What Is Intrinsic Motivation and Is It Missing From Your Goals?
What brings you to your mat or inspires you to lace up your sneakers? Motivation can come from different places, especially in our social media-influenced lives. Sometimes we sabotage our fitness motivation without even realizing it or we need an extra push to work out. Understanding intrinsic motivation can help you reach your goals — fitness and otherwise.
“Intrinsic motivation is the drive to do something because of how it makes you feel versus what you will get for doing it,” explains Gabrielle Bolin, an ACE-certified personal trainer and health coach.
Here’s how intrinsic motivation helps for the long haul.
What Is Intrinsic Motivation?
Whether it’s your job, your workout, or your chores at home, motivation is what moves you to get things done — and it’s not limited to fitness or nutrition.
“Intrinsic motivation is a type of motivation that exists in someone when there are not any rewards in play,” explains Certified Personal Trainer Katie Webb. “Someone is intrinsically motivated when they do something for the joy, excitement, and overall inner accomplishment, and not for any sort of prize or profit.”
Studies have linked intrinsic motivation to enhanced learning, performance, creativity, and psychological wellness.
3 Types of Intrinsic Motivation
When the drive is coming from within you versus an external source, these are the main reasons:
- Autonomy: the need to take charge of your own life
- Mastery: the need to learn and improve
- Purpose: the need to connect to what makes you happiest
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
You may get out of bed because your alarm goes off and you need to get to work. Or, maybe it’s because the sunshine is streaming through your window and you can’t wait to get outside for a run. Neither reason is bad. After all, good vibes won’t pay your rent or fill your gas tank.
However, when your alarm goes off on a cold, rainy morning and work is your only reason for waking up, you might hit the snooze button a couple of times. In contrast, if you’re training for your first marathon because it’s a dream to finish one, you’re likely to feel exhilarated by the thought of sloshing through puddles.
“While both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are powerful, extrinsic motivation is the drive to perform based on potential reward or validation, so it is easily lost or forgotten about,” says Balin. “Intrinsic motivation, however, is completely internal, so it’s often more meaningful. People who are intrinsically motivated act out of a desire to honor the commitments they make to themselves.”
When you have intrinsic motivation, a little rain and wet running shoes aren’t likely to stop you.
Examples of Intrinsic Motivation
- Training for a 5K or marathon to prove to yourself (and only yourself) that you can do it, not for a medal.
- Working out because it makes you feel happier and less stressed rather than for a gym selfie.
- Getting certified in a skill because you want to learn it versus doing it to get a raise.
- Launching a start-up and becoming your own boss.
- Reading a book on a subject that interests you in your downtime.
- Experimenting with seasonal fruits and veggies because you enjoy cooking, not because you’re counting calories.
- Painting because you enjoy the creative process, without worrying about being judged.
How to Use Intrinsic Motivation During Workouts
Focus on your “why” to keep yourself coming back to your workouts. This is something you hear Andrea Rogers, creator of Xtend Barre and XB Pilates, talk about often. It’s how she refills her cup first and one of her self-care rituals.
“When it comes to fitness, intrinsic motivation can go a long way in helping to stick to our goals,” says Balin. “Try working out in order to feel good, improve your mood, get stronger, improve your health and increase your confidence, instead of focusing on your weight, size, rep count, or calories burned.”
Both types of motivation are fine — and you might find even your strongest intrinsic motivation wanes at times. That’s normal. But having that inner fire to draw from can help you get back at it after a tough week (or a year like 2020).