When we talk about motivation, we often bunch all variants into one umbrella. Yet, it is important to take a closer look at what motivates us to achiever our goals or daily tasks, whatever they may be. Very often, there’s a focus to our motivation that isn’t about ourselves but about something or someone else, and their reaction and feelings vs. our own.

J. Stuart Ablon, Ph.D., is the Director of Think:Kids in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. He defines intrinsic motivation as “being internally driven to achieve some goal vs. extrinsic motivation is being driven to achieve the goal in hopes of receiving some reward or incentive.”

Why you might be wrongly motivated

For Ablon, extrinsic motivation is focusing on external factors, and it is not the best method to go about achieving your goals.

This is a short-lived and ineffective method because external motivation and intrinsic drive are inversely related.

J. Stuart Ablon, Ph.D

In other words, the more you focus on external motivation, the more you eat away at your internal drive. You actually lose your internal drive to achieve goals when you focus on the external reward.  

According to Ablon, “sustained intrinsic drive occurs when three basic psychological needs are met: competence (feeling good about our skills), autonomy (sense of independence) and relatedness (feeling connected to others).”

What does that mean?

Fostering those three things is what helps to create a sense of internal drive. But, while these concepts seem to make sense in a theoretical sense, let’s put them into real world talk.

For example, our need for social media validation. This is something all of us can relate too strongly. “You’re thrilled to see more likes on your latest post and you’ve increased the number of your followers,” said  Kim Woods, a spiritual leader and transformation expert. 

In your career, you work harder than anyone else for that bonus or promotion. To impress your friends, you buy those shoes you can’t really afford for all of the compliments.  You feel good, like you’ve accomplished something. 

But, that good feeling goes away as those likes and followers, in their fickleness, stop reading your posts or unfollow you.

Kim Woods

At work, you’re exhausted and realize your current efforts are unsustainable. You look in your closet and know those shoes don’t go with most of your outfits, so sit on your shoe rack until they go out of style. 

Even before all of these things happen, if you’re honest with yourself, each positive circumstance doesn’t make you satisfied for very long, if at all. 

You’re stumped until you understand you feel this way because you’re being motivated by outside factors, not internal ones. 

“Inner satisfaction, otherwise known as intrinsic motivation, is driven by internal rewards such as; satisfaction, pleasure and enjoyment. While extrinsic motivation, those likes and followers, bonus and shoes are based on earning external rewards or avoiding punishment,” said Woods.

Intrinsic motivation is everything while extrinsic is mildly interesting at best.

Kim Woods

This is a big statement, yet the truth of it is proven by how you feel when you do things that fill you up and make you happy.

Unlocking your real superpowers 

“Tapping into your intrinsic motivation is key to achieving your goals and living a better life,” continued Woods. When you follow your inner compass for satisfaction, you find your passion and have more energy to make progress on your intentions.

As you build this muscle, you foster self-confidence and gain a sense of your true purpose.

Kim Woods

“When you find your true purpose, you have fewer distractions, enable easily sustained effort and connect smoothly with others,” said Woods. Once you’re in this flow, you’re living in joy, ease and freedom. 

How can you tap into your intrinsic motivation? 

Discovering what inspires your own inner motivation isn’t easy with all of the external factors in your life, but the deeper you go within, the easier it is to find those answers. This sounds simple, but it isn’t

It’s hard not to be influenced by what others are doing on social media or by friends and family giving you their advice.

Kim Woods

However, you want to block them out for a time until you know what gives you satisfaction. It’s different for everyone, so following others isn’t the way to uncover what makes you happy. You need to follow yourself. 

The keys to find the right motivations involve three areas: 

1. Your mind 

You want to make the decision to pursue your own internal knowing. To do this, go within.

“Remove the distractions and the noise and envision what you want your life to look like in 3, 6 and 9 months. Write it down. Assess each area of your inner life and your outer world. Your inner life includes your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being,” Woods said.

Are each at the level you want them to be – just for you? Next, look at your outer world. Does your living environment feel like a sanctuary? What would it take to make it one? How about your love life? Career? Do you allow yourself time and resources to explore things you love doing?  Do you see the friends who lift you up?

Kim Woods

2. Your heart

What makes your heart happy? Remember those times when you were younger and lost yourself by doing exactly what you wanted? Take a moment and think back.

“Settle yourself comfortably and start with your breath. Take 10 calm breaths to get connected and then let memories come up. Recall the happiest times in your life. What are you doing? Who are you with? These could be simple moments. Perhaps your coloring or running through a field. Maybe you’re on the phone with a close friend. You could even by laying back and looking at the clouds,” said Woods. 

Make note. 

3. Your will

Give yourself permission to put yourself first in this pursuit of finding the things that fulfill you.

”Be curious. Carve out time in your week to remove all external input and do something that makes you feel satisfied, valuable or accomplished. Go back into the first 2 keys to help you figure out exactly what it may be. Shift your priorities to create a routine to be free to wonder, learn, explore and create,” said Woods.

Make the commitment to yourself to master things just for pure enjoyment. In the process, you may wish to learn new things, focus on your passion, join causes or groups or be in service to others. 

“As you give yourself permission and commit time and energy toward your satisfaction, you gain a sense of competence by learning a new skill, a sense of purpose by finding your true calling, a sense of belonging by joining others in shared interests or a sense of meaning when helping others,” Woods condinued.

There are many ways to nurture your intrinsic motivation. Choose one or two that speak to you. Woods says these ways include:

  • Envision your satisfied life
  • Ensure you feel emotionally safe
  • Discover your core values
  • Tap into your heart’s wisdom
  • Talk to a trusted source to help you see your full potential
  • Trust yourself
  • Say yes to challenging, yet attainable tasks 
  • Be autonomous 
  • Let go of control or expectation
  • Feel as if it’s possible
  • Pursue a higher purpose or something bigger than you

The bottom line – when you live your life based on what fulfills you, you’re motivated to give your all to accomplish great things. 

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