The power of intrinsic motivation
I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.
― Saul Bass
Motivation is often a terrible thing to rely on for getting things done. But using intrinsic motivation to help yourself be happier, healthier, and more productive is something worth everyone’s attention.
Motivation is finite. And for most people, being a better person, achieving more, pursuing self-mastery, requires not only taking action when you feel motivated. It has to be a habit. An innate feeling to do what you should regardless of how you feel each day.
Intrinsic motivation was one of the few concepts I learned about in school that is still stuck with me. It’s a key to self-mastery because it aligns with being more consistent, determined, and hard-working.
Being intrinsically motivated helps you understand why you do what you do compared to how everyone else does it. It makes sense of our behaviour—and what drives it. Psychologists interpret intrinsic motivation as a behavioural pattern that arises from our spontaneous tendency to be curious and interested, to pursue challenges and develop different areas of ourselves—even without external rewards as an incentive. And four decades of research spearheaded by self-determination theory—the understanding of intrinsic motivation as a means of agency—revealed that intrinsic motivation can predict “enhanced learning, performance, creativity, optimal development and psychological wellness”.
The amazing thing about intrinsic motivation is when you have it. Once you do, you’re naturally engaged. Your work feels easier and inherently more satisfying. On the other hand, extrinsically motivated people do things “to obtain some instrumentally separable consequence”. An award, the avoidance of punishment (there’s a lot we do to avoid pain), or the achievement of a valued outcome. And that’s hardly sustainable.
Extrinsic motivation isn’t all bad. The traditional carrot and stick is a powerful incentive to drive engagement in tasks where persistence and speed are directly related to productivity. Extrinsic rewards can boost motivation in the short term. But that’s as long as the rewards you give yourself are enhanced over time, and we too easily become dependent on extrinsic rewards for our motivation after that.
Intrinsic motivation helps strengthen your engagement with the work you care about, leading to actions that positively change the environment you live in. And this change can create a virtuous positive feedback cycle that enhances your self-determination.
Ultimately, our environment should promote and reward three-inter related basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness with others. To be a life-long master, we need systems that encourage our passion to engage in life-long learning and professional development, continuing to seek the master/expert pinnacle of our most valued practices. Maintaining that status is not easy, but many would say intrinsic motivation is the best way to achieve this.
What I’ve learned
Stand out with your mind
Elizabeth Filips found that the key to being genuinely interesting is to “make people curious about your mind”. Embracing the beauty of the way you work, how you see things differently, in a way that helps people, can make you more interesting than you think. The power to use your mind to switch people on and engage them makes you unique. So why compete?
Working on weekends
I write these emails at the weekend because it’s fun. But I’m generally against working on a weekend (unless it’s fun or you have to) because it can be unhealthy; if we work 5 days of our week, why let that bleed into the 2 days we have to switch off and recover?
What’s on My Mind
Being aware of something is often enough to motivate you to change it.
1 Question for you
Who have you been exposed to recently that’s made a change in your life?
I missed last week’s edition, so I’m sending one this week and the next to make up for it (sorry not sorry).
Speak again soon,