Motivation (again)

In one of the first posts in this series, I talked about mindsets as a powerful influence on motivation. In this post (and the next), I want to talk about motivation as a phenomenon, and what we know about motivation, in general. At its simplest, there are two basic types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The motivators that come from within ourselves, and the motivators that are external to ourselves.

Ryan and Deci are the two principle researchers in this field, and they tell us that intrinsic motivation is the self-desire to seek out new things and new challenges, to analyze one’s capacity, to observe and to gain knowledge. It is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for reward. Intrinsic motivation is what we want to have.

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, refers to the performance of an activity in order to attain a desired outcome and it is the opposite of intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation comes from influences outside of the individual.

Basically, all motivation can be categorised into one of these two basic types – internally driven (intrinsic) or externally motivated (extrinsic). We are all familiar with both types of motivations, and we see them play out in our lives every day. They are rarely clean cut, and often, there is an interplay, however, at the end of the day, why we do something can be categorised into intrinsic or extrinsic or a complex mixture of the two. As an example, going to work will often have an extrinsic component (need money to pay the bills), and an intrinsic component (I like what I do for a job). However, you can usually figure out what the real motivator is, if you think about it.

Research has taken an otherwise simple phenomenon and made it really complicated. This is because the two types of motivation have a complicated relationship with each other. When we do something with a mixture of motivations (intrinsic and extrinsic), over time, the extrinsic motivators lead to a reduction in our intrinsic motivation. When we receive an external reward (money, recognition, power, social status, good looks etc.) for engaging in an activity, our internal reasons for doing it are reduced, and might eventually be extinguished.

In my next post, I’ll look at intrinsic motivation, and ways we can strengthen it.

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