Green Leafed Plant

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation – why do they work against each other and which works better?

By Gregory Ferrett

Welcome to Monday

Like everyone else I have followed the litany of disasters unfolding in various parts of the world. I was reading the newspaper the day after the Christchurch earthquake and as I read article after article a sense of deep gloom and despair come over me. I immediately put the paper down.

I wondered how motivation survived in situations like this? In particular, how is it a person can survive and thrive even in the face of insurmountable odds?

Motivation comes at two levels – Intrinsic and Extrinsic.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic Extrinsic

Intrinsic motivation is the satisfying of our basic psychological need. It is the satisfaction of our purpose in life, proving our competence, being able to act independently and create relationships. This is the motivation most easily used to immediate change your mood or energy level.

The better you understand yourself the easier it is to build on this rich source of internal motivation. For example, playing music satisfies a deep need of mine so over my life I have learnt to play a number of instruments. When I was in University, when I got stuck, I would pick up my guitar and play for a few minutes. This small break gave me the energy to go on studying.Intrinsic motivation is at its strongest in life threatening situations. In these situations everything is compromised and your motivation to achieve is at its highest. The sight of Ahsei “Ace” Sopoaga flinging slabs of concrete around, like foam blocks to rescue people, was impressive. This ‘energy’ was likely driven by intrinsic motivation. In everyday life, in business and sales, however, we rarely experience the power of intrinsic motivation at this level. Intrinsic motivation typically comes from the satisfaction of achieving personal goals that are fun and enjoyable. When I evaluate people for sales roles or business owners I ask questions about their life. I want to understand what their level of intrinsic motivation is likely to be. If they talk easily about their personal desires they are likely to have a high degree of motivation. I just need to help them harness that motivation to see their goals being achieved working the business plan or in my sales team.

Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation is the energy we gain from those around us and the world we live in. We tend to reflect the psychological environment we live in, work in and play in.To create this environment businesses invest large sums of money to motivate individuals to do things they would otherwise not wish to do. For example, when you apply for a job you want to know things like the salary, the hours, the times of work amongst other things. These are all extrinsic motivators to encourage you to engage in a certain way. I can only imagine the negative extrinsic motivation coming from a major earthquake or flood. Yet, it is in these situations we see the evidence intrinsic motivation is many times more powerful than the strongest extrinsic motivation.

  • What happens when intrinsic and extrinsic motivation do not agree?
  • Or you provide an extrinsic reward for an activity intrinsically motivating?

Providing rewards and sales commissions does not always produce the impact you would think. For example, I engage a sales person and provide a base salary and commission. They do well enough so I decide to double the sales commission in the hope they will double their sales. In fact, their sales go up only slightly. The likely reason is that intrinsic motivation has not changed.

You could increase the intrinsic motivation at the same time by congratulating them personally for every sale. This may help them satisfy their personal need for satisfaction. By doing this you see an immediate uplift in sales. Yet in a few weeks sales are back to their old level. The likely reason is they now have linked the new sales commission to intrinsic motivation decreasing the value of internal motivation.

How to keep yourself and others motivated?

The best motivational people I know take the time to understand the emotional drivers of individuals. To keep yourself motivated you need to understand yourself. Link your own emotional needs to the success required to keep you moving forward.In my business I keep lists of small goals and overall goals. This includes sales figures, people I want to talk with, articles I write and things I want to learn. I remind myself regularly about how I am achieved. In my vision statement (you have one don’t you?) I have a goal “I will remember key dates for my family, including relatives and friends, and communicate with these people on these dates – birthdays, weddings, anniversaries.” While I do not always achieve this goal, when I do I feel good about it. This ‘good feeling’ generates energy or intrinsic motivation. You will have dozens of activities in your life that can generate strong intrinsic motivation. By extracting these and creating positive chatter when you achieve them will provide a steady stream of motivation that will overcome even the most challenging extrinsic environment.

Today’s question and actions

There are two things I want you to do this week;

  1. If you do not have a vision statement for your life take the time to create one. I am happy to share mine with you if that will help get you started.
  2. Make a list of at least five things you do that make you feel good. This could include jogging, reading, talking with good friend or journalling. Put this list up where you can see it and everytime you feel your motivation slipping, or the external environment is getting you down, choose one activity and make it happen.

You will be surprised at how quickly your mood will change.

Have a great week!


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