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?

When Grades Don’t Matter


Today marked the end of my second week of language class at National Taiwan University. It feels weird being a student once again. I’ve studied abroad before in both Tokyo and Shanghai, but this time is different since the grades are just that – an indicator of progress. They’re not going to be transferred to my home uni or looked over by grad school admissions.

I chose to come to come to Taiwan for a number of reasons:

  • to learn traditional characters
  • to get a different perspective of cross-strait relations
  • to climb some mountains
  • to visit the beaches
  • to use the island as a base for traveling throughout Asia
  • to increase my fluency in speaking, listening, and reading Chinese

Given that the grades I receive are only self-serving, I’ve found it a little hard to not lose sight of my main goal. When I told my school’s program director of my short-term goals of passing the proficiency test, she pretty much laughed and told me that if that’s my goal, I really don’t need to be in Taiwan (or Mainland China) to pass the test. This was de-motivating to say the least, but only for a moment.

I considered dropping out, but realized, why quit so soon? Its been a personal-goal of mine to be fluent in another language. Why I chose to stick with Chinese, and not go for an easier language, I don’t know. I had come so far, how could I let a little blip ruin what I’ve planned? Improving language skills, like every other skill, really comes down to self-motivation. So to keep me motivated with my language study, I created a study-plan that I hope will help me get the most out of my stay here. Sure, it might not help me achieve my goal to be business proficient, but at least it’ll provide some structure to learning this incredibly hard language.