Welcome to the Get It Done Tiny Course: Intrinsic Motivation
This module is about intrinsic motivation and how it can help you accomplish your goals. This is the first of two videos in the module. After each video, there will be a short quiz. You’ll have to get most of the questions right to complete the module.
Intrinsic Motivation – Video 1
Welcome to the Get It Done tiny course. This module is about intrinsic motivation—what it is and how it can help you accomplish your goals. This is the first of two videos in the module. After each video, there’ll be a short quiz. You’ll have to get most of the questions right to complete the module.
When you’re intrinsically motivated, you do something for the sake of doing it. The activity feels like an end in itself. You cannot separate pursuing an activity from receiving its benefits. Consider a stroll in the park on a sunny day or a nice meal with loved ones.
Some activities are more intrinsically motivating than others. For most of us, work is less intrinsically motivating than a relaxing vacation. But if you love your work, it’s still intrinsically motivating. To determine if you’re intrinsically motivated to do something, think about how much overlap there is between the activity and its goal. Does the activity feel as if it’s accomplishing the goal? If not, how far from your goal do you feel once you’ve finished?
Now think about a task at work that you dislike but unless you do it, you’ll compromise your work. Like completing an expense report or having a difficult conversation that you’ve been putting off. These activities are low on intrinsic motivation but they’re important for you. We call these activities “extrinsically” motivated; they aren’t enjoyable like the intrinsically motivating activities, but they help you achieve some external benefit.
Intrinsic motivation is the best predictor of engagement at just about everything. Think about the last New Year’s resolution you made. I can confidently guess that you were not too excited to follow through with that goal. No one sets a resolution to eat more ice cream or watch more TV. But I can predict how likely you are to keep your resolutions by gauging how excited—that is, intrinsically motivated—you are to follow through. Kaitlin Woolley and I ran a study that demonstrated just that: people who enjoyed exercising exercised more than people who enjoyed exercising less. And the participants in our study who said exercising was more important for them didn’t necessarily exercise more.
Causes of intrinsic motivation
Where does intrinsic motivation come from? What causes it?
- First, activities feel more intrinsically motivating when they immediately achieve a goal, even if it’s not the goal they were originally set out to achieve. Maybe you applied for your job because you were excited about the long-term potential. But if you like your colleagues, you’ll be more intrinsically motivated to go to work.
- An activity also feels intrinsically motivating whenever it is uniquely associated with the goal. If you meditate to reach a state of calmness and you only feel calm through meditation, you will be intrinsically motivated to meditate. But more specialized associations might come with a cost. You lose your flexibility.
- A third factor that increases intrinsic motivation is the extent to which the activity and the goal appear similar. They fit together. You’re more intrinsically motivated to learn how to speak Chinese if your goal is to grow as a person than if you want to feel more relaxed. Most of us think of learning in the context of personal growth rather than relaxing activities.
- Finally, the shorter the time between doing the activity and reaching your goal, the more intrinsically motivated you’ll feel. Immediate gratification creates the strongest intrinsic motivation. In one study, we invited participants to watch a news clip about the Dalai Lama and the political situation in Tibet. When we asked half of them to consider the immediate benefits of watching the show, they enjoyed it more than when we asked about delayed benefits.
Now that you better understand what intrinsic motivation is and where it comes from, let’s test your knowledge with a few questions.
Take the Quiz
Intrinsic Motivation – Video 2
Welcome to the second video in this module on intrinsic motivation. In the first video, you learned what intrinsic motivation is and where it comes from. In this video, you will learn some misconceptions about intrinsic motivation, as well as how to make daily tasks intrinsically motivating.
Correcting myths and misconceptions
Most of us believe we care about intrinsic motivation at work more than others. While most of us recognize that others care about pay and job security, we fail to realize that others care about learning something new or feeling good about a job as much as we do.
Not only do we underestimate others’ intrinsic motivation, but we also fail to predict our own. Most of us know that intrinsic motivation is important to us in the present, but we fail to realize that it will also be important in the future. We think that doing something moderately interesting with colleagues that we like is critical to getting us out of bed and into the office today, but we don’t think we will care about it enough when applying for a future job.
One way to overcome these biases is to set goals while you’re in a state similar to the state you’ll be in when executing them. Plan career transitions while you’re sitting at your desk at work. And plan your diet before dinner, rather than after, at the point when you’re completely full.
How to increase intrinsic motivation
You have learned what is and what is not intrinsically motivating and what causes intrinsic motivation. Lastly, I’m going to share a few trade secrets on how to turn your boring or difficult activity into one that’s intrinsically motivating. Imagine that you want to exercise more but you’re finding it hard to summon up the motivation. There are several ways to make boring or difficult activities more intrinsically motivating.
- First, you can “make it fun” by adding immediate incentives. You could make working out more fun by watching TV or listening to music while you’re on the exercise bike.
- Second, find a fun path. Instead of trying to make an activity more fun, perhaps you could switch to a completely new activity that you find more fun and that achieves the same purpose. For example, instead of hopping on an exercise bike, you could get your workout by playing frisbee with some friends.
- Lastly, notice the fun that already exists. In one study, we asked gym users to choose between exercises in the weight room. We told some participants to choose the exercise that’s most enjoyable and others to choose the exercise that’s most useful for their health goals. The people who chose the more enjoyable exercise completed more sets and more reps overall.
Now that you know the myths and tricks to intrinsic motivation, let’s see how much you have retained with a few questions. Good luck!
Take the Quiz
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