Are You Doing It Because You Love It Or for the Reward That Follows?

I am on sabbatical for the next few weeks. While I am gone, I have asked some of my favorite bloggers to stand in for me. This is a guest post by Lucille Zimmerman. She is a licensed professional counselor and the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. You can read her blog and follow her on Twitter.

Psychologists believe there are two reasons people choose their behavior: They are motivated intrinsically or extrinsically.

Are You Doing Something Because You Love It Or The Reward That Follows?

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Intrinsic Motivation: This means a person chooses a behavior simply because of interest or enjoyment. The act of doing the behavior is itself the reward. One researcher defined intrinsic motivation in terms of what people will do without external inducement.

When you do behaviors because of intrinsic motivation, you feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement. For me that would be why I write, research, exercise, and shoot photographs.

Extrinsic Motivation: This means you do something because of factors outside yourself. For instance, you want your parent’s approval, a trophy, or a treat. Or perhaps you want to avoid the disapproval of others. The reason for the behavior comes not from the love of the activity, but from the reward that follows the activity.

Dr. Phil says,

If you are always rewarding your child with material things, he/she will never learn how to motivate themselves with internal rewards like pride. They also will never learn to value things because there are so many things and nothing is special.”

My daughter and I were in the car having a discussion about this topic. Which motivation is better? Sometimes you have to use extrinsic motivation to get someone to try a behavior. And sometimes extrinsic rewards can be helpful for achieving a goal. For instance, when my son-in-law passed his CPA exam, he was given a big financial bonus. That bonus is what kept him pushing through the hard times.

Yet sometimes, extrinsic motivation can actually dampen a person’s interest in a behavior. My friend’s son, Ry, is an incredible pianist. He’s a young child who is a virtual Beethoven. He is intrinsically motivated by playing the piano. In fact, his whole body lights up when he has the opportunity to play. If my friend began offering him $10 to practice, it would de-motivate him.

Which leads me to a discussion of Self-Determination Theory. The premise behind this theory is that people have three innate needs:

  1. The need to feel competent.
  2. The need to feel related (connected with others).
  3. The need to feel autonomous.

The developers of this theory, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, say that when people feel competent, related, and autonomous (or “self-determined”) they will be intrinsically motivated and seek what interests them.

That meshes with my belief: Being intrinsically motivated correlates with maturity, and having a strong sense of self. No longer are you doing a behavior for the crowd’s applause, a parent’s approval, or society’s trophies. You are doing something because it brings you great joy.

I believe many adults are unhappy because they are doing behaviors because of extrinsic motivation. I wrote about this in my book:

Did you know that doing what you love and doing a lot of it is a secret to happiness? Bestselling author and researcher Marcus Buckingham was surprised with research he did at Gallup that showed that women’s happiness had plummeted over the last forty years—the exact opposite of men” (See Find Your Strongest Life).

He devoted himself to figuring out what made the happiest women happy. He found that the happiest women tended to focus on the few areas where they excelled. If a woman loved marathons, she didn’t waste her time on home decorating. If she enjoyed studying rocket-science, she didn’t focus on entertaining friends. You get the idea.

Not only did she do what she loved, she did something Buckingham calls “catch and cradle;” she noticed herself doing what she loved. For instance, when I’m with my three writing critique partners, sometimes I sit back in my seat, sipping tea, and really pay attention to how much I enjoy writing and being with my writing friends.

Sometimes I even take a picture of the magic moment and post it as my status on Facebook. Whether your snapshot is real or tucked away in your memory, taking an occasion to savor what you enjoy is a vital step in self-care.

So, what about you?

Question: Are you mostly motivated by the joy and love of an activity, or by the external rewards which come from doing it? When has intrinsic or extrinsic motivation hindered or helped you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Churchill Madyavanhu

    Great post. I am most motivated when I am doing things I love. I am usually the kind of person who listens and follows orders, but I have noticed that I tend to behave contrary to what most people would expect of me when I am told to do things I do not find interesting.

