Every person seeks ways to find strength to act, take up challenges, push to the limit, even beyond the breaking point, or to step out of comfort zone, all to eventually attain success ( an idea having as many definitions as its users).

Such incentives trigger a regulatory process known as motivation, which can have two sources – intrinsic and extrinsic. Indeed, understanding how they work is vital in pursuit of both professional and personal life. Below we’ll describe both types, point out the factors that distinguish and we’ll look at how they affect our goals and performance.

What is extrinsic motivation?

This type, on the other hand, refers to factors influencing our actions independent of us. Those variables don’t concern us but are provided by the environment and people around us. It most typically takes the form of realizing actions to receive a reward or avoid punishment. One of the most prevalent sources of this type are:

  • Material rewards – gifts, bonuses or raises,
  • Social recognition – we often act to gain recognition and approval from other people, e.g., in the form of praise on a forum,
  • Social pressure – other people’s expectations can cause us to want to meet those expectations (sometimes to avoid negative social consequences),
  • Penalties and sanctions – we can take action to avoid negative consequences such as loss of job, fine, loss of privileges, etc..,
  • Extrinsic goals – imposed by others, that is, for example, resulting from the requirements of a superior, customer expectations or organization guidelines.

What drives intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation refers to the individual factors and needs that drive a person’s actions. Such a strong urge coming “from within” (heart, soul, mind) causes individuals to engage in activities because of their interests (they have a powerhouse in the form of passion), values (they believe in what they are doing), aspirations (they feel they want to achieve “something” in life) and the need for self-actualization (to be fulfilled).

They know well that accomplishing an activity will bring round a sense of satisfaction and joy – often regardless of the outcome (they do not expect rewards and praise). People with strong intrinsic motivation may become extremely effective at work, because high commitment, great performance, and visible results of their activities (especially in the area of interests) come from their needs and desires. Still, to become such a person you must demonstrate:

  • Self-discipline – because you are responsible for your results and evaluate yourself,
  • Positive thinking – essential to keep going even in difficult moments,
  • Perseverance – making repeated attempts in situations of failure.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation – which works better?

One may wonder which of the described processes produces better results at work. However, it is worth noting that the two are not mutually exclusive, since we often act under the influence of factors that have different sources.

To illustrate, think of a situation when you carry out a task assigned by a superior (extrinsically related to the desire to avoid punishment for non-performance or to gain social recognition for proper performance), while at the same time, you want to complete it to the best of our ability because you know that in this way to grow (intrinsic resulting from our passion or values that drive us). However, keep in mind that both types described have their pros and cons:

  • Intrinsic motivation is very difficult to set and maintain – it requires a great deal of self-awareness (recognizing one’s values, passions and goals), but can provide excellent results (greater satisfaction, better performance),
  • Extrinsic motivation, although easier to muster, is often characterized by a lack of sustainability (short-term effectiveness), and can sometimes lack personal satisfaction.
Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – summary

When performing certain activities, try to recognize the reasons why you took them up- whether the initiatives stem from your personal need (the activity is in line with one’s desires), or are merely the result of possible reward, pressure or punishment coming from the environment.

While intrinsic motivation is undoubtedly more difficult to establish, it can lead to the greatest rewards – that’s why it is so important to strive to find it within. This is especially essential when you realize that extrinsic sources limit your freedom, and what’s more, they can run out at some point. A great deal of self-awareness will undoubtedly facilitate our effective handling of the stimuli we receive, depending on the specific context and situation in which we find ourselves.

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Author: Nicole Mankin

HR manager with an excellent ability to build a positive atmosphere and create a valuable environment for employees. She loves to see the potential of talented people and mobilize them to develop.