How Can You Harness Intrinsic Motivation?

To put it simply, motivation is at the core of everything we do. It’s the driving force that takes us from the beginning to the end of a project. Whether that’s reading a book, completing a project for work, or learning an instrument, motivation is what gets us from A to B. In fact, Sanam Hafeez, an esteemed neuropsychologist, goes so far as to state that it’s the “key activity to living a productive life. So, it goes without saying that staying motivated should be pretty high on your productivity to-do list!

What is intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is defined as:

“The doing of an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separable consequence.”

In short, it refers to activities driven by internal reward, i.e., happiness or fulfilment, rather than an external reward like a prize, or to avoid punishment. Intrinsic motivation occurs when an individual genuinely enjoys an activity or sees it as an opportunity to better oneself or those around them.

There are three main elements that make up intrinsic motivation:

  • Autonomy. When people are able to act independently.
  • Purpose. When people feel like their efforts matter or make a difference.
  • Mastery. When people gain satisfaction from becoming more skilled or bettering themselves as an individual.

When you partake in an activity for the pure enjoyment of it, it triggers feelings of happiness, satisfaction, and fulfilment. These feelings are a result of the release of our body’s ‘feel good’ hormones; dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. It also gives you a sense of meaning when you are doing activities for the benefit of others, rather than yourself, as well as a sense of progress as you watch your skills and abilities develop over time.

Intrinsic VS extrinsic motivation

 It won’t come as a surprise that extrinsic motivation is the completion of an activity for the sole purpose of receiving personal gain or avoiding some form of punishment. This could be anything from words of praise to a financial bonus, or alternatively avoiding being told off or receiving a ticket or fine, for example.

It’s unlikely that you will be intrinsically motivated by every task in your to-do list and having some extrinsically motivated activities is a necessity. You won’t love every job you have to do, so receiving a small reward at the end does help to keep you on track to stay productive. However, research has shown that receiving both internal and external rewards for an activity actually made it less intrinsically rewarding overall! So, it’s important to differentiate which activities you are intrinsically motivated to do, so as not to overcompensate and risk losing out on some of those positive emotions.

Intrinsic motivation examples:

  • Reading a book because you are genuinely interested in the subject.
  • Practicing your favourite sport to improve your skills.
  • Helping out in your community.
  • Learning an instrument for your own enjoyment.
  • Putting effort into a work project because you find it interesting, and you want to further your abilities.

How to become more intrinsically motivated

Contrary to popular belief, motivation is not an innate characteristic that some people are simply born with, but a learned behaviour that we can all harness. There are a few obstacles that often arise preventing us from staying focused on the task at hand, particularly when the reward is not a tangible object that you can picture yourself grasping, like a trophy or a promotion. These roadblocks can be anything from a lack of self-discipline to the fear of failure, all of which can be overwhelming and cause you to let your motivation slip.

However, here are a few tips and tricks that you can apply yourself to help become more intrinsically motivated in your everyday life. Whilst these aren’t quick fixes that happen overnight, they should help you identify which activities you feel intrinsically motivated to take part in and give you a hand staying on target.

  1. Identify what is driving you.

Start by writing down why the goal is important to you so that you can identify whether it is an intrinsic or extrinsic reward that you’re seeking. The more personal the goal is to you, the more likely it is that you will sustain it over time.

  • Challenge yourself.

People are naturally more motivated when pursuing a goal that is out of reach but still attainable. Set yourself doable targets to avoid losing inspiration or confidence but make sure you’re still giving yourself enough of a challenge. Meeting those small milestones will trigger positive emotions and reinforce your drive to keep going.

  • Make an impact.

Research suggests that people have an easier time sustaining motivation when they’re working towards the bigger picture or to support the greater good, so look for ways that you can have an impact on other people or the environment. The brain also releases endorphins when we help other people, so you can rest assured you will still be getting your fix of ‘happy hormones’!

  • Create curiosity.

Intrinsic motivation is increased when an activity sparks curiosity. Sensory curiosity is something that creates interest in an individual’s surroundings, and cognitive curiosity occurs when a task stimulates an individual to want to learn more.

So now that you’re armed with these golden nuggets of information, you should be ready to harness intrinsic motivation as your own. Start putting these ideas into practice and feel yourself become instantly happier and more fulfilled. Remember, motivation is a cycle so the more you put in, the more confidence and self-esteem you will have to keep going. Intrinsic motivation is the key to smashing your goals and boosting your mental health all in one!

And if you need a little pick me up, Morale is here to help! Did you know that when you send someone in your network a positive affirmation, it boosts your own self-esteem and triggers a release of positive hormones in your own brain? You’ll be making an impact on someone else’s day, so you won’t only feel great, but you’ll also be checking off step 3 on your intrinsic motivation checklist. Sounds like a win-win to us!

Get started today and download the app from Google Play or Apple’s App Store. Those happy hormones are waiting for you!

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Don’t hesitate to drop us a message to if you’re keen to find out more about what we do. We’d love to hear from you.