Discovering Your Motivations | Motivation Series Part 2

“Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.” - Stephen Covey
“Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.” - Stephen Covey

Have you ever given thought to what motivates you?  Do you do things because you simply enjoy it?  Do you tend to be motivated because you have an itch for competition?  Do you work hard for rewards like trophies or money?

In part 2 of the motivation series, I’ll be discussing the two types of motivation and sharing suggestions on how you can discover what motivates you.  Although we usually have many factors of motivation that contribute to our actions, internal motivation called ‘intrinsic motivation’ has more influence on us than other forms of motivation.  This is why many people who have succeeded in their respective fields encourage us by giving advice to “Follow our passion.”  The second type of motivation is called ‘extrinsic motivation’ and is based on external factors.

Let’s take a look at each in more detail:

Understanding your motivations

Understanding intrinsic motivation – Intrinsic motivation is a type of motivation that is internal and deeply personal.  Your interests and activities you participate in for none other than personal enjoyment and fulfillment is considered intrinsic motivation.  When someone is intrinsically motivated, the person is compelled to take action for the joy of a new challenge.

Do you do things because you believe that it is the right thing to do? For example, do you give up your seat for an elderly person on a bus because you feel that it’s the right thing to do?  If so, that particular action is based on intrinsic motivation.  Studies show that people who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to perform at a higher level for a longer period of time than people who are motivated only by compensation (Deci & Ryan, 1985).

Understanding extrinsic motivation – Extrinsic motivation is a type of motivation based solely on external factors such as rewards or punishment.  For example, if a child hates to complete their homework assignment but reluctantly works on it due to the fear of punishment, or expectation of a reward, the child is said to be extrinsically motivated.

Taking the example above, although rewards may work in the short term, if the child becomes accustomed to receiving rewards for completing homework but stops receiving rewards, the child would quickly give up on completing their assignments (Greene, D. Sternberg, B. & Lepper, M. R. 1976).

It is said that most of the activities people do are not intrinsically motivated. This is especially the case after early childhood, as the freedom to be intrinsically motivated becomes increasingly limited by social demands and roles that require individuals to assume responsibility for non-intrinsically interesting tasks (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

Discovering your motivations

Now that we have covered the basics of the two main types of motivators, we can discover whether our motivations are intrinsic or extrinsic, or a combination of both.

Discover your intrinsic motivators

  • What type of interests do you pursue for the sole reason of enjoyment?
  • What are your hobbies?  What kind of challenges do you appreciate?
  • Do you have a cause you fervently believe in, maybe due to past life experiences?
  • Do you have activities or studies that you’re passionate about?

Discovering your extrinsic motivators

  • Do you enjoy competition?  What kind of competition do you enjoy?
  • Do you have a financial goal?  Are you looking to hit a certain income level?
  • Do you have any fears that keep you on your current course?
  • What type of actions are you taking today because you believe that it will be valuable for your chosen career?

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is not mutually exclusive thus intertwine to power our actions.  The questions above are just to get you started on examining and discovering where your true motivations lie.  Whether your motivations are based on intrinsic or extrinsic motivators, knowing will help you gain a deeper understand of yourself, which will in turn translate to actions toward your goals.

Deci, E. L. and Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Press
Deci, E. L. and Ryan, R. M. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54–67
Greene, D. Sternberg, B. and Lepper, M. R. (1976) Overjustification in a token economy, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 1219-1234

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19 thoughts on “Discovering Your Motivations | Motivation Series Part 2”

  1. I think acting without thinking, also known as unconscious actions, will tell what anyone’s true motivation in life is. In using your example of giving up the seat for the old lady, someone may give up the seat to impress others, but if they give the seat up without thinking then that is a true motivation tell.

    David Damron

  2. Sort of off topic, but the photo above looks like the Zion Narrows, is it? I got the opportunity to check out the Narrows earlier this summer, and it is quite a demanding excursion that requires some motivation 😉

    I’ve found that my motivations tend to be very multifaceted, and are oftentimes a combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Thanks for the questions you’ve listed, they really got me thinking about why I pursue the things I do and why they give me a sense of satisfaction. Looking forward to the next installment!

  3. Holy molly, Ken! A blog post with citations and references. You’re raising the level pretty high, man. Lol!

    I used to love studying Chinese for the sake of studying it. I would spend 5 hours plus a day studying it by myself. I just loved it. But in the past four years I’ve lost that intrinsic motivation. Now I don’t enjoy studying Chinese whatsoever and my level is retrogressing rapidly. Is there anyway to rekindle lost intrinsic motivation?

    1. @Gordie: Haha, yea citations aren’t too common in the blogging space, eh? Maybe it was all those years of professors drilling in their methods. OR maybe it was your recent blog post on education! Have a good one mate!

  4. Great post Ken. I’m enjoying this series. I think that it’s good to create awareness of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Exploring your own in a bit more detail is really important. For me, there have been many things in life that were extrinsic in nature because of the community I grew up in. But, the intrinsic motivators were the ones that really have pushed me beyond necessity of doing something and doing something I love.

    1. @Srini: I think your motivation shows in your blogs and that you took your time to complete a MBA program!

  5. Great post, Ken! You know I didn’t realize that there were even different kinds of motivation. This is really interesting and I think that it is definitely going to help me take the next steps toward “getting my butt in gear” when the time comes.

    Thanks for sharing!


  6. Oftentimes, we seek motivation to fulfill our goals. However, I believe that we must go beyond motivation, we must learn to deal with pain and struggle to achieve what we want in life. 🙂

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