Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: Difference & Examples


Motivation is the reason behind our behavior and the boost of energy we occasionally feel to work on something. All of our actions and the decisions we make every day are based on the kind of motivation we have.

Intrinsic Motivation vs. Extrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic Motivation vs. Extrinsic Motivation

The powerful reason behind what we do is widely known as your Why. In many situations, when you start slowing down and feeling hopeless, a helpful method is to remind yourself what your Why is. Remind yourself why you started in the first place, why stopping is not an option, and why pushing through your struggle is worth it.

What you use as your motivation can be the difference between giving up or continuing.

Keep reading to learn about the two types of motivation and how to utilize them to your advantage. Understanding the differences and being aware of your motivation can help you shift your thinking and push you past your obstacles to achieve your goals.

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is doing something because you simply enjoy it, there are no obvious rewards except for personal pleasure.

When you think of intrinsic, think “in” like “inside”, the way it makes you feel internally. You are driven by the excitement and elation and the act or activity itself is a fun and enjoyable process.

Intrinsic motivation is doing it just for how you feel. There are no trophies, no money, no title, it’s about doing something that energizes you and makes you feel good.

What is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is when you do something for an obvious reward or avoiding punishment. Extrinsic is not about whether you enjoy the process or not, but rather what you will get out of it.

Rewards from external motivation are things like money, promotion, physical prizes, or status. Avoiding punishment is things like doing something because you don’t want to get fired, or you need to make good grades so you don’t fail.

Extrinsic motivation is not for the “feel good feeling” it is the exchange for something, there is something in return in some way for choosing to do something.

What is the difference between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is about doing something for yourself to feel good on the inside while extrinsic motivation is receiving some kind of reward or facing a consequence.

Each type of motivation will be unique to each person. Two people can perform the same tasks or have the same goal, but their motivation (their reasoning) can be different. Look at the examples below.

Intrinsic MotivationExtrinsic Motivation
Reading a book because you enjoy the storyReading a book because you have to write a book report
Playing tennis because you love the sportPlaying tennis because you have to lose weight
Start a new career to challenge yourselfStart a new career to make more money
Mowing the lawn because you love a neat yardMowing the lawn so you don’t get a ticket from the city
Cleaning the house because you like a clean spaceCleaning the house because guest are coming over
Learn a new language because you want a fun challengeLearn a new language because it’s a requirement for your job
Taking more responsibilities at work to feel you are contributingTaking more responsibilities at work for a promotion
Intrinsic Motivation vs. Extrinsic Motivation Examples

Is Intrinsic Motivation better than Extrinsic Motivation?

When you perform something for pure enjoyment, it will last longer than doing something for something in return.

Intrinsic motivation is about personal growth and finding joy in the things you do. There is no pressure and nothing making you do it, it’s your decision, so there’s a better chance you stick to it. This kind of self-motivation will have a lasting long-term effect.

Extrinsic motivation is about getting something in return or avoiding some kind of consequence. While intrinsic is better for enjoyment and the long-term, extrinsic motivation can help you in the short-term to get you to do something you don’t want to do, but you know you need to do.

For example, getting good grades in school is something you know you need to do, but if there are no consequences like failing, you won’t work hard to get good grades. Extrinsic motivation will help you study harder and stay focused so you can graduate. Another example is cleaning your house, you don’t want to clean your house, but if you have guests coming over and you don’t want them to think you’re a slob, you’re motivated to start cleaning.

However, there is a balance that people need to be aware of when utilizing motivation to do something. Extrinsic is for short-term goals, so using it to make something last a long time will not work, eventually, the reward for the undesired task becomes worthless. Think of working at a boring job that makes a lot of money, eventually, the money is not worth being at a boring job.

Extrinsic motivators helps to get started, but if you want it to last a long time, then you must turn it into intrinsic motivation. A good example is exercise. Everyone knows exercise is good for overall health, but many struggle to get started, so they can use external rewards to get them going, but eventually, it has to start feeling good on the inside for it to be a life-long journey. Otherwise, if you hate exercising, the external reward becomes less appealing over time so you end up quitting.

Extrinsic motivation can also interfere with intrinsic motivation. If someone who is already intrinsically motivated to do something suddenly gets extrinsically rewarded often, it reduces the intrinsic motivation. This is called the overjustification effect.

For example, if you play basketball because you love the sport and the exercise, but someone suddenly offers you money to play basketball, your love for the sport and exercise will decrease, and it starts becoming about the money. This is especially common in the workplace when bonuses and promotions are offered.

Which motivation Should be used?

While intrinsic motivation has a greater positive effect long term, depending on what your goals are and what you are trying to pursue, both types of motivation will work.

The purpose of motivation in the first place is the driver of your actions. To change your situation or improve your life, you need a reason to push you. You need a strong and meaningful reason to keep you going when you feel like quitting and to help you overcome the obstacles.

Motivation is unique to each person, so ultimately, it doesn’t matter what drives you, as long as it drives you. As long as it makes you take action to enjoy life more or achieve your goals, it doesn’t matter what motivates you because everyone has a different reason. Read here for when your motivation runs out.

Use intrinsic motivation when you want to find joy every day, when you want to challenge yourself and grow, when you want to feel good about your abilities, and when you want to be excited to do something and tackle it with enthusiasm, creativity, and happiness.

Use extrinsic motivation when you know you need to do something but don’t necessarily enjoy it or want to do it. When you know hard work and effort are worth the value of the prize, when the reward changes or improves your life in some way, when you know the short-term efforts for the reward or consequence are worth it for the long-term effects.

The purpose of knowing the difference between the two motivations is to be aware and understand the kind you are utilizing so you will know what kind of results can happen.

When you do something for enjoyment, you know it will last longer and you’ll likely stick to it. When you do something for enjoyment and a reward starts taking place, you’ll understand the consequence if you start partaking in the reward. Finally, when you do something purely for a reward, you know that enjoyment is short-lived and won’t last long.

Can both be used?

The best combination for success is when both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are in play. The two are not mutually exclusive, which means you can have a mix of both motivators to do something.

For example, you can read a book because you have a book report due but you are also interested in reading the book for learning. You choose to run because you love the exercise but also have to lose weight. You want to take on more responsibility at work because you want to grow and challenge yourself but also the promotion to higher title and money will be good.

Having a mix of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is helpful and can be extremely beneficial, but finding the balance is important. Steering too much in one direction, like extrinsically, can be detrimental and make you lose focus on the goal in the first place.

Can You Succeed with Motivation Alone?

Motivation is the reason we do anything we do. When you set a goal or have an idea to go after something, the foundation is the motivation, it’s where it all started. Read here for powerful motivators.

The purpose of motivation is to get you to take action and taking action alone is already an achievement. While achieving success requires many things like determination, consistency, resilience, and more. The driving force to keep you going will be your motivation.

Your motivation is your Why. When you feel like giving up you review your Why, when you hit a roadblock you review your Why, when you face an obstacle you review your Why, and when you face uncertainty and question your work you review your Why. When you have a strong and meaningful reason for doing what you are doing, it helps you keep going.

The most important part of achieving success is not giving up, so if you have a strong foundation to rely on, something that is life-changing for you, and if it keeps you going, then you will succeed.

Read next: The Life-Changing Impact Motivation Has on The World

Hong Singer

I'm the creator of Ambition Forward. I keep things simple by focusing on the goal and being consistent in my actions to get the results I want, and I'm here to help you do the same. I encourage you to look for the things that bring you joy and go for it!

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