Intrinsic Motivation – The Fuel of Self-Driven Genius Performers

Maybe you never heard of Intrinsic Motivation before, yet today’s pop-culture and social media is bursting with motivational quotes and videos. We buy books that will inspire us and motivate us. We love to hear amazing stories of superhuman achievement driven by even more amazing goal. It seems that motivations is magic, and knowing how to manage it may make all the difference. Let’s dive straight into the topic.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic Motivation Is What Ultimately Drives You

Different people talking about motivation, may have very different definitions in mind of what motivation really is. Generally, the meaning is that, motivation is the driving force behind action. The “why” behind every result or achieved goal. All too often we attribute failure to lack of motivation. It’s so easy to do it. Exactly that is the problem. Often other more complex reasons will be overlooked, and all is to be blamed at motivation. Because it’s simple and easy to think that way, but let’s take a closer look.


Different Kinds of Motivation

The moment we start thinking about motivation in greater depth, it becomes obvious that it’s not always the same kind of motivation. Sometimes you feel emotional and you have a strong desire to a achieve a certain goal. Other times you are just addicted to certain behavior and can’t stop. These two scenarios are different types of motivation. The questions is – what is the type of motivation that brings most results, and feelings? From the headline of this article, you’re probably guessing where we are going, but you need to fully understand this concept, because it’s a “game changer”. Let’s look at few example scenarios to understand the theory better.


Scenario A

Judy wants to lose weight desperately, she has tried many times, but gives in to the temptation of hunger and the sweet taste of snacks. She is angry at herself, and inpatient when it comes to creating long-term exercise and diet habits. She is very motivated to lose weight, but that works against her.


Scenario B

Nancy on the other hand loves dancing. She started with very modest beginnings, dancing to music at home by herself. Later she signed up for dancing lessons and joined a dance club. As a consequence feels good about herself, leads an active lifestyle. Most of the time she thinks about the dancing moves and not food. She is slimmer, healthier and a happier person.


Development vs. Compulsive Behavior

In the previous scenario examples, we considered different types of motivation and it’s obvious how differently they manifest. Scenario A, is a person that is acting compulsively. There is a great desire to achieve the goal, which creates pressure and stress, but it’s too much. The right amount of stimuli will move you forward, but too much will stop you.
The second scenario B, is a completely different story. A person that is finding an activity deeply rewarding, will start to develop an addiction to it. In this case, it’s a good addiction that leads to an active lifestyle, and move attention away from compulsive relationship to food. This is why it’s very important to find the developmental level of stimulation.

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Another categorization of motivation, and it’s a very meaningful one, is by where it’s coming from. A motivations that comes from earning external rewards, like gifts, grades, or prize money are all examples of extrinsic motivation. On the other hand we have Intrinsic motivation, that doesn’t require an input form the outside. It’s simply enjoy the process and that by itself is driving the behavior. There is no background goal to be achieved as a result of the behavior. If you think little about it, all of art creation is driven by such motivation.


Extrinsic Motivation Sabotages Learning

Scientific research has been done to see how these different types of motivation are affecting results of the subjects. In short, it turns out that extrinsic motivation is great for simple tasks. If you ask your employees to do a simple cognitive or physical action, they will perform better if motivated by good rewards. However, if you introduce a high complexity task like studying, external motivation may have no effect, or even hinder the performance.



Intrinsic Motivation hides great power, because it has the ability to improve results in learning or highly challenging, problem solving scenarios. It can also provide a more stable long term motivation to keep working on a project for a prolonged periods of time, which can be essential for gaining mastery or long term success.


See also: Tap into Your Creative Flow State


Brown, L. V. (2007). Psychology of motivation. New York: Nova Science Publishers.
Horn, T. S. (2008). Advances in sports psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Malone, T. W. & Lepper, M. R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. In R. E. Snow & M. J. Farr (Eds.), Aptitude, learning, and instruction: III. Conative and affective process analysis. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Myers, D. (2005). Exploring psychology, Sixth edition in modules. New York: Worth Publishers.

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