    When I was young, I was lucky to have a guardian who believed in intrinsic motivation. He never rewarded me with material things, but I always tried to do my best. According to me, intrinsic motivation is more durable. Unlike extrensic motivation, which can disappear as soon as the reward is taken away.

    Any ideas on how to instil instrinsic motivation in children? Thanks for sharing.

    • Connie Almony

      I have an idea. As I mentioned in my comments, the best way to instill intrinsic motivation in children is to help them see the full benefit from their actions. When my daughter helps me out, I remind her how this gives me more time to get other things done, making my day more productive. Sometimes that leads to more time doing things with her or for her, but not always. She feels good about contributing and often even offers to help with other things … just cuz.

      • Lucille Zimmerman

        Oh, Connie, I love that. I had not thought of that. Very helpful.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Churchill, thank you for your comments. I, too, tend to push back when I feel pressure coming from others. Sounds like you were blessed to have such a motivator in your life.

      My suggestion in regards to children would be to expose them to a wide variety of activities. Then support their interests. I would use rewards intermittantly.

    • Kelly Bartlett

      Churchill, I am a parenting educator and writer, and I focus on teaching parents how to raise kids unconditionally–that is without threats, punishments, bribes or rewards. Parenting this way brings out a child’s inner desire do behave and do things simply because it is the right thing to do, not out of a promise of a reward or fear of a punishment. Instead of praise, parents can offer encouragement–they are very different. Encouragement is about responding to the the child’s process and effort (“Wow, you sure worked hard and put a lot of time into that.”) as opposed to judging the results (“Good job!”). My book, “Encouraging Words for Kids,” explains the what, why, and how of encouragement and gives examples of what to say to help raise children with a strong sense of internal motivation.

      • Churchill Madyavanhu

        Hi Kelly. Thanks a lot for the tips and the link to the book. I just went through some of your articles and I am sure I will enjoy the book.

      • Lucille Zimmerman

        Thank you for that Kelly.

  • The48Laws

    Overall great post! Very enlightening narrative.

    I do wonder. For me, true motivation is always intrinsic. You aren’t really motivated unless it comes from within – from your own desire and passion for doing it. I don’t think, then, that the distinction is between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, but between motivation in general and compliance.

    Motivation is a form of acceptance and responsibility. When you are motivated, you are taking it upon yourself to do something. You want to do it. And even if you don’t initially like the work, you are openly willing to do it. You don’t blame or accuse others for it, but say, “OK, I’m going to get this done.”

    Compliance, on the other hand, is an indirect form of resistance. When you comply with something – a reward, a person’s order, etc. – you are resisting by following, by “seeming” motivated, but really only providing minimal effort. It looks like motivation because it involves doing something, but really it’s not. It’s about “looking” motivated. People who comply often blame others or their circumstances (“I hate my job, but how else am I going to pay the bills!?”).

    Whenever someone complies, they are reducing their ability to be engaged. Motivation, on the other hand, increases engagement. When you’re motivated, you are absorbed in what you’re doing. People who comply, however, tend to ignore details, because they are focused only on providing the minimal amount of effort to achieve some goal or avoid some punishment.

    So the moral here: motivation over compliance.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      I like the distinction you make: Unless it comes from within, it isn’t really motivation. It is compliance.

      Michael’s audience has some deep thinkers and now you’re making me ponder this sentence: Compliance is an indirect form of resistance.

      • Michele Cushatt

        I’m pondering the same … and all it’s implications.

  • Anne Peterson

    Loved the post. I don’t know when I tagged the extrinsic onto something I absolutely love, writing, but it certainly takes away from the joy I was experiencing. Your post made me see why. Could it be that sometimes I have been fortunate to receive money for the thing I would do without money and I liked that? The truth is, I have to write. It is part of my fiber. Thanks so much.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      And Anne, you have a beautiful gift for writing. I always enjoy your blog posts.

