation is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation, but also more difficult to achieve

For any given behavior, our motivations can have two radically different natures : extrinsic and intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is the drive that comes from within, without any apparent external reward. The activity is done because it is inherently enjoyable and not because of an early reward, deadline, or outside pressure.

Extrinsic motivation, on the contrary, depends on external inputs, on the rewards that come from outside. New Year’s resolutions tend to be more extrinsic than intrinsic, and that’s why we can barely complete 20% of them, on average.

Stable VS passenger

The extrinsic rewards are temporary. They are very effective in the short term, but tend to dissipate in the long term. Still, the downsides of extrinsic rewards don’t end there – they can also negatively impact our intrinsic drive .

This can be seen, for example, in children’s art. Most children love to draw. Give a child with a stack of blank papers and a coloring game, and everything will be rolled. Some will draw for hours on end, without interruption and without the need for extrinsic motivation.

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But how to make a child stop drawing? Simply stating that you will be awarded a reward for each drawing they complete. Because the most effective way to stop this behavior is to give them an extrinsic reward. There is a slight spike when the reward is first given, but from there it is all downhill. As the rewards begin to accumulate, your momentum steadily decreases. And before long, the child completely loses interest in the activity . And this is something that also happens with adults.

With extrinsic motivation we will find that:

  • it is more difficult to concentrate;
  • you are tempted to delay homework;
  • You want to complete the task with a sufficient degree of quality to obtain the reward, but it does not matter if it is perfect or reaches excellence;
  • they will be much more refused to do it if there is no reward.

By contrast, intrinsic motivation is like an inexhaustible source . Drive behavior from within. We engage in behavior out of a love for itself, regardless of its instrumental value. In that sense, behavior is integrated with our identity. We do not depend on rewards: the reward is doing it, simply because it makes us happy or because it completes us in some way.

Take this into account when designing your new resolutions for the year 2021:

There is currently no ‘masterful unified theory’ to explain the origin or elements of intrinsic motivation. Most of the explanations combine elements of Bernard Weiner’s work on ‘attribution theory’, Bandura’s work on ‘self-efficacy’ and other studies concerning the ‘locus of control’ and ‘goal theory’.