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What is intrinsic motivation and why is it so powerful?

Have you ever participated in a sport just because you want to have fun not because you want to win an award OR acted as a volunteer just because you feel content and fulfilled not because it’s an academic or a work requirement OR painted a picture just because you feel calm and happy not because you intend to make money by selling it?

These and other such experiences are examples of intrinsic motivation when you do something because it is internally fulfilling, enjoyable or interesting not because it offers external rewards. External rewards include certain incentives like money, a positive feedback, or a promotion and social norms and requirements like fame, good grades, or simply some sort of appreciation.

So, when you indulge in an activity just for the sake of enjoyment or personal satisfaction, this kind of engagement is the result of intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, when you engage in an activity for the sake of obvious external rewards, main reason behind this kind of behavior is extrinsic or external motivation.  

Whether it is intrinsic motivation that is the main driver behind your behavior or it is extrinsic motivation that is shaping your actions; never underestimate the power of motivation because it is motivation that keeps you moving, it is motivation that leads you towards improvement and excellence, it is motivation that allows you to excel and make consistent efforts to reach towards your goals.

However, when we start comparing the two kinds of motivation, research supports the idea that internal motivation has greater power than that of external motivation. External rewards can never be permanent source of satisfaction and happiness because when we do earn these rewards, they become less valuable for us and then we look for something bigger and shinier than that of our achievement but internal rewards are different from external ones because there is no alternative of the inner satisfaction and the inner satisfaction is the major reward of intrinsic motivation. Besides the drives behind intrinsic motivation last for longer than that of extrinsic motivation.

So, here are some benefits of the intrinsic motivation that support the idea that it is more powerful than extrinsic motivation.


Internal rewards are persistent because they are usually positive emotional returns that give you a sense of personal satisfaction and when internal rewards drive your behavior, that behavior is usually long lasting and persistent. On the other hand, when the driver behind your behavior are external rewards (material rewards or social pressure) then your positive behavior and efforts are never persistent because when you succeed in getting these material things or social status, this starts seeming less worthy or invaluable for you and then you start chasing something more or bigger than that. This change of your priorities makes your positive behavior and efforts inconsistent.

For instance, if you work really hard to get promoted and enjoy a higher rank and finally after travelling a journey of struggles and efforts you finally get promoted, how many days, weeks or months will you enjoy this higher rank. Of course still there will be someone who will be having higher rank than that of you and then all of your struggles will be devoted towards achieving that higher rank. When we look around we find a lot of such examples; consider for a moment, a lady puts a lot of efforts to enhance certain physical and personality traits to win the title of miss world and when she finally wins, how much time she enjoys this title just for a year, what will be the source of motivation for her then and what will keep her going then? So, persistence source of motivation is what you need to live your life fully.

Enhanced Engagement

What is intrinsic motivation and why is it so powerful - Enhanced Engagement - TDN BlogA 2012 study about intrinsic motivation and employee attitude indicated a greater level of engagement when the source of their motivation were internal rewards rather than material rewards; moreover, it indicated direct relationship between employee satisfaction and internal rewards and a reverse relationship with that of negative intentions that employees usually have towards the organization like intention to leave. 

Similarly, another research indicated high readiness towards taking responsibilities in employees motivated intrinsically

Effective learning

What is intrinsic motivation and why is it so powerful - Effective Learning - TDN BlogAs you know Without motivation it is not possible to get things done in academic or work settings, but it is extrinsic motivation that slows down the learning procedure and effectiveness of the overall learning. Because when students work to achieve high grades or want a prominent position in their class or school, the learning can never be effective because they just put forth those efforts that can earn them higher grades instead of working for conceptual learning. On the other hand, when student learn because its enjoyable and fulfilling then it improves overall learning process

Better performance

External rewards can lead to better performance in the short-run but when we look at performance of someone in the long run, these are intrinsic rewards that are responsible for better performance in the long run. Because there is no alternative to the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that someone receives by completing a task or assignment and when you just work for the sake of accomplishment and satisfaction, performance improves automatically

Greater commitment

What is intrinsic motivation and why is it so powerful - Greater Commitment - TDN BlogAgain it is intrinsic motivation that makes employees more committed because intrinsic motivation leads towards higher job satisfaction and higher level of job satisfaction leads to greater level of job commitment.

While there are benefits of intrinsic motivation that seem more powerful than that of extrinsic motivation, the two types of motivation are inevitable for the personal and career growth of any individual; the two types of motivation are somehow interconnected and interlinked. They go hand in hand to contribute towards any performance. Though extrinsic rewards are not persistent, but at any given time one extrinsic reward replaces other and thus these are extrinsic that always keep you moving. At the same time, you also need a persistent source of motivation and that is in the form of intrinsic rewards.

Think differently and make sure to find a source of intrinsic motivation for the sake of internal fulfillment and satisfaction.

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