Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation
I’m a sucker for clickbait. I’m not talking about the transparently trashy fake ones that motivate you to click by writing things like “She walked in the room and you’ll never believe what happened next” or “Lose belly fat with this one weird trick”.
Nope, the ones that always get me are “The 7 Simple Success Secrets of [insert something really hard that I wish were really easy here]”.
I’ve clicked articles promising me the simple secrets to:
>> Growing your 6-figure business
>> Becoming a morning person
>> Dropping a dress size in two weeks
I’ve even clicked headings promising the simple secrets to a happy marriage (despite my finger being decidely ring-free).
The lure of there being just “8 Easy Ways” to do something that you know, deep down, needs a whoooooole lot of time, effort and commitment is so alluring. It makes my heart start beating faster, and a kernel of hope sparks up and shoots along my arm and out my link-clicking trigger-finger.
But let me tell you from experience, my friend…no matter how many of these irresistible headlines you click, there’s NEVER going to be one that tells how to get this difficult thing you want without putting in any effort. It’s just not going to happen. (Queue frustrated hair pulling, tears, and skyward fist-shaking here).
The success secrets they hook you with? The only secret is that there is no secret. It all comes down to motivation.
Want to know how that overweight forty-something lost 40 pounds last year, while you’re still beating yourself up about your thickening wasitline?
Or how your former schoolmate quit her corporate job to make money online as a blogger, while you’re still trapped in your cubicle with your creative dreams sidelined (even though you’re a MUCH better writer than her)?
The only difference between those people and you, is that they ACTUALLY DO what they say they’re going to do (go to the gym, start writing articles online) instead of just talking about it. And the key to this is motivation.
You have to know how to motivate yourself
Not the answer you wanted to hear, right? And to make it even worse, this thing called motivation is a very fickle beast. It’s easy to think that either you have it, or you don’t have it. It’s there, or it isn’t. But (surprise surprise) the truth of it is much more complex.
So today I’m going to share what I’ve learned about motivation, and show you how to harness its power and bend its will to your command like the badass butt-kicking superwoman I know you are.
For starters, there are two different types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation is where you want to do something for reasons that are internal to you
You go swimming every morning because it feels good and gives you a lift when starting the day.
You write in your gratitude journal each evening because it makes you feel calm and happy before sleeping.
The rewards of your behaviour are on your insides. You feel them.
Extrinsic motivation is when you do something because of an outside factor
You buy your coffee at a certain store because you’ll get a stamp on your loyalty card (seeking external reward).
Or you keep showing up at a job that makes you miserable, because your pay will be docked if you stay home (avoiding an external punishment).
If the reason you do something is outside yourself, that’s extrinsic motivation.
Which is better – intrinsic motivation or external motivation?
I’m not gonna lie, intrinsic motivation is the shiz knuckle (yes I just invented that word, and I’m not taking it back). Being able to set your mind on something, and get yourself to do it just because you really WANT to do it? That’s the dream, baby. In fact, when people talk about needing motivation, or having fading motivation, it’s normally this intrinsic dealio that they’re talking about.
But…let’s not get carried away and start fangirling too much. Intrinsic motivation has one pretty major downside.
It’s almost impossible to make yourself feel more intrinsic motivation
Imagine two people decide to study German. They both sign up for a free class, and neither of them have a trip to Germany planned in the near future.
>> Person A (let’s call her Alice) signed up because she’s fascinated by languages and loves the feeling of accomplishment when she becomes competent. She says that starting to understand a new language feels like unlocking a door in her head and it expands her comprehension of the world. She loves learning a new language, and would have paid money for this course if it wasn’t free.
>> Person B (our new friend Berta) signed up because her late grandmother was German. She doesn’t have any particular connection with the language and no family members to practice with, but it was a free class and she signed up on a whim.
Which person do you think is going to stick with the classes the longest?
(Sooooo…..let’s not string this out too long. Obviously it’s Alice.)
Alice’s intrinisic motivation will help her persevere through the difficulties and challenges of learning German. (Of which, in my humble opinion, there are bazillions).
Berta, on the other hand, has no reason to stick to it when it becomes difficult. And she can’t force herself to feel the interest and excitement in languages that Alice feels. It’s just not there.
But all is not lost for Berta, because this is where our loyal and neglected friend external motivation comes in.
Let’s say now that Berta’s grandmother is still alive, and she’s about to turn 80. Berta and her mother are planning a huge party for Gran, and Berta wants to write and deliver her birthday message in German.
She can’t wait to see the look on her face when Gran sees her American granddaughter speaking her mother tongue. Berta just knows that her Granny will dissolve into tears and would be so proud of her.
Now who’s more likely to stick with the classes the longest?
Actually this time we don’t know. Both girls are motivated, and there’s no one type of motivation that is better than the other.
It doesn’t really matter whether you use intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to get the desired behaviour to happen – as long as you’re making it happen.
The good thing about extrinsic motivation is that you can manufacture it. You can create motivation where none was intrinisically there.
Extrinsic motivation can be created out of thin air
If you want to get yourself to do something, but you just don’t feel the intrinsic motivation mojo, you can create the circumstances you need to get motivated.
And how awesome is that?
Knowing that instantly takes away the excuses we have for slacking off and delaying our dreams. We can divert the power our brain is using to whine and tell us why we can’t or shouldn’t do something, and use it to come up with creative rewards (or effective punishments) that’ll help us hit our goals.