  • Connie Almony

    This post reminds me of a workshop I attended years ago that
    changed my perspective on motivating children. It was about the difference
    between Praise and Encouragement. In their definitions, praise was telling the
    child the work was good; encouragement was showing the child the benefit of the
    work, seeing HOW it contributes to the whole. Praise teaches a child to work
    for a reward, where encouragement allows the child to see the reward in the
    doing. I’ve used encouragement, as thus defined, and found an amazing
    difference in the level of work I’ve gotten from both children and adults.

    I love writing! I love creating stories of my own. I get to
    make it whatever I want it to be, so that motivates me to continue to write.
    However, when I see how someone else is touched (and maybe even changed in some way) by something I write, THAT is even more amazing to me. So I keep doing it.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Connie, this is very helpful. I’m learning so much already from all the comments. I had not thought about the difference between praise and encouragement. It’s subtle but distinct, isn’t it?

    • Michele Cushatt

      A few months ago I heard a speaker say the same, and it really made me stop and think. So often I say the words, “Good job!” without realizing I’m reinforcing results rather than the process.

  • Jonathan DeVore

    I read the book “Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters” by Jon Acuff and I loved it!

    I did what was suggested in the book, found something that I’ve always loved to do, discovered a market for it in my local community, and I’m going to start getting paid for what I do.

    I’ve noticed that the prospect of getting paid to do what I love to do is adding some pressure, and your points about money ruining motivation hit home. I’m a little concerned that doing what I love and getting paid for it will make it unenjoyable – it will become just another job.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to continue to do what you love for the right reasons, and still ask for a paycheck?

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Jonathan, wow, how great that you found a market for doing what you love!

      The best advice I could give is do everything you can to keep the zeal for your work—let that be the focus. Money is important, and it’s critical you get paid for your product/skill, but try not to let it become the focus.

      One of the ways I keep the zeal in my counseling practice is limit my client load so I don’t burn out. I truly get excited and happy when I head out the door.

      Make time for play and take time away from work so you get fresh perspectives.

      • Cherry Odelberg

        Several decades ago, I heard Paul Harvey say, “find something you love to do and do it so well you make a living at it.”

        I would love to make a living doing what I love to do. Meantime, the challenge is to pay the rent and keep food on the table.

        Sometimes the demotivation of being paid has to do with the spoken or inferred attempt to control: I will pay you this much to do what you love to do; but you must do it the way I want you to do it.

  • colbycm

    This has been the exact struggle I’ve been having with myself as I reach a certain birthday milestone. I’ve been reading Jon Acuff’s “Start” and wondering why I’m not doing what I intrinsically love. I’m good at what I do now, but I’m motivated by the external reward.
    I think it’s about time to change…

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Colby, sometimes I think we can make small tweaks to make us love our work again. I heard about a plastic surgeon who was working all the time. He loved what he did, and he was good at it. But then he burned out. A mentor suggested he set boundaries; taking plenty of time off. In addition, he started doing work in 3rd poorer countries, for free. This gave him his passion back.

      • Jeremy McCommons

        Lucille, I completely agree with you! As a business owner I find that when I use my businesses to give back and make a difference in other people’s lives I find refreshment and great meaning in what I do. I love my work, but it’s easy for anything to begin to feel redundant after awhile. Thanks for your wisdom!

        • Lucille Zimmerman

          Jeremy, thank you for that confirmation of what brings your meaning and joy back in regards to your work.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Good for you Colby! What do you think you need to change so you’re more motivated by the intrinsic motivation?

  • Annie Kate

    Great article and fascinating comments.
    I’ve always wondered why I’m emotionally resistant to earning money on my blog. (Intellectually, I know it would affect the objectivity of my reviews.) But emotionally it is probably because I feel as though being ‘rewarded’ for doing it would turn it into a job, something I do for money rather than as a ministry and because I love to do it. Thanks for the insight!
    People are such complex beings!

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Annie, I know, I’m getting so much out of these comments! Such thinkers here.
      We are complex aren’t we?

