Intrinsic Motivation – Science helps you stay motivated for the long term
What is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation? And above all, what is the interest? Because I assume you’re not here for a debate about words. Intrinsic motivation is the foundation of a psychological theory: the theory of self-determination. What differentiates it from other well-known works is that it does not believe in the “carrot or stick” model.
The interest for us in these theories is to understand how to motivate ourselves in the long term, or even how to motivate our collaborators, or those close to us.
A small definition of intrinsic motivation: doing things for pleasure or interest in the activity itself. The best example is a child playing. He doesn’t calculate, he could very well do something else, but stays on the same task for pure pleasure.
We will also talk about intrinsic motivation in another case (which is distinguished by scientists, but which I will not distinguish for the sake of simplicity): internalized motivation. This time, it pushes us to do things because we understand their value and what they will bring us. (The pleasure of the task itself is no longer the only motivation).
The power of intrinsic motivation
Richard Ryan and colleagues propose the theory of self-determination in a study published in 2000. It tells us that humans all have three basic psychological needs, much like a plant needs water and soil.
These needs are :
- Autonomy: Deciding for ourselves what we do gives value to the missions we choose. Beware, autonomy is not individualism or independence, it is simply that we have decided by ourselves. Nor does it mean that constraints and orders are to be proscribed… A person who agrees and supports the constraints he or she “undergoes” shows autonomy.
- Competence: we all need to feel efficient and able to succeed. We also need to be able to realize this growth, we will talk about it in the rest of the article when we will discuss ways to support intrinsic motivation.
- Kinship: It is the feeling of belonging, of being part of a group or a particular environment. This need for kinship could be summed up as: others take care of me and I take care of them.
Okay, you see the relevance of these needs, but you tell yourself that extrinsic motivation (carrot or stick) has worked very well so far… So why change?
The real problem with extrinsic motivation is not its power, which is no longer to be demonstrated. For example, every day we have thousands of students who do their homework without wanting to. On the other hand, it has a major disadvantage: it is very unstable. As long as someone is there to reward and punish, everything is fine, on the other hand, as soon as this “motivator” disappears, so does the motivation.
Conversely, when motivation is “as intrinsic as possible”, it is in line with the values and desires of the person motivated, so that he or she will continue to act whatever the circumstances and without the need for a “motivator”.
This question is really crucial in companies, but also for self-employed people who do not necessarily have a system of punishment and reward. Their ability to create intrinsic motivation is central to the success of their business.
This can be seen in the case of unemployed people starting up a business. I don’t have official statistics, but I’ve known a number of them who didn’t really act for their business until they were 3 months away from the end of unemployment (and therefore their income), which creates extrinsic motivation and allows them to do more in 3 months than in the previous year.
Intrinsic Motivation and Life Choices
Before moving on to ways to increase your intrinsic motivation, I want to draw on some very interesting research that has provided me with some insight in setting my goals.
It’s often hard to believe that “money doesn’t make you happy”… And then, at a time when I was working on my vision and life goals, I realized that money was meaningless to me. The prospect of making a million dollars doesn’t really give me any emotion… Because in the end, money is just paper. But the prospect of what I could do with that million immediately makes more sense.
And what seems most important for your well-being is the nature of your goals. Are they only externally motivated, or do they make sense to you?
Several studies have been done on the subject…One of these studies involved people with an average age of 68 years who were asked about their well-being and material success in life.
They showed that, for equal success, achieving intrinsic goals contributed to well-being, reduced the risk of depression, and increased acceptance of death.
Conversely, whether or not extrinsic goals are achieved does not appear to be related to the psychological health of patients and increases the risk of depression.
It is also supported by a psychologist from “Yale University” whose courses can be found at this link.
In short, it is in your best interest to promote alignment with your values rather than money or fame at any cost. You may think that it’s not revolutionary… but it does give us a way to feel happier by accomplishing well-chosen goals.
It is so important to me that I have created a specialized training course on this subject. It’s free, register your email (here) so that I can send it to you.
How to promote intrinsic motivation
A good example of intrinsic motivation!
Now, let’s go into what Richard Ryan and his research teams advise us to increase our intrinsic motivation and thus reach our goals more easily. These are strategies that you can use for yourself, but also for your teams, your children or anyone you want to motivate.
Let’s go through the human needs one by one:
Increasing autonomy for lasting motivation
To increase autonomy, we want to encourage the choice of the motivated person.
The first step to TE motivate is to play with language. If throughout the day you repeat to yourself “I have to…”, “I have to….” it communicates to your unconscious that you lack freedom of choice. (It’s exactly the same in your interactions: direct orders without leaving any options or reflection do not promote intrinsic motivation).
The ideal is therefore to formulate rational requests (whose logic and usefulness the person understands) with the intention of listening to the person you are trying to motivate. In this way, we can discover obstacles and challenges in which we can help (this also increases the feeling of belonging).
Always in this vein of autonomy, encouraging initiative encourages motivation.
Satisfying the need for competence
I’m sure you’ve seen a child instantly get discouraged from a game because he feels he’s not going to make it… He knows he’s not going to meet his need for skill, which removes any motivation to continue.
Offering tasks at an appropriate level is very important. The ideal is to propose challenges that the person can succeed. Thus, at the beginning, the person understands the difficulty and success will be all the more satisfying.
To motivate the person during the task, a constructive opinion is welcome, based on the person’s initiatives and not only on the respect of the instructions. In this way, the person feels that success comes from him or her, and as a bonus, his or her sense of autonomy is increased.
Satisfying the need for kinship and recognition
Often the posture of the “motivator” is superior to that of the “motivated”. This is the example of the teacher who teaches his students. The flow of information and instructions is unidirectional: from the teacher to the student.
To foster intrinsic motivation, it is better to be able to identify with one’s role models and find them sympathetic. (This is the advantage of meeting one’s mentors in person to realize that they are as human as we are).
Finally, the last very important element: the secure environment. When we know that someone is taking care of us and that we are in an environment that allows us to make mistakes without suffering too many consequences, our motivation increases.
The final word
I would like to recall that this article is not a stack of absolute rules, but criteria for maximizing intrinsic motivation. They are therefore put in place as much as possible to promote long-term motivation.
Personally, I use the theory of self-determination in my activity to :
- Understand why certain tasks do not motivate me.
- Increase my motivation on the most important tasks.
- Propose motivating exercises to my clients
It is also a tool that allows me to evaluate the goals I set for myself. If they do not meet my psychological needs, there is a good chance that I will eventually give up unless I have a strategy to turn the situation around.