The Ultimate Guide To Intrinsic Vs Extrinsic Motivation 2021

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation Image by Benjamin Davies/ Unsplash
While at times contributed by guest authors, our content is medically reviewed periodically by professionals for accuracy and relevance. We pride ourselves on our high-quality content and strive towards offering expertise while being authoritative. Our reviewers include doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and even medical students. -----------------------------------

Psychologists define motivation as ‘the process by which activities are started, directed, and sustained’. It is the force that propels you to initiate anything and continue doing it till the goal is achieved.

Motivation is a unitary process, we all need it at different levels at different times. Whether you are trying to get that promotion for your own sake, pulling an oil nighter for completing tasks, or looking for ways to get started on your school assignment, the push that you need to do each of them is motivation. The article will give a better understanding of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation.

Types of Motivation

Motivation is broadly categorized into two types: Intrinsic motivation and Extrinsic motivation, as propounded by the pioneers of the self-determination theory- Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. Successful individuals understand how essential it is to have good levels of motivation, is it something that should come from within or something which is done to gain more wealth. To study intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation in detail, we must understand each type thoroughly. Here we explore each of them in detail.

What is extrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
Image by Anna Tarazekevich/ Pexels/ copyright 2022

Extrinsic motivation is when the driving behavior is the effect of something outside of us. This is caused by external factors that can be both tangible such as money, bonus, prize, scholarships, grades, or psychological like status, verbal praise, social pressure, popularity, or avoiding punishment.

When we desire something that is outside of us, extrinsic motivation is at play. It is usually intense but bound to lose effectiveness after a while.

Think back to your childhood, chances are your parents used to make you do your homework by offering excessive external rewards such as increasing your monthly allowance, buying you a toy, or simply threatening to ground you. All of it is a form of extrinsic motivation.

These are usually employed to motivate people temporarily to either gain or avoid something. The levels drop down once the reward is attained. The individual is primarily involved not because of a desire to learn or enjoy the process but simply to obtain the object of value.

What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
Image by Foundry Co/Pixaby/ copyright 2022

Throughout history, exceptional people like Leonardo Da Vinci, Plato, Einstein, Descartes, and Shakespeare did what they could because they found the act of engaging in the pursuit of learning and growth, personally rewarding.

No matter the external pressure or backlashes, they persevered to work relentlessly. This is intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when the individual does something even when there are no evident rewards ahead.; when the behavior is itself a reward. It fuels people to continue working on tasks for a long time, sometimes even decades.

Think of the time when instead of doing your homework, you preferred to engage in activities you liked such as playing video games, hanging out with your friends, playing a musical instrument; when you found the act of engagement satisfying and rewarding in itself. You were intrinsically motivated wherein participation in the process was its reward.

According to Daniel Pink, the author of Drive-the surprising truth about what motivates us’, there are three elements of intrinsic motivation:


Autonomy is an internal desire to control our lives independently, the way we want to. When working on creative tasks, it is important to feel autonomous for great ideas to emerge. For example, if managers want the employees to actively do their work, they must provide space for self-direction. This could be giving autonomy in terms of time, technique, or teamwork.


Steve Jobs talked about living to create a ‘dent in the universe’, which implied working for something greater than ourselves. When we have a massive cause to work for; whether it is altruistic or intrinsically doing the things that matter, the work feels easy and personal satisfaction is enhanced.


We all have an inner drive to continually get better at stuff. The thing is to adequately tap into it. Actively taking calculated risks to expand the horizon of your comfort zone and developing a new skill contributes to this internal drive. This does not mean running after perfection but rather being the best version of what you could be.

Set goals

Some people believe that to achieve a goal, it is necessary to first write it down. The goal should be specific. For this set a monthly or a quarterly goal. This will help provide you with clarity and a strong ‘what’ every time you start to lose focus.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
Photo by Julia Larson/Pexels/ copyright 2022

There are key differences between both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation but the main difference between intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation lies in the origin of motivation.

Intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation

  • When a person is intrinsically motivated, the source of motivation comes from within.
  • When a person is extrinsically motivated, the source of motivation is the external reward.

Intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation examples 

Some intrinsic motivation examples are:

  • Studying to learn more
  • Working to contribute to individual and company’s growth
  • Volunteering to help the deprived and needy
  • Shouldering responsibility to grow yourself
  • Exercising for enjoyment
  • Running a marathon for fun

Some extrinsic motivation examples are:

  • Studying to get good grades
  • Working to get extrinsic incentives
  • Volunteering to complete a course
  • Shouldering responsibility for receiving positive feedback
  • Exercising to lose weight
  • Running a marathon for the first prize

An interesting caveat is that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can co-exist despite being slightly opposing in nature. For example:- you could be reading this article for either learning something new, for writing a pending assignment to get a good grade or both.

Which Is Better: Intrinsic Vs Extrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic motivation
Image by Mohammad Hasan/ Pixaby/ copyright 2022

Ideally, intrinsic motivation is considered to be a suitable alternative to effectively motivate due to its endurance but extrinsic motivation is equally influential in driving human behavior.

Since extrinsic motivation involves completing work because of external rewards, it proves beneficial to employ if the job requires doing so. This is how the mechanics of corporations and organizations work, by providing money or any outside incentive.

Furthermore, we often do things out of the fear of being criticized, to avoid punishment. For instance, if a student has no fear of scoring poorly on his examinations, he might never study. This can eventually lead to flunking. Extrinsic rewards can be used to increase the motivation of the group, thus creating an effective learning environment.

It has been suggested that when parents shower lavish, obvious external rewards, the child gets accustomed to external rewards, and this can decrease intrinsic motivation.

However alluring extrinsic motivators seem, it is usually better to support intrinsic motivation. Research has found that individuals who are are high on intrinsic motivation:

  • have a strong sense of personal commitment
  • are more resilient in the face of adversity
  • are more creative
  • are better performers

Research by McKinsey showed that employees who have high levels of intrinsic motivation are 46% more satisfied and have 32% greater levels of commitment than those who are extrinsically motivated. Another study in the European Journal of Business and Management indicates that intrinsic motivation is a better predictor of sustained job performance than extrinsic motivation.

How to be more intrinsically motivated?

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
Image by Gerd Altmann/ Pixabay/ Copyright 2022

Chase your interests

When you do something you love, you are more likely to do it repeatedly and with much more enthusiasm than if you work on something you don’t like so much. Pursuing your passion is an internally rewarding behavior and is likely to make you feel fulfilled. Interests must be cultivated for educational purposes to promote interest.

Get positive feedback

One of the best possible ways to boost confidence is whatever you’re doing is by asking for positive feedback or positive criticism. Ask for feedback or constructive criticism from people you trust. Doing this encourages people to be positively motivated and sharpen their skills.

Atlassian Autonomy

A software company called Atlassian keeps a “FedEx” day wherein employees are given full autonomy to work on whatever they want to, however they like. This has been found to increase work productivity and a chance to develop something creatively. Putting this practice into our habitual routines can be effective for achieving goals. Organizations should offer rewards strategically whilst giving ample opportunity for growth and self-direction.

Be curious

Curiosity is a requisite for intrinsic motivation. Asking questions makes your mind more active than merely passive. By being curious, you open your mind to a plethora of possibilities that are otherwise not visible. This is vital to promote intrinsic motivation.

A final word on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation

Motivation is crucial to stimulate human behavior into action. We often mediate between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in our day-to-day work, sometimes pushed by both at the same time. Knowing what drives behavior is essential to achieving personal goals. Intrinsic motivation comes from within while extrinsic motivation arises from an external source.

Extrinsic rewards help us soar high and lead a comfortable lifestyle. We should strive to apply intrinsic motivation wherever possible. On the contrary, extrinsic motivation is ineffective for creative purposes. It is important to understand when to chase an external reward.

Whenever possible, seek out intrinsic motivation than being extrinsically motivated. Several factors influence both extrinsic as well as intrinsic motivation. We must understand how the dynamics of each of them for honing new skills and better decision making.

Read more such articles at Icy Health.

While at times contributed by guest authors, our content is medically reviewed periodically by professionals for accuracy and relevance. We pride ourselves on our high-quality content and strive towards offering expertise while being authoritative. Our reviewers include doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and even medical students. -----------------------------------

Any information found on the site does not constitute legal or medical advice. Should you face health issues, please visit your doctor to get yourself diagnosed. Icy Health offers expert opinions and advice for informational purposes only. This is not a substitute for professional medical advice.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here