    • Jeremy McCommons

      Annie, I’m experiencing the same battle! I want to begin to pursue avenues of making money through my blog, but I also am fearful that this may take away from my overall satisfaction. As a businessman there is this tension between communicating what I am passionate about and also monitoring my numbers. This article helps put things in perspective.

  • Esther Aspling

    Wow, these are some great thoughts!

    I’m going to need to take some time to chew on this and to really think about this in regards to my kids!

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Esther, there’s so much wisdom in these comments too. Thanks for commenting.

  • Skip Prichard

    Lucille, there is much wisdom in this post. I agree with you assessment of maturity in this process as well. The drive inside each of us is something we all need to explore and review to study our own motives and set the direction for our future.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      I agree Skip. All of us need to check what is causing us to make the choices we are making from time to time.

  • Melissa Dickerson

    I am amazed to open mt laptop this morning and read this blog. I have just come to this realization this very week. I wish I was only in my 20s. It is not too late at 40 to make major changes. If I want to be happy, then the changes will be worth it. Thank you for that post and I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Melissa, thank you for taking the time to let me know this was helpful. Blessings on your decisions.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Can’t wait to see the difference you’re going to make now Melissa! What changes do you need to make to increase your happiness?

  • Angela

    Lucille – What a treat to find your blog post in my inbox. I attend West Bowles Community Church and it was wonderful to see your beautiful face! It was a great post, and made me think about what motivates me. A good reminder to not feel guilty when I make the decision to do something I don’t want to do. (But feel I should want to do) Good perspective too to use when I am working with clients, as it is my job to keep them motivated as we work together. Thank you!

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Angela, what a treat to see you here too. One of the best gifts a supervisor gave me was to tell me I didn’t have to take every client. I learned to be selective and choose only the clients I thought would be a good fit.

  • Cheri Gregory

    Lucille — you say: “That meshes with my belief: Being intrinsically motivated correlates with maturity, and having a strong sense of self.”

    That meshes with my experience in the high school classroom: students who have been raised with the most external motivation (i.e. over-involved parents) are often the least mature kids, with the weakest sense of self.

    When they get their first paper back with my recommendations for revision, many are distraught when they don’t see “A+! Excellent!” They perceive every red mark as harsh commentary on their identity rather than my best effort to coach them to become a better writers.

    It recently occurred to me that today’s sophomores seem to have the emotional maturity that I saw in my 7th and 8th graders when I first started teaching a quarter of a century ago. I realize this is based on gut feeling, not empirical data, but when I ask other teachers, they feel the same way.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Cheri, thanks for that interesting perspective on the students you teach.

    • Michele Cushatt

      Fascinating, Cheri. I’m sitting here trying to figure out where my children would fall in this discussion! Such a struggle.

      • Cheri Gregory

        Michelle —

        The biggest difference I see is between children whose parents have taught them to self-advocate and children whose parents just step in and take over. (And I’ve been the latter too many times to count…mostly when I felt I was too busy/tired to do anything else “this one time”…and boy do those “one times” add up!)

        • Lucille Zimmerman

          Oh me too. Parenting is an exhausting blog. I sure enjoyed Jen Hatmaker’s take on what it’s like to be an end of the school year mom.

  • Dan Erickson

    Well said. I’m a teacher and a writer and a musician because I love to do those things. They are rewards in themselves and they begin within me, so I;d ay I’m more intrinsic.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Dan, I’m curious, did your parents push music on you? Reward you? Did you always know how much you loved it?

      • Dan Erickson

        My parents never pushed music on me. In fact, they have never been very responsive to my music. It’s been a natural inclination since I was a kid. I started writing songs when I was eight or nine years old.

    • Michele Cushatt

      I second Lucille’s questions. I was a piano teacher for years, and there’s nothing worse than trying to teach a student who is being forced to take lessons. They completely miss the beauty and art of it. At the same time, I’ve lost count of how many adults I’ve met who WISH their parents would’ve forced them to stick with it. They have deep regret over never learning to play. I’d love to know if you always enjoyed it, or learned to enjoy it over time.

