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Intrinsic motivation is the only form of motivation that is lasting. This form of motivation refers to a motivation that comes from a deep desire to do something. The root of that desire stems from deep within an individual because it is clear that motivation is not from an external reward.
 
If you were to tell a group of students to meet you at a specific location early in the morning and whoever comes will win a million bucks, most students would be there due to money's extrinsic motivation. If you ask the same students to go back to the next day to improve, only the students who are intrinsically motivated will show up.

“You can look for external sources of motivation and that can catalyze a change, but it won’t sustain one. It has to be from an internal desire.” —Jillian Michaels

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What You Will Learn

What Is Intrinsic Motivation 

In psychology, the distinction between the two types of motivation is internal vs. external rewards. When one can take action without any clear external rewards, it often stems from intrinsic motivation. People who are intrinsically motivated pursue things when they are curious, enjoy something, or reach their full potential.

School often puts kids in a situation where they are externally motivated by getting good grades. They are usually not learning due to a love for the subject or learning. They do the work because they want a good grade, which is an external motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is so important because it feeds the deep psychological needs that we all have. These needs include the need for mastery, autonomy, and relatedness. External motivations don't provide us with those a lot of the time.

  • Taking action without clear external rewards
  • Schools often make students externally motivated for good grades
  • Intrinsic motivation feeds our deep psychological needs 

Factors That Increase Intrinsic Motivation 

If you want to increase your intrinsic motivation, there are some things that you can do whether this is rising levels for yourself or it is helping another person to be more motivated to succeed in the long run. 

Just Enough Challenge

For motivation to be high, there needs to be a challenge. The problem is that if there is too much challenge, you will feel like there is no point in trying. 

If there is not enough of a challenge, you will know it's not worth your effort either. You need to feel like you're just barely failing. Think about a video game where you are so close to passing the level. It will keep you up all night just trying to get there because you know you're so close. 

A lot of motivation issues can be fixed simply by adjusting the difficulty of the challenge being presented. 

Curiosity

If there is no interest, there will often be no motivation to try or to dig deeper. The best thing you can do when trying to increase intrinsic motivation has sparked that curiosity that we all have. 

Once curiosity has been engaged, and a person wants to know more, there is almost no stopping them from learning and figuring things out. 

Control

One of the big reasons that many students don't feel intrinsically motivated growing up is because traditional schooling provides children with very little control. Students have to listen to a teacher and follow a lesson plan that has been made in advance, and it kills a lot of motivation. 

When you give someone the ability to control their outcome and decide their path, they will be much more motivated. They will buy in much more because the plan will feel like their own.  

Cooperation and Competition 

Intrinsic motivation can shoot through the roof when success demands to work together or to compete. If you take the results of either scenario and make them public, people will find motivation from within to dig in. 

No one wants to be seen as a person that can't work with others, or a be seen as the worst of the bunch. Even people who hate each other can find it to work together if cooperation is needed to beat others. 

Recognition

Everyone enjoys being recognized publicly for a job well done. This one is tricky, though, because it can sound extrinsic. After all, you were maybe only working hard to praise others. But in reality, if you know that praise will be given out, it will motivate people to do your best because deep inside, we all desire to be praised. 

Why Extrinsic Motivation Eventually Fails 

It may sound like extrinsic motivation is the bad guy, and you should avoid it at all costs, but that is not true. Extrinsic motivation has its place, and you should also get as much of it as possible.
 
Extrinsic motivation needs to transform into internal motivation, or else it will eventually die out. For example, let's say you get tickets to listen to motivational speakers Tony Robbins or Eric Thomas. You leave the event on cloud nine and feel like you can conquer the entire world.

Either that motivation will become intrinsic, or it will stay as just extrinsic motivation. If it becomes intrinsic, you take what you heard from an external source and find a way to challenge yourself, increase your curiosity, increase control, compete, and get recognition.

On the flip side, if it stays as extrinsic motivation, eventually the days pass, and their words are not ringing in your head as loud. You run into a life obstacle and get discouraged, and that motivational speaker is not there to pick you up. Quitting seems like a great idea at this point.

Extrinsic motivation eventually fails because it can't be around all of the time. Finally, it will let you down. But intrinsic motivation comes from deep within, and its always with you.


  • Extrinsic motivation has its place as it can help to get motivation started 
  • Extrinsic motivation fails because the external source can't always be available
  • Intrinsic motivation works in the long run because it can always be with you 

10 Intrinsic Motivation Examples 

1. Playing Sports For Fun and The Grind

You can either play a sport because you want to win and get trophies or do it because its fun, and you love the challenge. If you do it for the trophies, you will quit when you lose, but losing will inspire you even more if you do it for the challenge.

2. See New Responsibility as a Chance to Grow 

Some people see new responsibility as a burden or a chance to get ahead, but they don't embrace. When your motivation is intrinsic, you see all new responsibility as a chance to learn and become more than you were the day before.

3. Enjoying the Feeling of Accomplishment 

The goal for success should always be to feel accomplished within and not to prove others wrong or show people up because those things may not always be there. The sense of accomplishment never gets old, though. It can push you today and for the rest of your life.

4. The Love of Completing a Task 

Some people make a to-do list each day to see things get crossed off the list. When items get checked, you know they are done, and you are one step closer to your ultimate goal. When you're extrinsically motivated, you only get tasks done if someone is monitoring you.

