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Let’s talk about motivation

Finding the motivation to do the things we need to do can seem like a never ending task. And what about all those people you see or hear about who seem to have endless stores of motivation? Not surprisingly, motivation levels in all of society appear to have decreased in the past couple of years – and no wonder, we’ve been stuck inside with little to do for so long! 

Some people (maybe you included) see motivation like a tangible item – something you can touch, collect and store for later use. While some tangible rewards can be motivating, motivation itself is more like a concept or reason – not something you can hold in your hands. In fact, motivation by definition is the “thing” that drives us to begin, continue or discontinue certain behavioural choices, and also explains why we engage in those behaviours in the first place (Vinoy Vincent & Kumar, 2019). We tend to be motivated by the desire to achieve certain incentives or by the fear of experiencing a negative outcome and wanting to prevent it from happening.

Given that motivation is not something we can collect, purchase or store, it’s odd that we tend to assume it’s so easy to have. And when we don’t have enough motivation or can’t seem to find any, we often judge ourselves as lazy, unproductive or useless. So we thought it might be helpful to explore the different types of motivation and how you can tap into these to improve your drive, consistency and achievements.

Intrinsic motivation

This type of motivation comes from within our internal worlds – we do something because it is naturally satisfying and not to obtain some tangible reward (Vinoy Vincent & Kumar, 2019). We are motivated to do something because we want to do it, often to meet a survival need (like hunger, thirst and sleep) or to improve our overall health, wellbeing and quality of life. Some real-life examples of intrinsic motivation include:

– Reading a book simply to learn more about the topic

– Planting flowers in the garden simply because you enjoy gardening 

– Completing a puzzle simply for the challenge it provides to your mind

If we can be real for a moment though – we all have to do things we sometimes do not want to do, or that we find boring, unpleasant or irritating (unfortunately that’s part of life). But we can take some enjoyment out of these things by choosing to focus our energy on what we will get out of them in the end, and on how they might make our lives more enjoyable in the longer term.

So .. we can tap into our internal resources by reflecting on the kinds of things we value and choosing to engage in more of these (even if they are considered unpleasant or uncomfortable). We can also consider our goals, both short and long-term – which can help direct our behaviour towards activities that we find enjoyable and rewarding.

Extrinsic motivation 

This is the type of motivation you probably think of most commonly – the type that comes from our external world including prizes, awards, acknowledgement and to avoid punishment or negative consequences (Vinoy Vincent & Kumar, 2019). If some of the most important things in your life are wealth, recognition, approval or validation, then extrinsic motivators may work better for you (Deci, Olafsen, & Ryan, 2017) for when you have a list of things to do that are piling up.

External rewards tend to be more effective for tasks that we find particularly unpleasant, boring or uncomfortable (Weibel, Rost, & Osterloh, 2010), because they give us a sense of purpose or reason for doing something we really don’t want to do. Tapping into this resource means reflecting on the things on your to-do list and (even if they are unpleasant or boring) acknowledging the benefit, reward or outcome that you will get to enjoy should you choose to complete the task. Similarly, it is important to consider the negative outcomes that would arise if you didn’t complete something, and using these as a motivator to do the things you need to do.

But while rewards and encouragement feel good for a little while, relying on them for motivation to do all things may not be effective in the long run. For example, you get paid to go to work everyday, but just because you’re making money, doesn’t stop the work itself from (sometimes quickly) becoming boring or meaningless. And similarly, we cannot rely on intrinsic motivation all the time either – sometimes the things we have to do are just too unpleasant or unrelated to our personal values that we need some kind of extrinsic motivation to get the job done. 



Deci, E. L., Olafsen, A. H., & Ryan, R. M. (2017). Self-determination theory in work organizations: The state of a science. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior

Vinoy Vincent, T., & Kumar, M. S. (2019). Motivation: meaning, definition, nature of motivation. International Journal of Yogic, Human Movement and Sports Sciences

Weibel, A., Rost, K., & Osterloh, M. (2010). Pay for performance in the public sector—Benefits and (hidden) costs. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory

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