      • Lucille Zimmerman

        I think this is one of those cases of extrinsic motivation working until the intrinsic motivation takes over. But you’re right, so many people say they wished their parents had pushed them to continue with music lessons.

        • Cherry Odelberg

          I am a teacher, writer and musician because I love to do those things – and I am not plagiarizing Dan!
          With regard to piano, it was extrinsic motivation that worked until the intrinsic took over. Writing is something I do because I love it and joy is the reward. I have yet to earn more than a few dollars for writing. Teaching was foisted on me, yet I came to love it.
          Thank you for this wonderful post and all the comments from thinking folks.

  • Lucille Zimmerman

    Thank you for the link Dave. I will check it out.

  • Lily Kreitinger

    Great post! I find that when I’m motivated by the activity itself, time flies and I would do it without seeking an external reward. This happens when I’m blogging or designing jewelry.

    At my current job, I enjoy participating in videos as an actor, doing voiceovers and photo sessions; these activities are not part of my job description and I love doing them for the sake of having fun.

    There are many aspects of my job that I love doing and would do even if I didn’t get compensated; and there are other tasks that I do for our team’s growth, even if they are not very exactly pleasant. I work in a very supportive environment and I enjoy receiving recognition like an award, a certificate of excellence or a coffee shop gift card. Feeling proud of what I’ve done is a great motivation to do more of it and do it well.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Lily, you’ve probably heard of Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi and his concept of “flow.” People are happiest when they are being challenged, have a sense of accomplishment, and when are so caught up in it that they lose all sense of time.

      Dr. Martin Seligman did some fascinating research to study what made people the happiest. People were randomly beeped. They had to write down what they were doing and how happy they were. It was not during leisure, sex, or vacations, it was when they were doing something like you just described.

      I think the more people can find activities where they get lost in the challenge and the enjoyment, the better off they will be.

  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    For me – extrinsic motivation is actually stronger.

    My wife and I run a sanctuary for abused and ‘throw-away’ dogs, and the motivation that drives everything I do is the desire to give them a good, loving forever home. They’ve suffered enough, and don’t need to leave a place where they’re secure.

    Paying for food and medical care is a struggle, not to mention the sheer physical effort it takes to care for them all.

    So the work I do – writing, and fabricating custom airplane parts – is geared toward making enough money to keep their home secure.

    There’s clearly a good bit of intrinsic motivation here – this is a ’cause’ – but the things that used to drive me intrinsically have fallen by the wayside. I’ve realized that this is a zero-sum game. If I spend time working on my own projects, on things that were part of my heart for much of my life – the dogs lose. I miss some things, yes. I would love to race cars, fly airplanes, hike the Grand Canyon…but one must make a choice, and sometimes take the hit to protect the helpless.

    It’s not nobility, or that I’m a good person. I saw a lot of death and heartache in life, and decided to draw a line where I could.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Andrew, you do sound like a compassionate and good person. Is there a way to find balance, and/or other volunteers, so you can enjoy some of your goals and dreams?

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

        Would that there were! We’ve had some help, but where we live, in rural New mexico, it’s tough.

        But it’s okay. The Christian life is about all creatures – great and small – for the Lord God made them all. With that comes acceptance.

  • Suzi McAlpine

    Thanks for your post Michael, it really resonated with me. I count myself among those lucky “happy” women, and it’s exactly as you said. I have found what I love (Leadership Coaching) – and I am doing it! Your ideas were not only helpful to me personally but also for my coaching practice. Cheers, Suzi

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Hi Suzy, you are rare. I’m so glad you have found a vocation that gives you fulfillment. Yes, Michael’s blog is such an inspiration to so many of us.

      • Suzi McAlpine

        Thanks Lucille – a fantastic guest post. Wonderful to hear your thoughts and thanks again for your insights. I feel inspired to read your book!

  • Alex Barker

    Wow, Great post Lucille. I love this idea as a new parent. I struggle with discovering wow to reward a two year old…but I’m creating things! I just tried recently to reward her with a daddy-date at the park because she was a well-behaved girl at home. (Plus Mommy needed the break).

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      You sound like a devoted husband and daddy. I loved some of the advice from others about encouraging the effort not the outcome.

  • PaulVandermill

    This is a very good post. It is very wise to consider this before making significant decisions. I took a leadership position for the experience, increase in salary and to some extent the prestige. I also had never been in such a position before. I had no idea whether this role would ignite a passion. It did not. This particular role demanded a great deal of me, taking much more than it gave. There was very little intrinsic reward as an energy source. Life became out of balance, damage was done to other areas of my life. Fortunately, with the assistance of loved ones and mentors, I came to my senses before to much damage was done. I have taken on a different role and am on the mend, looking toward the future with optimism. Material such as this and that of others like Dan Miller have allowed me to learn, grow and maintain a positive outlook.

    Thank you

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      What a great lesson for all of us. Paul, sounds like you are blessed to have some great people in your life. People who could see this was not a good fit. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  • Melanie Wilson

    I just finished reading Refuse to Choose and believe that many of us are unhappy because we feel we are supposed to find one thing and stick to it. So I’m supposed to find one career, one major hobby, and even one way of getting things done.

    I’ve not done things that way and have felt bad about it. No more! My intrinsic motivation is for many things and I cycle through them. Understanding that can keep me from taking others’ negative comments too much to heart.

    I like the premise of your book and have ordered a sample. Thank you!

    • Joe Lalonde

      Good for you Melanie! After listening to Dan Miller, a friend of Michael’s, he’s really driven this principle home. You don’t have to do the same thing day after day. Instead, do work that interests you but find a way it all works together.

      • Lucille Zimmerman

        Did Dan write a book?

        • Joe Lalonde

          Dan has three books out: 48 Days To The Work You Love, No More Dreaded Mondays, and Wisdom Meets Passion. 48 Days is the one that really spoke to me.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      That sounds like a good book. You’re right Melanie, we are all growing and learning who we are. Since we can’t know all at once, we can’t pick the perfect career. Life is about changes. Thanks for your comment.

  • Joe Lalonde

    Lucille, for me I find both work just not in all situations. For tasks that I completely dislike, extrinsic motivation works best. Tasks that interest me? The internal feeling of accomplishment is enough.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Hey, that’s a good thought Joe. I never thought about it but I think you’re right. For instance, I love to exercise, but for certain kinds like yoga, I need the group setting of meeting my friends there. That would be extrinsic.

  • Cherry Odelberg

    I wonder, is it possible to make a living – that meets extrinsic need – while following the motivation of joy and love for what you are doing?

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      I’m not sure Cherry? Can you think of an example?

      • Cherry Odelberg

        A general example is that of the writer or musician who crafts words and creates music solely for the joy of it. In other words – they cannot NOT write or make music. This type person is terribly unhappy when they are torn from what they love to do in order to be responsible and earn money (extrinsic reward). However, lack of acknowledgement or monetary reward is equally discouraging. The person must serve the system of extrinsic reward in order to meet basic needs.

        I would love to move into the maturity of intrinsic motivation.

  • Malori Fuchs

    My passion is for writing. I’ve kept a diary/journal since I was about 7 years old, I “published” a book as part of a homeschool project, and I’ve been blogging in one place or another since high school (I’m now 26). My writing is getting more exposure now, and I feel so loved and appreciated when people comment, tell me how well I write, or share how I touched their life. However, I would write even if no one saw it. That is how much I love it! So the external praise is AWESOME, but I am mostly motivated b/c I just NEED and LOVE to write.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      A perfect example of intrinisc motivation. Thank you Malori and blessings on your writing.

  • Angcat

    Sometimes a little of both. For instance I love to garden. Happy, happy place for me getting in the soil, moving stuff around. Sometimes I just stop and it hits me that I am so completely content. Recently a funny thing happened though. My neighbor who is a close friend has taken up gardening and done very well at it. I began looking at my garden through her eyes, wondering if mine measured up to hers (how dumb) and the diminishing of my enjoyment of this passion was almost palpable for me. The challenge to have an attractive garden is good, but the enjoyment (intrinsic value) of just playing in the dirt and growing beauty out there in the fresh trumps all the accolades.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      What a cool example. Sounds like you get a lot of joy just in the process. Do that more and more.

  • dougmurphy

    This is a great post although a little narrow in scope. No one is motivated exclusively intrinsically or by extrinsic pleasure or pain.
    The truth is we are always trying to strike the balance. If your extrinsic stimuli is acceptable to you (subconsciously) then you can feel free to seek the other…
    Here is the tricky part though, most of us have a hard time accessing what are true intrinsic and extrinsic needs are that we can move forward

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Good point. Sometimes it’s both, sometimes it overlaps, and sometimes you can’t distill them out completely.

  • Scott Intagliata

    I own a business, and much of what drives my activity is extrinsic, which I recognize the shortcomings of, but not all circumstances yield a clear alternative. However, within the extrinsic goals and rewards, there are many things which bring significant intrinsic reward — strategy and program development, meetings with incredibly bright people, working closely and productively with my brother, who is one of my business partners. I would think many people face some form of this situation and would be interested in any input on this.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Yes! I’m so glad you said that Scott. Pieces of our work can be extrinsic and other pieces intrinsic.

  • Travis Dommert

    Love this topic and the discoveries that emanate from it. Six months ago we were trying to figure out how to best motivate people to stick with new habits and rituals. Our assumption was “different strokes for different folks”…we figured some would be more motivated by money, some by status/recognition, some by accomplishment, etc.

    We contacted a psychologist for help, and we were surprised to find out that such an assessment didn’t exist. (As far as she knew.) Instead all of the research suggested that people are essentially motivated in SIMILAR ways…with intrinsic motivation more powerful and enduring than extrinsic.

    Then we read DRiVE by Dan Pink and discovered the interaction between int and ext. Fascinating…extrinsic actually kills intrinsic! If you’d do it for love or some deeper purpose…and then someone pays you, you’ll do it even more (extrinsic works, it’s just loaded with pitfalls and moral hazards). One big pitfall, when they stop paying you, THE LOVE IS GONE. GONE. By far one of the biggest discoveries on motivation in my life.

    Extrinsic motivation is powerful, but dangerous…think of it as a drug. And weaning off it is akin to detox… Prescribe carefully!

    • timage

      Hi Travis:
      I was looking through the comments to find the person who realized what a great resource the book, Drive, by Dan Pink, would be to this discussion. That person was you! I think Motivation 3.0 is a huge influence with younger generations. They are wary of the extrinsic motivations that others use and are looking for meaningful and significant causes to give their lives to. Appreciate your post and your analysis!

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Travis, thank you for the book suggestion. I like reading Pink’s books. I did not know this: One big pitfall, when they stop paying you, THE LOVE IS GONE. GONE.

      A very good caution.

    • Michael Nichols

      Great thoughts, Travis. Thanks for sharing them.

  • Sam

    I would as a do for my satisfaction, and least interested in rewards.

    • Lucille Zimmerman

      Hi Sam, and are you clear about what brings you joy and satisfaction? I have found the VIA Character strengths test online and Tom Rath’s book Strengths 2.0 were helpful.

  • timage

    Wish I remember who said this, but it is one of my mantras:

    Find something you love to do so much that you’d gladly do it for nothing. Then learn to do it so well that people are happy to pay you for it.

    While there are always things that need to be done that are natural and necessary. Doing the things I love is my target on the wall!