5. Volunteering Because of a Burden Instead of a Requirement 

If your school or government forces you to do community service, you will only do it because you have to and not get the most out of it. When you're intrinsically motivated, you do it because you have empathy for a specific people group.

That empathy will drive you to want to help and serve as much as possible. You will be in control and there because you want to be instead of showing up because someone else requires you to get to some other external reward.

6. Competing to Do Your Best Instead of Trying to Win 

Some people compete with others only to win, and they are the worst sports when they lose because all of their motivation came from that one reward. Intrinsically motivate people to compete because they want to give their best effort and grow as much as possible. As a result, they seek harder competition to keep pushing themselves to be better.

7. Studying to Learn Instead of Trying to Get Good Grades

Getting good grades is simply a letter that reflects how smart you are, but they are not reflections of your ability to learn. When you're intrinsically motivated, you study to learn. You don't care about what will be on the test; you follow your heart and curiosity.
 
Most schools provide external motivations, but when students do not care about grades, they have no way of motivating them to do better. The best motivation comes from within because a kid can use that same push to do well al through school and life.

8. Looking to Help to Be a Resource Instead of Seeking a Reward

When you seek to help others, you can do it because you think you will get a promotion or some advantage. Or you can do it because you enjoy helping people.

When you enjoy helping people, you will come off as genuine and be given more opportunities. The person motivated by the rewards will stop supporting as soon as they sense there won't be a reward.

9. Creating Art for the Love Instead to Make Money 

The best art always flows from a place of love and oneness with the piece of art. As soon as money is on the table, it can be challenging to produce your best work because the focus is now on an external reward. The money will come and go, but the will to want to create your best work can last forever.

10. Mastering the Topic Instead of Learning The Bare Minimum 

Some people will only do the bare minimum to get by because they are motivated by things like a paycheck, grades, or a good job. The greats find their way to mastery because they don't care about the external rewards as much. They live to full their potential and see how far they can push themselves, which keeps them learning and getting better.

Why You Need Intrinsic Motivation to Change Habits 

The advantage of intrinsic motivation is its ability to last in the long run, compared to short-lived extrinsic motivations. Once you know this, you know that you need to find intrinsic motivation for habits to change. The reason for this is because habits only pay off in the long run.

For example, say you try and change your diet because you're dating someone that eats a specific diet. If you try and change that person's habit, what will you do when they break up with you or when things are not going well? The external motivator will be gone, and the habit will go with it.

You need to make changes with your habits because you have a never-ending desire to be different deep down inside. It has to dig deep within you, or else you will go back to your old ways.

When people start using our habit tracking app Habit Stacker, they often struggle to stick for this very reason. Too many people try and make changes for other people instead of focusing on increased control, curiosity, and many other factors that increase intrinsic motivation.


  • Habit are only useful if they are maintained over along period of time
  • Intrinisc motivations are best for long term goals and behaviour change
  • Most people fail at habit change because they are doing it for other people

My Story of Intrinsic Motivation

I started running track and field when I was seven years old. I ran through middle school, high school, college, and on to the 2012 Canadian Olympic team. 

Contrary to what most people think, I did not start with this crazy passion for the sport. I only did it because I wanted to be faster for the football season. But little did I know that the sport would pull me in because it intrinsically motivated me like nothing else. It hit me with all five factors to increase intrinsic motivation. 

  • Challenge - I was running against kids my age, and sometimes I would win, but I often lost early on, and this drove me crazy and kept me coming back for more
  • Curiosity - I was curious to see how fast I could run 
  • Control - There is no team in a 100m dash, so you are in complete control of the outcome
  • Competition - I love competing and trying to best other people 
  • Recognition - In the end, it was great for my self-esteem to know that the work that was put in turned into victories that made me feel great about myself. 

 These things above are why I would push my body to crazy limits—waking up early int he morning to lift weights and run until I threw up. When you're intrinsically motivated, there is nothing that can stop you or get int he way of your success. 

When I retired from track and field, though, I started working, and everything became about the money, and I performed horribly. I never ran to get medals or get money, and as soon as I switched to that focus, my performance fell apart. 

The reason for this is because money is external and an internal motivator. It took me a while to understand this, but I started Habit Stacker and never looked back once I realized it. I did not care about the money; I just wanted to help as many people as possible to change their habits to accomplish their dreams. Once again, I was able to fulfill all of the five factors of intrinsic motivations, and it feels great.

When people start using our habit tracking app Habit Stacker, they often struggle to stick for this very reason. Too many people try and make changes for other people instead of focusing on increased control, curiosity, and many other factors that increase intrinsic motivation. 

 



Conclusion of Intrinsic Motivation 

Extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation both have their place. If you want to get the courage to do a short term task or get your long-term motivation started, extrinsic motivation can be a huge help. You must know that it will fizzle out over time.
 
To succeed in the long run, you need to keep showing up over such a long period of time that the only thing that can create that change is a motivation that comes from within. You have to do it simply because you want to do it and for no other reason.

Ian Warner

About the author

I went from a broken leg to a 2012 Olympian. I have spent the last 15 years building positive habits as a track athlete and entrepreneur. I founded Habit Stacker and dedicated my life to helping people to develop winning habits. I have helped over 5,000 people...

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