the benefits of intrinsic motivation

before the holiday madness began, i wrote a post criticizing the secret. although i have many problems with the fantastical perspective provided by the film, my biggest concern about the message is how counter-productive it is to a life based on intrinsic motivation. that term is defined here as something that an individual finds rewarding without an obvious, concrete, external reward.

here are some examples of goals that an intrinsically-motivated person might set:

-i want to be healthier
-i want to be more fulfilled
-i want to learn more and educate myself for no particular reason at all

traditionally, experts warn against vague, all-encompassing goals like the ones above. i’ve heard trainers claim that we need to have concrete goals (ie: “i want to lose ten pounds” or “i want to wear a bikini on my honeymoon.”) to latch on to in moments of weakness on the journey of achieving any given goal. that might very well be true, but it also means that the effort being put forth to achieve the goal isn’t sustainable (see concrete example here after finishing my initial 12 week program with keri). once you’ve lost the weight, accomplished the objective, you either have to create another, or risk losing the motivation to keep up the desirable habit.

i’ll stop here briefly to mention that i do believe it is possible to develop your behavior into a habit while striving to achieve your goal, which will keep you on track even after the milestone has passed. it’s not a given, though, and as i understand it, that will only happen if somewhere along the line, the motivation shifts from external to internal. i’ve also seen just as many examples of people who “lost weight for a special event” and then re-gained it the moment the wedding or beach trip ended. not sustainable.

another reason i believe external motivation can be tricky and a bit dangerous is that it may lead someone to de-value the work he or she is doing even more. for example, if you think to yourself, “i’m going to work really hard at my job for the next year so that i can buy a new house,” you will be re-enforcing to yourself that your job is not worth doing without the external reward of the car. that seems like a recipe for dissatisfaction and unhappiness. that also completely ignores the point that people are generally not happier after accruing material things (no matter how much they wanted them to begin with) and the fact that over the course of the time it takes to save up for the car, you could change your mind about what you wanted in the first place!

i recently watched an amazing ted talk on this very subject (which you may find here). the speaker makes the case that in today’s workplace (and i believe it applies to other facets of life, such as fitness and healthy living as well), people are a lot more likely to produce quality results with an intrinsic drive.

 so the obvious question is … how does one go about developing intrinsic motivation? are there different levels of intrinsic motivation? how do you know when you’ve reached the point of intrinsic motivation? does it really exist? 

these are all questions for another time. hopefully i will have an answer for you.

i will end this post by mentioning that i cannot claim to be intrinsically motivated myself. in fact, some people (most prominently, my dad) would argue that it is an impossible goal. i just think it’s a discussion worth having and that it’s always beneficial to be aware of and evolving your reasons for doing anything you choose to do. otherwise, we’re all just robots.


5 thoughts on “the benefits of intrinsic motivation

  1. That’s great!! So wonderful to have that kind of sisterly relationship. And I just noticed this was your Jan 6 post — my Feedly keeps serving me different ones. But it’s all good to me!

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