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Motivation comes from different parts of someone’s personality and psychologists often concentrate on two types: autonomous motivation, which occurs when certain behaviors are initiated by the self intrinsically; and controlled motivation, which occurs when certain behaviors are regulated by external forces.

Motivation types are normally broken down into intrinsic motivation (IM) and external motivation (EM). A motivation that is autonomous is a type of intrinsic motivation while that which is controlled can be considered a type of external motivation. Is one type of motivation better than the other? Not necessarily, but they are different.

What Makes Them Different?

There are basic differences between intrinsic and external motivation; namely:

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  • Intrinsic motivation means that you have no tangible result in mind but are instead motivated by doing something that is personally rewarding for one reason or another.
  • External motivation means that you usually have something tangible in mind when you choose certain actions, such as an award or even staying away from punishment.

Studies have also shown that there are good reasons for autonomous, or intrinsic motivation. As opposed to external motivation, intrinsic motivation helps build habits for a number of reasons, including the following.

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  • You’re less likely to experience long periods of laziness or lack of desire to push forward towards your goals.
  • It is easier to forgive your mistakes and focus on improving the situation.
  • There is a bigger sense of overall satisfaction when your goals are met.
  • You are more likely to concentrate on the tasks that are necessary in order to build that particular habit.
  • You get distracted much less often.
  • You become more self-sufficient and increase your level of self-confidence.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

Autonomous/intrinsic motivation is often found in the workplace, where people’s motivation is brought on by something other than a plaque or a promotion. Here are some ways to tell if you are one of these individuals:

Intrinsic motivation is often found in the workplace

1. You want to be recognized and well known as an employee who brings value to the company. Value and recognition are important to most people and feeling as if you matter to your company is even more important to certain individuals.

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2. You simply get satisfaction and even enjoyment from certain tasks. All tasks can be much more enjoyable when your goal is to concentrate on your effort and not the outcome. You still have goals but you are more focused on the task at hand rather than the final result.

3. You are a person who finds inspiration in having a lot of responsibility. Extra responsibility means that you are progressing at your job because someone at your company has confidence that you can handle that extra responsibility.

4. You like the feeling of accomplishing something. If you work for months on a project and it finally is completed, you can look back and know that you did something special. Accomplishing that task brings you a lot of satisfaction and joy.

5. You like it when people consider you a leader. You enjoy when people show the desire to follow you in your footsteps and being looked upon as a visionary is something you love. Let’s face it; people look up to leaders so it is easy to understand why this is an intrinsic motivator for many people.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation for Athletes

Athletes are another group of people who can experience autonomous motivation. Not all athletes do what they do for the medal or trophy. Here are a few attributes that these people exhibit:

Intrinsic motivation for athletes

6. They absolutely love the sport and thoroughly enjoy it every time that they participate in it. Sports are supposed to be fun and whether you are an amateur or a professional, you can experience intrinsic motivation if you simply love to participate in your chosen sports activity.

7. You love to compete against yourself. Some people just love beating the record they set the last time they played. It becomes a competition against themselves. Even if you aren’t the fastest runner on the field, beating your own personal record can give you a lot of satisfaction.

8. You love how it feels physically to participate in a sporting activity. Let’s face it; when you play hard, you feel great afterward thanks to the endorphins that are released after a good workout. Many athletes simply love how they feel after they’ve run a distance or sunk a few hoops.

9. Your feeling of self-worth goes up when you participate in sports. You don’t have to be the best at that sport to get this feeling. Just the fact that you’re out there working hard is enough to increase your self-confidence and your sense of worth.

10. You have decided to master your sport. You realize that it may take a while but this is your goal. Furthermore, the closer you get to your goal, the better you feel on the inside. Self-mastery is a great intrinsic motivator.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation for Those Who Exercise

If you love working out and exercising regularly, it is very possible that your motivation is coming from within. If you’d like to know for sure, below are a few tips that could indicate that this is so.

11. You exercise so that you can live longer and spend more time with your family. Exercise is an important part of getting healthy and you choose this activity to increase the odds that you’ll live longer and get to be with your family longer.

12. You have personal goals that you’re determined to fulfill. Whether your goal is losing weight or becoming more fit by a certain age, that goal is important to you. And it just plain feels good to know that you’re doing something regularly to eventually reach that goal.

13. You consider better health to be important in fulfilling other goals. Maybe you want to improve your blood pressure or reduce the amount of insulin that you have to take each day. Exercise can help with these goals and this is what keeps you going.

