What is Intrinsic Motivation And How Does It Work?

By Julia Thomas|Updated July 8, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Heather Cashell, LCSW

Finding Mental Health Support Isn't Always Straightforward

What is it that drives you to do what you do in your life? Do you have a motivating factor outside yourself like a reward or a specific person that you want to impress? Do you feel enough drive within yourself to make you want to do something good or to push yourself to achieve your best? There are some different reasons that you might feel some form of drive, but understanding whether it's an extrinsic motivation or intrinsic motivation is important.

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

When you feel like you have an internal reward system that drives you to do good things, then you are experiencing intrinsic motivation. With this type of motivation, you're not getting a reward for your behavior other than the feeling of doing something good. No one is paying you for the job you do or giving you something that you want, but no one is also punishing you for not doing the activity. Your mind and your intentions push you to do what you need to do or to do something to the best of your ability (even if it's over and above what is required for you).

Do You Have Intrinsic Motivation?

The chances are that you do, but possibly not for everything that you do. Think of something that you enjoy, a hobby or an activity that you have fun with. You do it because you enjoy doing it, not because you're going to get something out of it in the long run. For example, if you like to read, then you have an intrinsic motivation to read. You don't do it because someone is going to reward you. You do it because you simply want to.

Intrinsic motivation could be your enjoyment, or it could be something like a sense of purpose or meaning. You may feel better about the world you live in, yourself or others around you as a result of intrinsic motivation. Keep in mind also that you can engage in just about any kind of activity with this type of motivation and you will feel the benefits. The only important thing is that you do it because you want to, not because of a reward or punishment that could occur otherwise.

Why It Works

This can be an even better form of motivation than an extrinsic form because the person who is doing it (you) is enjoying themselves. It's difficult to feel like you're intrinsically rewarded for something that you don't enjoy, after all. Because you do enjoy it and that enjoyment is enough for you to want to engage in the activity it means that you're more likely to do it frequently and you're more likely to encourage others to engage in it too. Not only that but you're more likely to do a great job than someone who is doing it for an outside reward.

Someone who does an activity because they are expecting to be rewarded (or not punished) will try to engage in the least possible amount of work that they can do and still expect to get the reward. Someone with an intrinsic reward system will do the best job that they possibly can because that's what makes them feel good about themselves and what they're doing. They're more likely to push themselves to do better constantly and to accomplish even more with whatever the activity is.

It's been found that giving someone external rewards for an activity that the individual already finds to be intrinsically rewarding can reduce the amount of intrinsic reward that the person feels. Though that doesn't mean that you can't get paid to do what you love, it does mean that you might come to enjoy it slightly less as you start to use it for a money-making venture. You may want to consider other methods of making some money or other ways of motivating yourself for the activities that you do. Intrinsic motivation can be enough just on its own.

Finding Your Intrinsic Motivation

If you don't seem to feel an intrinsic motivation to do something, then it could be that you haven't found the right hobbies or activities yet. You could start exploring different things on your own to try and locate a specific passion, or you could seek out professional help to help you feel more passion on your own, with the activities that you already engage in. The important thing is finding someone that you can talk to about your experiences and, even more importantly, about what you're feeling and thinking when you engage in them.

Finding a professional can be a lot easier than you might think because there are professionals all around you, but you want someone that you can count on and feel comfortable with. The best thing you can do is to get online and start looking for someone that you'll want to talk with. Websites like BetterHelp are one way that you can reach out to a professional from anywhere in the country. In fact, the professional that you want may not be located anywhere near you, but they may be the person that you're most comfortable talking to about your situation.

Finding Mental Health Support Isn't Always Straightforward

Keep in mind the real benefits of finding someone online. You'll have more available options, which means more likelihood of finding someone you can feel comfortable with. You'll be able to attend your meetings and appointments from absolutely anywhere, without having to worry about your next vacation or that business trip you have to take out of state, keeping you from making that standing appointment.

You can log on from wherever you happen to be, and you'll be connected with your psychiatrist. No matter what's going on in your life, talking with a professional can help you feel more comfortable, more confident and more prepared for anything that is going to come your way.

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