Want to achieve your New Year’s resolutions? Learn how intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can help.

Alissa TaylorMotivationLeave a Comment

The new year is a great time to reflect and set goals for the year ahead and beyond. In recent years, there has been a decrease in interest when it comes to setting New Year’s resolutions because these types of goals have earned the reputation of being temporary. While it’s true that 54% of people struggle to stick with goals that they set, we still feel that January is a great time to make improvements and work towards a healthier lifestyle. To help you be more successful when you set goals now or in the future, we thought we’d cover different types of motivations and how to make these concepts work for you.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation:

If your lifestyle or routine was altered in 2020, you may have noticed a significant shift in day to day motivation. Some days it may have felt harder to stay on task at work, remain productive or stick to your workout schedule. You may also notice how motivation (or lack thereof) can deeply impact your ability to adhere to drastic changes in habits like diet, exercise, self care and more. 

So why can it be so difficult to do things that we know are good for us, or things that we know we should do?

There are two types of motivation: Intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is often derived from enjoying a topic or activity for the sake of doing it.  It is personally rewarding to you, and something that you do for yourself like reading a book about a topic you love, or learning a new skill you’re excited about. Extrinsic motivation is doing something in order to receive a reward or avoid a consequence. It comes from motivation based on external factors like hitting a deadline to avoid being reprimanded or exercising with the goal of losing weight. 

For many who are setting goals, they often are focusing on extrinsic motivation instead of intrinsic motivation. In our example above, exercising to lose weight, the reward would be weight loss instead of finding genuine enjoyment in movement or exercising to relieve stress. When the process itself is not the motivation, then you may find yourself weighing the potential reward when evaluating the utility of the activity, rather than the merit of the activity itself. This means that when you have a lot of extrinsic motivations in a normal busy schedule, the new habits if they are based on extrinsic motivations alone may not be prioritized in your mind if you have other obligations that you view as more important. 

So is one type of motivation better than the other? The short answer is no. 

When you first learn about types of motivation intrinsic motivations seem to be the clear winner. It sounds wonderful to be motivated by only things that you personally find enjoyable, but it is much more complex than that. 

Extrinsic motivation also plays an important role as it can help motivate you to complete tasks that don’t immediately provide an internal reward. Sometimes you may find work or school projects to be less enjoyable but the potential of praise from a manager, a raise, or a great grade can motivate you to complete less desirable tasks and develop new skills. These new skills can bring you closer to tasks that you are more passionate about and can help you land your dream job in the future. 

Since we don’t exist in a vacuum and often have to work and cooperate with others, extrinsic motivation can be just as useful to help you work as a team player or to get started on something that you don’t immediately love. It is important to utilize  both types of motivation, with an understanding of why you’re motivated by certain activities, and how to use this knowledge to your advantage. 

How to use intrinsic motivation in everyday life: 

  • If you set new goals like exercising more frequently find an activity that you actually enjoy doing. Hating exercise and only working towards an external goal will likely not be sustainable. Don’t worry if it takes time to find the right activity for you. 
  • Goals that you are more likely to stick to are finding activities that you enjoy doing, they can give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It can also be important to start small, especially if you have a busy schedule. Aim to put aside 5-10 a day minutes for an activity that is just for you, where the reward is purely engaging in that activity so it never feels like work. The important part is that the reward is the activity itself instead of what you get from the activity, setting expectations about achievements that will result from the activity can actually decrease intrinsic motivation. 
  • Let your manager know about activities or projects that you genuinely enjoy working on, and let them know the type of sincere acknowledgement you appreciate in order to stay motivated to complete the tasks assigned to you. Ensure you have time and resources to dedicate to projects you love and they are not part of your regular responsibilities. There is a fine line, and if too many rewards are given this can actually decrease motivation and enjoyment. 
  • Research has shown that genuine praise or acknowledgement can help promote autonomy and help increase intrinsic motivation. If you’re looking to help intrinsically motivate those around you, offer sincere feedback and talk about their process instead of rewarding the finished product. For example, if you notice your partner takes up a new skill like sewing, compliment their ability to problem solve, or find the right pattern instead of when they finish their latest sewing project.

When to use extrinsic motivation in everyday life:

  • If you’re setting a new goal, it can be helpful to set a challenge or goal with yourself or others. This initial reward can lead to intrinsic motivation over time as you learn to love new habits and routines. This is why office wide challenges or friendly competition for healthy habits between families or groups of friends can be so effective. The extrinsic motivation and accountability help you reach a goal and stick with it! 
  • Some activities may never be intrinsically motivating (this is okay!) and extrinsic motivation may be necessary to get them done. This can be activities like cleaning or running errands, it’s okay if you don’t like them because you understand the consequences of not completing them, so you continue to stay on track. 
  • Sometimes even if you are intrinsically motivated by an activity because you enjoy it, it may not be enough when competing with your other responsibilities. By having another reason like an extrinsic motivation, you can give your goals more weight and ensure you can find the time to accomplish them. An example may be that you love cooking because you find it relaxing but you struggle to find the time. You may also be extrinsically motivated to find the time to cook to save money or adhere to a specific diet. 
  • Extrinsic rewards can help build interest in areas that you previously didn’t know or care about. Rewards such as prizes, praise, commission, or awards can help you feel motivated to learn new skills. A lot of skills have a learning curve and extrinsic motivation can be a wonderful tool to help you stay on track while you are tackling the more unpleasant parts of learning that skill if you don’t immediately find it enjoyable. 

Now that you understand how and why motivations can work you will be well equipped going into the new year. A combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is best to help you stay consistent and on track.

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Alissa Taylor

Alissa Taylor

Alissa Taylor

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