Abuse Warrior may earn a commission for purchases made after clicking links on this page. Learn More.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Whats The Difference?

* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.

Why is it that some days, it is harder for us to get out of bed, cook a health breakfast for the kids before they go to school, and then head off to work? Some days we crush the morning routine, and some days.. well.. they are a disaster.

Our motivations or our unmotivated-ness is what is behind why we do the things that we do.

There are different types of motivation, and as it turns out, understanding why you are motivated to do the things that you do can help you keep yourself motivated — and can help you motivate others.

In this post, we’ll dive into the two types of motivation — intrinsic and extrinsic — to learn the differences between the types, the benefits of each, and how to use both types to inspire productivity.

What is motivation?

To begin to understand what drives us towards our goals we first have to understand the what motivation even is.

Motivation is defined as the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. Motivation is what causes you to act, whether it is getting a glass of water to reduce thirst or reading a book to gain knowledge.

When looking at the basic definition, it seem pretty cut and dry. Right?

Motivation is what gets you off the couch to take the garbage out… the end…

Sorry, its not that simple.

Research shows that motivation is far from a simple phenomenon. People have not only different amounts of motivation, but also different kinds of motivation. That is, they vary not only in level of motivation (how much motivation), but also in the orientation of that motivation (what type of motivation).

The psychology of motivation, action, perseverance, and self determination have been studied and researched for over 50 years and theories about motivation are still changing.

Self Determination Theory

In Self-Determination Theory of Motivation researchers distinguish between different types of motivation based on the different reasons or goals that give rise to an action.

The most basic distinction is between one extreme of intrinsic motivation and the other extreme of extrinsic motivation.

Over three decades of research has shown that the quality of experience and performance can be very different when one is behaving for intrinsic versus extrinsic reasons.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

At the most basic level, there are two main types of motivation that we all experience. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivations are those that arise from within the individual, such as doing a complicated crossword puzzle purely for the personal gratification of solving a problem.

Extrinsic motivations are those that arise from outside of the individual and often involve rewards such as trophies, money, social recognition, or praise. 

In order to understand how these types of motivation influence our actions, it is important to understand more about what each one is and how they work.

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is defined as the engagement of a behavior that is inherently satisfying or enjoyable.

When intrinsically motivated a person is moved to act for the fun or challenge entailed rather than because of external stresses, pressures, or rewards.

An example would be, a child may play outdoors – running, skipping, jumping – for no other reason than because it is fun and innately satisfying

Canva Women Being Silly

What is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is defined as actions that occurs when we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment.

In this case, you engage in a behavior not because you enjoy it or because you find it satisfying, but in order to get something in return or avoid something unpleasant.

An example would be, a teenager might wash dishes at home in order to receive an allowance or them cleaning their room to avoid being reprimanded by their parents.

Influences on Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is a natural human tendency – in other words, people will actively strive toward doing the things they find interesting or enjoyable.

We are born with an natural inner intrinsic motivation.

From birth onward, we are active, inquisitive, curious, and playful, displaying a readiness to learn and explore, and we do not require rewards or incentives to do so. This natural motivational tendency is a critical component of cognitive, social, and physical development because it is through action that we grow in knowledge and skills.

The inclinations to take interest in hobbies, to actively assimilate, and to creatively apply our skills is not limited to childhood, but is an important aspect of our everyday life that affects performance, persistence, and well-being across life’s epochs

However, in order for intrinsic motivation to flourish, our social environment must encourage it.

Our work, home and social atmospheres all have an impact on our level of intrinsic motivation by influencing our level of perceived power and self competence.

When our environments promote our self competence then our level of inner motivation goes up.

When the environment hampers our sense of power and competence then our inner motivation goes down.

Researchers Deci and Cascio found that threats of punishment, deadlines, and surveillance all work to diminish intrinsic motivation and increase extrinsic motivation.

Canva Group of Multiracial Friends Having Fun on the Beach of Tropical Bali Island Indonesia.

Intrinsic or Extrinsic Motivation, which is better?

At first glance, it might seem like it’s better to be intrinsically motivated than extrinsically motivated.

But realistically, we don’t live in such a motivational overloaded world. Being extrinsically motivated doesn’t mean anything bad — extrinsic motivation is just the nature of being a human in today’s world.

Although intrinsic motivation is considered the most optimal form of motivation and is associated with many benefits – including enjoyment, persistence, and psychological well-being, extrinsic motivators are sometimes thought to be helpful to promote action for behaviors that are not intrinsically interesting so maybe, recycling, doing homework, obeying traffic laws, etc.

If you have a job, and you have to complete a project, you’re probably extrinsically motivated — by your manager’s praise or a potential raise or commission — even if you enjoy the project while you’re doing it.

If you’re in school, you’re extrinsically motivated to learn a foreign language because you’re being graded on it — even if you enjoy practicing and studying it.

So, intrinsic motivation is good, and extrinsic motivation is good. The key is to figure out why you are motivated to do things, and encouraging both types of motivation.

Canva Woman in Gray Top and Pink Pants Yoga on Pink Mat

Tips to Increase Intrinsic Motivation

Positive feedback can help increase internal motivation.

Researchers have found that offering positive praise and feedback when people do something better in comparison to others can improve intrinsic motivation. Be specific with positive feedback that you give yourself as well.

Develop your own internal rewards.

If you usually need extrinsic motivation, you can develop intrinsic motivation by initially tying internal rewards to external motivators. For example, if you want to lose weight and you find it helpful to be part of a weight loss support group, you can use that external motivator to develop internal rewards.

As you start to lose weight due to the external support, focus on how good you feel physically as you lose weight and focus on the idea that you are losing weight due to the effort you are making. Identify specific changes you have implemented and give yourself credit for following through with these changes. So, in essence you are turning the external motivation into inner motivation.

When To Rely On Extrinsic Motivation

In some cases, like homework or washing the dishes, we may never be internally motivated to complete the task, and extrinsic motivation can be used to get the job done.

Extrinsic rewards can promote interest in a task or skill a person didn’t previously have any interest in. Rewards like praise, commissions, bonuses, or prizes and awards can also motivate people to learn new skills or provide tangible feedback beyond just verbal praise or admonishment.

But be careful with extrinsic rewards: Research has shown that offering too many rewards for behaviors and activities that people are already intrinsically motivated to do can actually decrease that person’s intrinsic motivation — by way of the overjustification effect.

In these cases, offering rewards for activities the person already finds rewarding can make a personally enjoyable activity seem like work — which could kill their motivation to keep doing it.

Canva Man Lying on Rubber Mat Near Barbell Inside the Gym


In a perfect world we would all be intrinsically motivated to complete the tasks required our lives… but realistically we need both internal and external motivators. We just need to understand what drives our own personal motivation.

1 thought on “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Whats The Difference?”

  1. Both extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation drive human behavior. There are several key differences between motivation that comes from external rewards and the kind that is driven by an individual s genuine interest, including the influence of each type on a person s behavior and the situations in which each type will be most effective. Understanding how each type of motivation works and when it is likely to be useful can help people perform tasks (even when they do not want to) and improve their learning.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *