Personal Productivity

What Is Intrinsic Motivation and Why Do You Need to Find It?

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Motivation Self-Improvement Science
"You can motivate by fear, and you can motivate by reward. But both those methods are only temporary. The only lasting thing is self motivation." ~ Homer Rice, football coach

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What Is Intrinsic Motivation and Why Do You Need to Find It?

As I said in the article Principles of Personal Productivity, one of the most important things to understand in order to maintain good standards of personal productivity is motivation.

People are motivated by both external and internal reasons, and understanding the motivators that drive your behavior is key to achieving good results.

Intrinsic motivation is the motivation that drives us to do things for the simple pleasure of doing them. The performance of the task itself is the reward. Unlike extrinsic motivation, which is based on receiving money, rewards and punishments, or external pressures, intrinsic motivation comes from within.

Although, in general, our labor system is based on the premise that motivation is a totally rational mechanism — we will be more productive if we obtain a greater benefit in exchange — there is research that indicates that this isn’t the case. Motivation is emotional, not rational.

Extrinsic motivation only works until we achieve a standard of living that we consider acceptable. When our basic needs are covered, rewards and increased income no longer produce an equivalent increase in happiness.

In most cases, the reinforcement of extrinsic motivation only produces a short-term increase in productivity. In the long term it can even be negative, as it causes intrinsic motivation to decrease, producing the opposite effect: less productivity. This doesn’t mean that this kind of motivation, extrinsic motivation, should be eliminated, but that it should be used when it’s useful. It is useful to encourage people to do routine and boring tasks, which don’t pose any challenge. It can also be useful to awaken our interest in something new.

Today, most jobs are complex and interesting enough for people to enjoy both their work and their leisure time. That’s the way it should be. But in order to do so, a suitable environment must be created to motivate workers by appealing to their inner needs, their natural desire to learn, to cooperate with others, to be respected. What does it take to find this motivation?

According to the Self-Determination Theory, enunciated in 1975 by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, all human beings have three innate psychological needs, and when these needs are satisfied, we are motivated, more productive and happier:

  1. Competence: We seek to control what we do, to experience mastery of our skills. We like to feel like we’re good at what we do, and believe that what we do allows us to improve our skills.
  2. Autonomy: We seek to be the directors of our own life. We like to be able to choose the path and the way to fulfill the purpose, not have it imposed on us.
  3. Relatedness: We seek to interact, be connected and care about others.

There is no doubt that people are much more productive when they do what they really want to do. Use this to find your own motivation. What is the purpose of your work? Do you have the freedom to do it your way? Do you have the skills to do it well?

Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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