Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation


How do you stay motivated when the things that once motivated you no longer do?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question of late. In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink looks at the motivations that drive people. One of the concepts he discusses is the comparison between those who are motivated by extrinsic factors, Type X’s, to those who are motivated by intrinsic factors, Type I’s.

For most of my life, I’d unequivocally consider myself a Type X. Until college, my goals were fairly straightforward: upward social mobility. A year after college, I felt like I had arrived.  I had achieved upward mobility. I wasn’t wealthy, but I certainly felt like I had come far since childhood. I hadn’t achieved any prestige or power, but these points seemed moot now that I was in a position of growing financial independence.

Having felt like I arrived, for the past year or so, I’ve been in a rut trying to figure out why I no longer had that “fire-in-the-belly” feeling I had while growing up.  Pink writes about an experiment that showed how using extrinsic motivators (such as those that propelled me) are not sustainable, nor do they lead to greater satisfaction:

“The people who had purpose goals and felt they were attaining them reported higher levels of satisfaction and subjective well-being. Those who said they were attaining their (extrinsic) goals – accumulating wealth, winning acclaim – reported levels of satisfaction, self-esteem, and positive affect no higher than when they were students. They’d reached their goals, but it didn’t make them any happier.”

I think for me, and perhaps for many others, extrinsic motivators are far more alluring because they are more tangible to conceptualize. It’s a lot easier to strive towards external goals than to be motivated purely by the intrinsic utility derived by the journey itself. Quite simply, extrinsic motivations such as attending a prestigious university or earning a high-income have visible results, whereas the results of intrinsic motivators may not be as apparent.  Although I can’t say I’m no longer a Type X person, I can say I am trying hard to be more of a Type I. My experiences over the past year have taught me that living a life of meaning is so much more fulfilling than a life striving for more fame and fortune.

That’s enough from me. I’d really like to know what your thoughts are on motivation. What motivates you? And more importantly, why?