What is Intrinsic Motivation? How to Increase It, According to a Therapist

Published on: 04 Nov 2019
increasing your intrinsic motivation

Do certain activities, experiences, or tasks get you energized? Maybe picking up a good book and reading it cover-to-cover, running long distances, or volunteering at your local animal shelter fills you with enjoyment. In instances like these, no external incentives are needed to propel you forward into action, rather, it is intrinsic motivation — motivation that comes from within — that gets you to act.

Intrinsic motivation does more than just get you to learn and take action, it also results in more sustained interest, excitement, confidence, persistence, self-esteem, and performance over time, which is why it is a feeling that many people seek to foster within themselves. Fortunately, there are ways to understand, increase, and build intrinsic motivation. With some helpful guidance from some of Talkspace’s licensed therapists, we present them to you below.

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is a feeling that comes from within and refers to a person’s behavior being driven by an internal desire, in contrast to extrinsic motivation, which is focused on external rewards such as praise or increased compensation. Research shows intrinsic motivation involves seeking out and engaging in activities that you find challenging and interesting on their own accord. In fact, external rewards for an internally rewarding activity can lessen its intrinsic benefits.

To put this concept into perspective, think about your motivation right now reading this piece. Do you have a genuine interest in psychology and want to gain a better understanding about this particular topic? If so, you are acting based on an intrinsic desire to acquire knowledge. Are you reading this for some kind of report you’re not excited about or for your job? If so, you are likely motivated by wanting to avoid a bad grade or for the possibility of recognition in the workplace. When you do something just for the pure enjoyment of the activity itself, you are intrinsically motivated.

How Intrinsic Motivation Impacts Our Daily Lives

Whether you are conscious of it or not, intrinsic motivation is something you experience time and time again. Whether learning new skills, graduating from school, or growing your career, everyone has different motivations and perspectives on what is rewarding to them, and while some might be fueled internally when going after a goal, others can see the same activity as having more extrinsic benefits. Both types of motivation can get you to take action, but intrinsic motivation tends to drive the best outcomes and satisfaction.

Relying on extrinsic rewards too often can lead to loss of value in the rewards and can even diminish the feeling of intrinsic value over time. When your behaviors are motivated internally, it increases positive emotions, generates feelings of satisfaction and meaning, and can even help a person feel like progress is being made each time you accomplish something. This can help improve and build contentment and confidence in the long term.

Our Therapists Advice on How to Increase Intrinsic Motivation

To increase your intrinsic motivation, consider incorporating the following strategies:

  • Evaluate your motivations
    Start by evaluating your current motivations. “First, think about why the goal is important to you and write that down. Start with external rewards (avoiding food-related ones), and you’ll see a smoother transition to intrinsic rewards,” according to Elizabeth Hinkle, LMFT.

  • Chase your passion
    Seek challenges and goals that have a personal meaning to help sustain interest over time. “Find things that you’re passionate about and find ways to do them more,” according to Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D. LPCC-S.

  • Make an impact
    Look for ways to have a broader impact on other people or the environment around you. “Individuals who feel they are working toward a greater good, or something larger than themselves, do have an easier time staying motivated. Look for what you think might be your higher good and move forward,” according to Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, CFTP.

  • Forget the rewards
    While recognition can reinforce and increase internal motivation, it is best to limit outside motivations as much as possible. “The best way to increase intrinsic motivation is to decrease the extrinsic reward,” according to Christin Tolman, LCPC.

Intrinsic Motivation Can Improve Your Life and Increase Success

If you aim to improve your performance at work or find more enjoyment in your personal life, it is important to find motivation from within. When you are engaged and excited, you can expect to experience sustained interest, excitement, confidence, persistence, self-esteem, and performance over time, which is why it is a feeling that many people seek to foster. To increase this type of motivation, assess what is important to you today and try to pursue goals that have a personal meaning or can positively impact the world around you.

Over time, you can better motivate yourself internally and find lasting contentment.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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