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Intrinsic Motivation

Why should I? What’s in it for me? It’s boring!

M&M candy

Do your kids want to something just because they enjoy it (intrinsic motivation) or do they do it because they are forced, coerced or bribed into doing something (extrinsic motivation)?

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation influence human behaviour. Intrinsic motivation refers to performing an activity for the inherent satisfaction or enjoyment that comes from the activity itself. In contrast, extrinsic motivation refers to performing an activity to attain an external reward or to avoid punishment.

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One of the main benefits of intrinsic motivation is that it lets people experience a greater sense of lasting satisfaction and fulfilment because it comes from within and is not dependent on external rewards. People who are motivated solely by external rewards may experience only a temporary sense of satisfaction when they receive the reward, but this satisfaction is short-lived and often does not lead to long-term fulfilment.

young boy reading in library

Watch and Learn

It’s easy to observe this around your children. Some children might happily take the dog out for a walk because they love it. They might even ask to be allowed to do so. Other kids might not be so intrinsically motivated. You might have to tell them the dog needs a walk, which is met with a groan and complaint.

You end up either promising a reward or threaten some kind of punishment if they don’t take the dog out because they are only extrinsically motivated.

Motivation is often situational as we all have things we love to do, and those things we actively try to avoid. It can be especially hard in schools for children who really hate certain subjects like maths or history as they are likely to only be extrinsically motivated (if motivated at all).

A student who is intrinsically motivated to learn a subject will find greater satisfaction in mastering the subject than a student who is only motivated by a reward for getting a good grade.

man on a mountain

Better Performance

Another benefit of intrinsic motivation is that it leads to better performance. When people are intrinsically motivated, they are more likely to put in the effort required to achieve their goals. They are also more likely to persist in the face of challenges and setbacks.

Intrinsic motivation provides a sense of purpose and meaning that can help people stay focused and committed to their goals.

For example, an athlete who is intrinsically motivated to compete will be more likely to train hard and push themselves to improve their performance. They will be motivated by the desire to improve and to achieve their personal best.

An athlete who is motivated solely by external rewards, such as prize money or fame, may not be as motivated to train hard. They may be more focused on winning the prize or gaining recognition than on improving their performance.

young girl thinking

To Teach or Not To Teach?

So can intrinsic motivation be taught? How do you teach a child to work for something they aren’t interested in without reward? Here are some ideas:

1. Provide opportunities for autonomy as children are more likely to be motivated when they feel like they have some control over their environment. Give them choices when it comes to what they learn or how they learn it.

2. Try to make learning fun and engaging. Use games, hands-on activities, and real-world examples to make lessons more interesting. We see coaches of children’s sports use this approach well.

3. Encourage a growth mindset and that their abilities and intelligence can grow and develop over time. Praise them for their effort, persistence, and progress rather than just their achievements. Their effort grade on their school report is equally if not more important than the academic grade.

4. Encourage children to ask questions about everything in the world around them. Provide opportunities for them to investigate and discover new things.

5. Celebrate small successes along the way. Help children see that progress is valuable in itself and that it is an important part of the learning process.

6. Avoid relying too heavily on external rewards like stickers, prizes, or grades. While these can be motivating in the short term, they can also undermine intrinsic motivation over time.

words about passion on the floor

It's Not Foolproof

It’s not going to work for every aspect of life and learning as there are somethings we all hate regardless of how you package or sugar coat it. But, fostering these habits is a great way for them to develop intrinsic motivation as part of their growth to adulthood and all round wellbeing.

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