Learn what best motivates you and, of course, your team!

Motivation is a complex beast to master. As a professional, you may not be able to exactly pinpoint what pushes you to work hard. Understanding the fundamentals of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can help you to do just that. In the following guide, we'll be looking at what each of these are, how they work, and examples of the motivators in practice. 

Extrinsic motivation definition 

Extrinsic motivation is best described as being motivated by an external force. The carrot and the stick approach springs to mind here. When people experience extrinsic motivation, something outside of themselves is pushing them to get something done.

For example, you may be motivated to do a certain task by the promise of a reward, such as a promotion. On the other hand, your motivation may come from an intense fear of being punished if you don't complete said task. Both are examples of extrinsic motivation. 

Types of extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are two sides of the same coin. When you experience extrinsic motivation, however, there will be an external cause for your drive. To help you better understand this point, it's worth taking a quick look at some of the main types of extrinsic motivation. Here are some that you may not be aware of yet: 


Fear is a powerful motivator. When it comes to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, fear is usually an example of the latter. You may be worried that if you don't complete a certain task on time, your boss will be upset with you or you'll face a punishment. However, managers should be aware that fear can also paralyse people. When you're worried about the consequences of not doing something, you may feel overwhelmed and stressed.

Reward expectation 

A better extrinsic motivator comes in the form of rewards. For example, a company may offer incentives to employees who reach or even exceed their targets. This motivates team members to work harder and make sure that they stay on track. Much like the carrot, the reward is the thing that they focus on when they're lacking in motivation. Of course, rewards can be tangible, as in a bonus, or even intangible, as in a simple “thank you.”


If you're eager to climb the career ladder, you may be driven by the extrinsic motivator of power. This is the desire to have control over not only yourself but those around you.  You may find it motivating when you're in charge of a group of people or when you have the chance to share your skills and experience with others. For instance, you may be striving to reach the level of manager, so that you can take mastery over the group. 

Examples of extrinsic motivation 

When we look at both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, there may be some overlap. For that reason, it's useful to take a look at specific examples of when each comes into play. Extrinsic motivation is easy to define. Here are some of the examples of it in practice: 

Working for commission 

Many sales-based jobs include commission, i.e. additional pay based on the sales that you make. In this scenario, the motivation for your job comes from an external source. You know that the more sales you make, the more money you make at the end of the month. Often enough, professionals find that this extrinsic motivator works wonders for them.

Job insecurity

Worried about losing your job? When your livelihood is on the line, you may find that you experience a form of extrinsic motivation. You worry that should you fail to live up to your boss' standards, you'll get fired. That fear is enough to keep you motivated. However, as we've already covered, this type of motivation can also have the opposite effect. 

Receiving awards and praise 

When you've nailed it at work, praise from your coworkers, or even a reward, act as the cherry on top. However, these rewards can also play a role in extrinsic motivation. Perhaps the reason you complete a goal is because you know you'll be commended.

Intrinsic motivation definition

Intrinsic motivation comes from within. Rather than doing something because you'll get rewarded or punished, you do it simply because it is fulfilling to you. To put that another way, completing the task at hand is its own reward and you feel a sense of satisfaction.

If we dig deeper, intrinsic motivation may be rooted in your biology. When you complete a task, it can trigger your brain to release the neurotransmitter dopamine - ”a chemical messenger involved in reward-seeking, movement, and motivation”. That release leads to pleasure. So, the reward you gain when you do something comes from your own body. 

Of course, there may be other factors at play when it comes to intrinsic motivation. The fulfilment you feel when you finish a task may be pride or the joy of a job well done. But what differentiates this experience from extrinsic motivation is that the outside world - for example, your manager - doesn't influence how you feel when you've finished a task. 

Types of intrinsic motivation 

We've covered what intrinsic motivation is in broad terms, but now we're going to zoom in on what types it includes. On a base level, intrinsic motivation is any form of drive that comes from you. It covers whatever it is that pushes you to achieve, so long as that doesn't include external factors. Here are some of the main types that you should consider: 


Imagine that you've just completed a project and it looks darn good. In fact, when you look back at it, you can't help yourself - you're smiling from ear to ear. There's a deep sense of pride inside you that's bringing a serious amount of joy. That feeling follows you home on your commute; you're in a good mood for the rest of the day and no one can take that away from you. That's a part of intrinsic motivation right there. 

Self control 

Do you get a sense of security when you feel in control? You might feel happier - serene, even when you've organised your calendar for the coming month. The knowledge that everything is in order and that you're the one who did it is enough to drive you forward. This aspect of intrinsic motivation is all about you taking things by the reins and being in complete control of your workload. You have the power. 


