Understanding motivation can be like going down a rabbit hole, but to keep it simple, we’re going to put it into two buckets – extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation occurs when we exhibit a behavior to earn a reward or avoid punishment. Extrinsic motivation generally is dictated by outside forces and how society and culture defines success. It often takes the form of accumulating financial wealth, looking like a magazine model, or accumulating the most friends — either in real life or in social media.
Intrinsic motivation involves engaging in behavior for its own sake because it’s internally rewarding. Examples include playing basketball because you find it exhilarating or listening to music because it relaxes you. Most of us define success, at least on some level, by the depths of the relationships with the people we care about most. We’re successful if we have improved the quality of their lives. If we make the lives of our loved ones better, then our lives will have stood for something special and will continue to live on in those people long after we’re gone.
When it comes to making desired behaviors a reality, research shows that intrinsic motivation typically does the job better. There’s nothing inherently wrong with extrinsic motivation. But we need to examine ourselves more deeply to figure out our intrinsic motivations. What’s really behind the desire to lose 10 pounds or obtain the next promotion? Achieving either of those goals is great, but neither will bring much fulfillment if all we want is to look good in a bathing suit or receive a bump in salary or a bigger office
Losing 10 pounds to look better at the beach is extrinsic motivation. The weight loss becomes intrinsic when you look at it as a means to produce more energy and accomplish your goals of better serving those you care about most, whether in the time and energy you’re able to give them directly or in the opportunities and resources you can provide because your productivity has increased.
Ditto for that job promotion. When the motivation for added income is to better serve your loved ones rather than to serve your ego or buy more consumer goods, that’s intrinsic motivation, which is far more powerful.