Intrinsic Motivation: Why Bother?


This is Part 1 of a 3-Part series on self empowerment and intrinsic motivation. Living from passion is something I'd like the people I work with and care about to experience every single day.

Part 1 will provide some background into what it means to work from intrinsic motivation and why it's in everyone's benefit for you to enjoy life. Part 2 will cover some of the tools and techniques for identifying these traits in yourself and others. Part 3 should be a short spin around implementation and how to maximize the time you spend doing what you're best at.

Let's Get Pedantic

Motivation refers to a person's reasons for taking some sort of action. It is often separated into two categories: Extrinsic and Intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation refers to actions taken/decisions made according to external factors. Incentives can take many forms, but can generally be thought of as rewards and punishments: Grades in school, performance-based raises at work, M&Ms for going potty, and threats of jail for breaking laws are all techniques for creating extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation, then, refers to actions and decisions made because of interest or enjoyment of the task itself. Most often, we see intrinsic motivation expressed in our hobbies and personal time: Model airplanes, reading books, history, and video games.

When we're operating on intrinsic motivation, we're acting on what really drives us -- it's an expression of who we are.

A Little Context

When one considers the scope of human history, it seems likely that very few people have ever had the opportunity to fully explore their own individual nature, let alone hone it. We are very fortunate to live in an age (and location) of relative plenty: Because struggling for subsistence is not the sum of our day-to-day routines, we have time to pursue our interests and really develop as individuals.

We can focus our lives on areas we're truly passionate about. We can do what we love and get paid for it!

This doesn't merely benefit us as individuals, however! By focusing on what we do best, we push the envelope for our concentric circles of influence: Our family, our business, our community, and so on.

Technology and innovation have provided us with the opportunity to diversify and specialize. This, in turn, fosters an environment where even more new discoveries can be made.

It's not unreasonable to suggest that the increased rate of innovation we have seen in the last century is due at least in part to more and more people being free to pursue what interests them.

Caveat Lector

Working from intrinsic motivation, of course, doesn't mean you'll always love every aspect of the things you do -- we all have drudgery. But even drudgery doesn't feel wasteful when it's pursuant to one's overall goals.

Even though I love expressing thoughts in written form, it took me an inordinate amount of time to finish this blog post. Breaking down the spirit of an idea and refining every last "p" and "q" can challenge my stamina; writer's block plagues us all.

Enjoy My Job?

Yes, you!

The concept of loving our jobs is a familiar one these days. Most companies do their best to have happy workers who enjoy their jobs. While the focus is often on the environment and the perks; the goal is always to promote more efficient and motivated workers. Unfortunately, there's a lot of research that shows "carrot and stick" methods don't produce consistent results.

Over the past year or so, I have invested time in personal introspection -- becoming increasingly aware of my own values, needs, passions, and strengths. Where do I have the most value to add and how I can maximize the time I spend both at work and at home?

I don't always get it right, but this has generally lead to a deeper sense of purpose and increased satisfaction in life. By admitting and accepting my own preferences for how to take on tasks and the types of work I love doing, I can focus on areas where I'm most effective and also having fun.

It is my hope that through this series, readers will begin this process for themselves. Ask yourself what it might look like if you found yourself 5% more motivated by what you do.

What's Up Next

The next post will be about the introspection process. It will cover tools for articulating how you think, identifying areas of your life where you find the most fulfillment, and perhaps most importantly, we'll discuss a way to succinctly tie it all together.

Cross-posted from