The Stuff of Motivation Part V – Intrinsic Motivation

Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final installment in a 5-part series on human motivation. Visit Part I for an introduction to this audacious series. 

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Intrinsic motivation. Internalized motivation. Doing things that are consistent with who we are and for the gratification they bring. I can’t say it enough: intrinsic motivation is critical to our vitality and well-being.

If we wish to grow as a culture, as a society, we must foster intrinsic motivation both within ourselves and in others.

In this series on motivation, I’ve tried – hopefully at least somewhat successfully – to make the case that intrinsic motivation is a construct worth valuing and promoting.

The four previous posts that make up this series highlighted three basic psychological needs that we all share and that fortify our development of intrinsic motivation. The series also demonstrated [a few ways each of these needs might be fostered]:

  • Autonomy – feeling that our behavior is self-directed and self-governed. [ways to foster: providing meaningful choice; encouraging exploration; providing rationale for requests];
  • Relatedness – feeling connected and affiliated with human and non-human others. [promoting play, facilitating co-discovery; teaching empathy and active listening];
  • Competence – feeling a sense of mastery and effectiveness. [providing positive constructive feedback; creating opportunities for skills practice].

Satisfying these needs virtually guarantees that we’ll enter into an activity with a sense of purpose and enjoyment. The more we carry out activities for intrinsic reasons, the more we grow as healthy, vital, and effective people.

Quite unfortunately, a second’s pondering reveals that we do scores of things for extrinsic reasons – reasons that derive from outside our concept of self.  Rewards for otherwise inherently enjoyable activities, like when children receive tokens for walking to school with their friends; working simply for the paycheck, rather than finding meaning in our job; seeking positions of power so as to control and influence people, rather than desiring to help “make a difference” – these common examples both undermine intrinsic motivation and strongly predict lower wellness and greater ill-being.

Our culture’s infatuation with high-stakes testing, reward-based pay, competition, incentives for certain types of “development”, among many other extrinsic-focused examples, suggest that we’re misguided in harnessing individuals’ and communities’ inherent creativity and passion. Instead, we should be leveraging people’s intrinsic drives to create, work collaboratively, and live in greater harmony. If you agree with this position, then I ask you:

How might we foster intrinsic forms of motivation within ourselves and in others toward creating a more ecologically conscious, equitable, and livable society?

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