As we've already covered, intrinsic motivation is closely tied to pleasure and perhaps your dopamine reward system. When you complete a task, you may experience a sense of joy. The more tasks you do, the more pleasure you gain from your work. When we look at the core difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, pleasure is a huge factor. You experience it whether you get an external reward or not - it comes from your brain.


The human brain loves to be challenged - and, yes, studies have proved it. One of the main reasons that people experience intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation is because they are hardwired to do so. When something is tricky and novel, it excites them. It's much like doing a puzzle; we're interested in cracking it. So, when a certain task involves an element of challenge, we're likely to have intrinsic motivation to get it done. 

Examples of intrinsic motivation 

So, what's an intrinsic motivation example? If you need more details, here are some quick scenarios in which intrinsic motivation comes into play. Looking at the below should help you when you're trying to pinpoint the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: 

Working on a “passion project” 

Working on something special that's just for you? You can bet that intrinsic motivation is driving you to do it. Whether you're crocheting a blanket or writing a novel in your spare time, chances are no one is patting you on the back for doing so. And that's okay. The only motivation you need to keep going forward is your own personal sense of satisfaction. 

Organising your calendar for fun

It's unlikely that your manager has told you to organise your calendar. However, you've done it anyway. When you've colour-coded it and made it easy to read, the joy that you experience comes from within. You're proud that you've completed this task and know that you have control over your schedule for the coming months. It's a win-win situation. 

Solving a tricky problem

When you're faced with a tricky problem, your brain is intrigued. Perhaps a coworker has asked you to help them with a maths equation that they simply cannot master. Your motivation for helping them doesn't come from the fact that they will thank or reward you. Instead, the puzzle has piqued your interest and you want to complete the task. 

Spoiler: External rewards can kill your intrinsic motivation

Now that you know the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, we're going to take a look at an unexpected effect that one can have on the other. You might think doubling-up on these approaches to motivation will help you - or your team members - get more things done. However, studies have found that the opposite could be true. 

Let's say that you love doing a specific task at work - that you find it pleasurable. But then… something suddenly changed. Your manager started to reward you for doing the task out of the blue. The moment that shift happened, you began to feel less excited about completing task on a regular basis. 

Research from the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis suggests that when someone starts receiving external rewards for a task that they were previously intrinsically motivated to do, their intrinsic motivation suffers. What that means is that the reward you're getting from someone or something else damages your intrinsic motivation to do the task.  

However, praise - rather than rewards - can actually enhance your intrinsic motivation. Research published in the National Library of Medicine suggests that receiving authentic and sincere praise can lead to better motivation. While verbal praise is a form of extrinsic motivation, the study found that it doesn't have a negative effect on intrinsic motivation. 

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation: Which is better?

The truth is that both intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation help us to be productive. What's more, we'll have intrinsic motivation for some activities and rely on extrinsic motivation for others. Either one is valid - so long as it gets the job done. To conclude, here are a few of the benefits of intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation: 

Extrinsic motivation benefits: 

  • Boosts everyday productivity. If there's a task that you don't enjoy doing, extrinsic motivation can help you. Focusing on the reward that you'll gain may allow you to complete the task more easily.
  • Helps with efficiency. Do you want to become more efficient in your everyday work? If so, external rewards can help you to keep moving. When you have incremental rewards for each task that you complete, your efficiency will soar.
  • Great for short-term success. One of the big benefits of extrinsic motivation is that it propels you toward short-term success. If you have a goal that you want to reach in a short amount of time, you can rely on external factors to push you.

Intrinsic motivation benefits: 

  • Sense of fulfilment. One of the best things about intrinsic motivation is that it links closely to a sense of fulfilment. When you get pleasure from within, you may find that it's easy to gain satisfaction from the work that you do on a daily basis. 
  • Creativity and innovation. Often enough, intrinsic motivation works for projects that are creative. If you gain a sense of pride when you make something from scratch, that's exactly what we're talking about here. 
  • Overall happiness. Completing tasks - even the most mundane ones - can bring you joy. When you get a level of happiness from the work that you do, that's a form of intrinsic motivation. It leads to better morale in the workplace. 

The takeaway 

Now that you've learnt about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, you can better understand what it is that drives you. Chances are, you're motivated by a combination of these two approaches and can switch depending on the situation. The more time you take to learn about your own motivators, the better you can use them. So, what really drives you?

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