14. You feel better physically when you lose more weight. You love the feeling of being lighter instead of heavier so each pound you lose gives you great satisfaction.

Those who exercise have intrinsic motivation

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation in Students

If you’re a teacher or professor, it is important to understand where your students’ motivation comes from. Below are a few ways to know if your students are intrinsically motivated.

15. They love the art of critical thinking. They consider knowledge important and are determined to be able to converse with other individuals beyond small talk. This is a challenge to these students and they consider real thinking to be extremely important.

16. They have set certain academic goals and love that they’re achieving them. Individual learning goals are crucial to keeping students motivated and the ones who have set academic goals for themselves usually go a long way in the classroom.

17. They simply love to learn. They consider knowledge the key to their success and the more they learn, the happier they are. They also love to learn about many different subjects because the entire learning process simply makes them feel good.

18. They are curious about a certain topic. It might be why bees are so important or how to start crocheting but they are geared toward that topic and want to learn as much about it as possible. They won’t stop until they learn everything they can about that particular topic.

19. They want to master something. This can be either a subject area or even a specific topic, but they love the way that it makes them feel to be an expert on something. They also love the way that it feels when they can share their expertise with others.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation Within an Organization

If you are a supervisor or manager, you need to know what makes your employees tick. This can include learning where their motivation comes from. Below are a few ways to determine if they use autonomous motivation that comes from within:

20. They have a lot of pride in what they do. They are working for more than just a paycheck and are proud of everything they do. This is a great reason to be motivated because it means that they are working for more than just the money it brings them.

21. They love being around people who share their goals and interests. These people love to be around like-minded individuals and people who are motivated by and interested in the same things they are. They love the camaraderie and the ability to converse with people who know what they’re talking about.

22. They feel a deep purpose in what they do. Their work ability doesn’t require certain rewards; instead, they feel a genuine purpose in it. Purpose and fulfillment go hand in hand and these employees love how it feels to enjoy an important purpose at their place of employment.

23. They love to be contributing members of the workforce. It gives them a sense of control to make their own decisions. This, in turn, helps them feel needed and valued every day they go to work. This can motivate them to continue coming up with great ideas.

24. They always work to improve their level of competence. They want to be the best at what they do so they are constantly learning and improving their skills. Competency increases their enjoyment in their jobs and they never stop getting better at it.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation When Training Employees

If you’re a corporate trainer or HR professional conducting a class, it will help tremendously if you can tell what type of motivation increases the trainees’ excitement over the material. This is important to the success of your training efforts. Here are ways to tell if your employees/attendees are intrinsically motivated:

Intrinsic motivation is important when training employees

25. They are not afraid to make mistakes because they realize that they will not be punished for it. This allows them to try new things because they know that coming up with new ideas and trying out new behaviors will never be considered a detriment.

26. They use the class as a way to further their career goals. As with a lot of other things that happen at work, they consider that furthering their knowledge will help them climb the corporate ladder and this is what motivates them.

27. They think of the class as a way to improve in their problem areas. If they are having trouble in a certain area, they think of the class as the solution to the problem. They simply believe that this class is going to be important in moving forward from a real or perceived problem.

Are There Benefits to People Who Are Intrinsically Motivated?

Many studies have been done on both external and intrinsic, or autonomous, motivation. People who tend to be motivated from within show certain positive characteristics not always associated with people who are motivated by external or tangible items. These include the following:

  • They tend to have more stable relationships.
  • They are more empathetic.
  • They are more trusting.
  • They experience more happy moods.
  • Their overall sense of well-being is higher.
  • They experience better physical health and they have fewer illnesses.
  • They get better grades as students.
  • They perform better on the job.
  • They experience less stress at work.
  • They are more productive and have less burnout at work.

It is obvious, therefore, that people who are motivated from within do better at almost everything, especially when they’re at work. If you’re an HR professional or supervisor, this understanding can go a long way in developing programs to reduce employee stress.

Understanding your employees is the best way to manage them and in recent years, many larger companies have developed programs to improve productivity. These include programs that first determine where their employees’ motivation comes from.

The implications of learning about autonomous motivation are significant, especially for supervisors, HR professionals, and even coaches and teachers. Knowing where the motivation comes from in the people you’re trying to teach or supervise is the first step to keeping their stress levels down and keeping them more productive in the end.

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