Take that, whiny-brain!
How to get motivated
The secret of how to motivate yourself (and stay motivated) is to create your own extrinsic motivation.
You could use something positive like a reward (if I go for a run today, then I’ll let myself watch that trashy tv show tonight).
Or you could use something negative like a punishment (if I don’t finish this book draft by September, I’m going to give $1,000 to the Evil-Invention-That-Murders-Kittens Kickstarter page).
You can use positive/reward-based motivators (which tap into pleasure), negative/punishment-based motivators (which tap into fear) or a mixture of both.
Negative doesn’t mean they’re bad, it just depends whether you personally are more likely to be spurred into action by the lure of something nice, or the fear of something bad.
Ideas on how to increase motivation
There are about a billion and one things you could use as motivators, but I’ve collected a few here to help you get started. If you want even more ideas (and a step-by-step way to use them to set up your own motivation plan) you can grab the free Hack Your Motivation worksheet.
One more tip before I give you some ideas to increase motivation – remember to make sure the size of the reward (or punishment) is appropriate to the thing you’re trying to achieve.
For example, say you’re trying to motivate yourself to start doing a DVD workout for 15 minutes every morning. You’ve brainstormed potential motivators on your free worksheet, and have decided that going to to see the latest movies as soon as they come out at the cinema is going to be enough of a draw to get you out of bed and onto the exercise mat.
Now, it wouldn’t make sense to say you get to go to the cinema every time you successfully do your workout.
(Unless going to the cinema 7 days a week is your jam, in which case go for it, my square-eyed friend).
You might structure it so that it’s only if you do the workout 7 days in a row that you get to go to the cinema on the weekend.
If that’s your plan, then be sure to ask yourself whether a trip to the movies in 5-6 days’ time going to be enough to get you bouncing along to your Jazzersize with Tina DVD on a Monday and Tuesday morning?
(Btw I don’t even know if jazzersize is a real thing. Is it a real thing?)
It’s worth taking some time to think your motivation plan through. You definitely don’t want to try it out, fail on the first day, then make up a story about how terrible and useless you are.
If you want a step-by-step process to make sure this doesn’t happen, you can use the free worksheet.
Now…some ideas for things you might want to use as motivators:
>> A treat food
>> Dinner at a nice restaurant
>> Watching something trashy on tv
>> Having a bubble bath
>> Getting a pedicure
>> Going for a massage
>> Create a board where you give yourself a gold sticker each time you do the thing
>> Praise from an accountability buddy or coach
>> Posting your accomplishment on FB/Instagram and enjoy the likes
>> Loss of money (eg by signing up with stikk.com or pre-paying sessions with an Accountability Coach)
>> Risk embarrassment (make a public declaration on your Facebook wall or in front of your peers)
>> Create unpleasant consequences if you DON’T do what you’ve commited to doing eg
– Pledge to give money to an anti-charity
– Promise to give away your bicycle
– Commit to throwing your favourite teddy bear on a bonfire
You get the picture. There are so many options!
Don’t be afraid to choose something that’s out of left field either. Perhaps your motivator is that you can’t take the dog out for his morning toilet trip until you’ve written down 3 things that you want to achieve today.
On the one hand, it sounds a bit like a cruel and unusual punishment to keep your pet waiting. But on the other hand, when you hear those little feet scampering around wanting to be let out, you can be darn sure that’s going to be motivating.
You’ll be bashing out those 3 priorities like clockwork, first thing every morning, so you can get to the motivator as soon as possible.
Some final tips on self motivation
Don’t feel bad about using extrinsic motivation
Don’t waste time beating yourself up, lamenting the fact you don’t have the intrinsic motivation to get the job done and criticising you way you are.
(In fact, that’s a good all-purpose life tip – STOP CRITICISING YOURSELF!).
It’s not necessarily better to be able to self-motivate yourself to go to the gym than to self-bribe with the promise of getting to buy yourself something if you do (though it’s definitely cheaper!).
Whatever you have to do to get the job done, is the right way for you.
Stick to the plan
If you’ve created a negative consequence for yourself, don’t back out of it.
This is super-important.
One reason that working with a coach is so successful is that you’ve often pre-paid for your sessions. You can’t get out of it.
The commitment you made when you took that first step has future-proofed your future self from being able to weasel out of it later on.
If you want to get stuff done, this is the best way to do it.
There are about a squillion articles online on how to movitate yourself. You may have tried two or three or thirty-four of them before coming across this article. Why should what I tell you be any different?
Well for one thing, I’m not telling you what to do.
I’m showing you how to create your own, personalised motivation plan that draws on your own strengths and weaknesses and desires to get yourself to do things.
So if you want to get serious about getting stuff done (or even just save these tips for later) you can grab the free worksheet here.
And that, my friends, is how you harness the power of motivation to get yourself on track and working towards making your dream life real. Let me know how you go!
If you’re determined to hit a goal, and looking for the motivation to do it, why not book in for an Accountability Kickstart session with me? In this call, we’ll go through the results you want to achieve, the timeframe you’re aiming for and your plan to get there, and together we’ll build a motivation and accountability framework that’ll make sure you’ll get you where you want to go.
Have you had experience setting up your own rewards/punishment to stay motivated? Let us know what you did and how it turned out in the comments below.
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