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Professional success

Understanding intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Staff member works within a lab at the University of Rochester.

Intrinsic motivation involves performing a task because it’s personally rewarding to you.

Extrinsic motivation involves completing a task or exhibiting a behavior because of outside causes such as avoiding punishment or receiving a reward.

The main difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is that intrinsic motivation comes from within, and extrinsic motivation comes from outside. While both types of motivation are important, they have different effects on how you work.

Extrinsic motivation is beneficial in some cases. For example, working towards gaining a reward of some kind can be helpful when you need to complete a task you might normally find unpleasant.

Intrinsic motivation, however, is typically a more effective long-term method for achieving goals and completing tasks in a way that makes you feel fulfilled. While extrinsic motivation is helpful in certain situations, it may eventually lead to burnout or lose effectiveness over time.

Sometimes intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can work together to help you complete a task. For example, if you have a job and are working on completing a project, you might be extrinsically motivated to finish it to meet a teammate’s timeline. You might be intrinsically motivated to finish it because you enjoy the project want to do a good job.

Using intrinsic motivation at work

There are many ways you can apply intrinsic motivation at work. For example, providing and receiving positive feedback is one of the best ways to increase motivation.

To support intrinsic motivation among your team, be intentional with your feedback. Positive criticism that’s specific and empowering will help people understand your standards and expectations.

Share consistently with managers or leaders when and how their feedback helps you to be motivated. Also, give them positive feedback when their guidance was beneficial. When you provide positive feedback to your managers about what motivates you, you’re extrinsically motivating them to continue managing you successfully.

Using extrinsic motivation at work

In some settings, extrinsic motivation is necessary for day-to-day work.

When you want to use extrinsic motivation as a manager or leader, it’s important to offer rewards strategically. While external rewards can effectively motivate your team to take on a new challenge, learn a new skill, or hit a quarterly goal, you should also make sure you’re giving them the resources necessary to take on projects and skills they’re passionate about.

Work for the rewards that please you, but be aware of your limits and take breaks when you need them. Make sure you also set aside time to explore new skills and activities you are interested in for the sake of enjoyment or to learn something new.

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are important ways of driving behavior. When you understand the differences between the two types of motivation, you can also better understand how to encourage people.

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