Internal vs. External Motivation ie. Will your goals make you happy?

Whether we do something in life or not depends on how motivated we are to do it. Of course, there are many theories out there and many ways that a person can be motivated into achieving a particular task. Internal and external, also known as intrinsic and extrinsic, motivating factors define, simply put, whether we will be happy with achieving a certain goal or not, and how challenging it will be to achieve it. It will be important for you to understand the difference between the 2 in order to determine whether your goals are worth pursuing or not.

EXTRINSIC MOTIVATION occurs when we do something to gain a reward or avoid an adverse outcome. The extrinsic motivation arises from OUTSIDE of the individual. Extrinsic motivation is commonly used at school, where children receive a star if they do their homework, or a good grade for completing a project well. Similarly, it is used in the workplace: promotions

INTRINSIC MOTIVATION occurs when we do something because it is personally rewarding. In contrary to extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation implies performing a task for it’s own sake, rather than for the final result or consequences. The intrinsic motivations arises from WITHIN the individual, and it is in sync with one’s own values.

Here are some examples:


I’m sure you know where I’m going with this! Internal motivation, being more stable over time and values-defined, is what will keep you going until you achieve a certain goal. Many psychologists argue that intrinsic motivation is better, however there are situations in which only extrinsic motivation will work: getting an employee to complete a project he doesn’t have interest in, motivating a child into doing a chore he doesn’t like,… in sum, whenever a task needs to be done but the person is simply not interested in doing so, extrinsic motivation will be needed. On the other hand, when you have goals, which usually derive from your own personal priorities and values, it is safe to say that intrinsic motivators will make both the achievement itself and the journey leading towards it easier and more enjoyable for you.


So, if what motivates you towards a certain goal (and here I am talking about personal goals) is only external factors, the goal will be harder to reach and won’t bring you much fulfillment. For example, if you are trying to lose weight to be more like women in magazines, it will be very painful and difficult to reach that weight, and your motivation will vary according to the external factors (one day magazines say voluptuous curves are sexy, the next that a skinny toned build is “in”,…). You are probably doing it because you are tired of your self-judgement and low self-esteem and believe that losing weight will somehow make this better. Therefore, you are trying to eliminate a negative aspect with extrinsic motivation. If, however, you are trying to lose weight because a healthy weight is important to you, the simple fact of trying and working towards this goal will give you enough motivation to reach it, be satisfied with every single step of the way and be proud of yourself, even if maybe you don’t lose as much as you wanted originally. Thus, with intrinsic motivation you are adding a positive aspect to the situation, as opposed to extrinsic motivation which drives you towards avoiding fear or punishment. This is the difference between people who yo-yo diet, and people who actually succeed in losing weight for good.

So next time before you decide to pursue a goal, whether it’s losing weight, having children, changing careers, or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, as yourself what drives you: your priorities and values, or external factors?


(I hope this all makes sense. Feel free to ask for clarifications or more explanation if you don’t quite get it yet.)

Choose your goals wisely! Until next time ❤


8 thoughts on “Internal vs. External Motivation ie. Will your goals make you happy?

  1. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much
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    I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a
    little bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog.
    A great read. I’ll certainly be back.


  2. Having read this I thought it was extremely informative.

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