  • Bruce

    Both motivate me, but I am realizing that, while external praise may be intoxicating, is is just as short-lived. Enjoying the moment (helping someone overcome a fear) that I love brings a memory that lasts so much longer.

  • alillycp

    Great post Lucille! I’m most motivated by intrinsic motivation. When I complete a task or activity, the feeling and sense of accomplishment are what motivate me to do better, and complete the task to the best of my ability. I’m sure this stems from my childhood, and how my mother would be so “proud” of me, and that would motivate me to do the same or better the next time. Very seldom when I was young, did I get extrinsic rewards, or get “lured” by them.
    I also am instilling the intrinsic motivation in my daughter, we try to express how proud we are of her, and ask her how she feels when she accomplishes something. Like Churchill states, “intrinsic motivation is more durable.”

    Thanks for the great blog, and comments!

  • Ryan

    Generally, a lot of people do what they like and feel motivated, but there are many who do things to please others for some treat! However, I belong to the former group because intrinsic motivation gives you immense satisfaction and is permanent, while extrinsic motivation is temporary. You will get great information on ways to increase intrinsic motivation at

  • Ron C. de Weijze

    Most people do it because they love it because they get a reward for it. In other words: this is not the right criterion. Extrinsic motivation means external normativity such as reinforced conditioning as in marketing or externally induced self-fulfilling prophecy as in religion. The group will take care of you. The group will take care that you will stay honest and loyal to them or they will explain your loyalty as dishonesty and your honesty as disloyalty. They will thus make you dependently rejected if they must, unless you are willing, like them, to treat the own party members with the respect of dependent confirmation and the other party members with the disrespect of independent rejection. That is how it has always been, politically or dialectically since Hegel or the start of Postmodernism in the early 1800s. The other option, which is hard and difficult in our times when we do not explain the above the wrong way as I suspect you do (and doctor Phil), is to do it because it is TRUTH that is the only thing that can independently confirm itself in every which way every when time. It is the attention economy instead of the money-and-power economy on mainstream media that only pays and earns respect for what can be independently confirmed, which is Truth. It is what motivates us intrinsically because it is our internal normativity: the independent confirmation of what and how we act when another reacts, what and how we try when another values, what and how we intuit when another realizes or what and how we know when another senses what he senses. Sense and sensibility, pride and prejudice. Nothing much has changed since Hegel’s days, except that since philosophical Modernism was hijacked from Kant by Hegel, we have moved on 200 years and Postmodernism has corrupted our lives since 1968 since it really crawled above ground since War stayed out this time.

  • Cain Brodie

    Great post. As a marketer, motivating people to a desired action is what I do. Thinking of buyer behavior intrinsically and extrinsically allows us to segment our audiences and target our messaging more effectively. Thanks for the insight.

  • Bill8288

    This is a very interesting question. In my corporate job, my company tries to motivate through promotion, pay raise, trips to conferences, and other extrinsic benefits. But time and time again, I see people more motivated by a sense of the company “needs” them, the job that needs to be done has purpose and value, and the like. I think people are only temporarily motivated extrinsically, but for the long haul motivation must come from the inside – the heart must be engaged. I think that’s why so many people are so unfulfilled in their jobs.

    The way to capture someones heart is help the see the value in what they are doing, understand the purpose, and see the ultimate end goal. That’s how you build a team and motivate people. Otherwise, it’s a constant battle to keep the motivated.

    I agree with Mark Blasini’s comment, “… true motivation is always intrinsic. You aren’t really motivated unless it comes from within – from your own desire and passion for doing it.”

  • brandonstarnes

    Awesome reminder, it can get can easy to get caught up in how many views you have and how to make it big. All of that is just distractions to produce great content.

  • Billy Dibbert

    I do what I do because I absolutely love working to develop an online business to provide memory books to honor the patriotic soldiers willing to step up and serve our country! It’s very exciting to tell people about this project and get complete encouragement in turning this dream into a,reality, knowing the sacrifice our soldiers have made and how deserving they are of being remembered for their service, for years to come.

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