How To Become An Extrinsically Motivated Person

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Being Extrinsically motivated is defined as the motivation to perform an activity to avoid punishment or earn a reward. On the other hand, intrinsically motivated individuals perform an activity for its own sake and personal awards. The latter is great, but it only goes so far. What happens when the going gets tough? If you do not want to participate in an activity, intrinsic motivation is not enough to get you through an activity.

Knowledge is an important factor in success. If you know why we do the things we do and what drives our behaviors, you understand the motivation. If you understand what types of motivation are the most effective, you can take the most efficient route to achieve your goals. This enables you to tackle new ones and continue to grow and develop until you reach self-actualization. Before motivating yourself, your child or your student, learn the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, the pros and cons of each and how to avoid any associated cons.

Extrinsic Motivation, What Is This Type Of Motivation?

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Extrinsic motivation is a highly effective form of motivation. Due to the wiring of our brains, we are strongly influenced by the promise of rewards. This explains why so many successful people are extrinsically motivated. They are driven by the desire for both tangible and psychological rewards. The two most common types of tangible rewards are money and trophies.

If you have a family to feed, you may throw 75 car tires per day even though the work itself is not inherently rewarding. Similarly, you may swim 100 laps in the pool per week if it means you get a medal or trophy distinguishing you as a top swimmer. Psychological forms of extrinsic motivation include a child brushing her teeth to receive praise from her parents or never missing school to be publicly recognized at the end of the year.

How Effective Is This Type Of Motivation? 

Extrinsic motivation is extremely effective. Without realizing it, we are extrinsically motivated by tangible rewards every day. We purchase fuel and coffee from the same gas station and convenience store every day for loyalty points in exchange for discounts. We perform monotonous or difficult tasks at work to earn a steady paycheck. We have three credit cards in our wallets but always swipe the one with the airline miles.

If you are intrinsically motivated, you go to work for the sake of working. What happens when you don't feel like it, lose your job and can't pay your mortgage? Now you have to sell your home and move somewhere less expensive. What about an athlete who runs because he finds it enjoyable? He may be more likely to skip his workout in the extreme heat or cold than someone who runs to see a gold medal around his neck or trophy in his hand.

Extrinsic Motivation Can Sometimes Backfire

Offering rewards is an effective method of motivation, but excessive rewards tend to conflict with intrinsic motivation. This is known as the over justification effect. It involves a decrease in intrinsic motivation when their behavior is extrinsically rewarded, and the reinforcement is subsequently ended. Your Little League team may intrinsically enjoy running suicides at the end of practice. If you tie this behavior to a reward such as hot dogs or ice cream and then withhold the reward, the children will end up less motivated to run their hardest in the future.

Extrinsic motivation is a useful tool for children when used carefully. If you take something they already enjoy and associate it with a reward, they will associate it with work rather than play and progressively lose interest in it. Use extrinsic motivators when people have little initial interest, or basic skills are lacking.

Another reason you would not want to motivate extrinsically someone is people can have a tendency to analyze their motivations for doing things. Once externally rewarded for a behavior, they assign too much importance to the reward tied to completing the action. As soon as the activity is no longer reinforced, they lose varying degrees of interest.

Combine Intrinsic And Extrinsic Motivation

While extrinsic motivation exerts a powerful influence on the way, we behave when used improperly it has its limits. To mitigate this, combine extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Once a child develops basic skills and interest in an activity, allow her to enjoy it for its own sake. When she is having particular trouble focusing on her schoolwork, offer her a small reward for completing it to help her through the tough time.

Examples Of Extrinsic Motivation

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Extrinsic motivation can motivate you to do many things. If there is a known reward attached to the task or outcome, some individuals become extrinsically motivated to accomplish the task.

Here are some examples of extrinsic rewards:

Tangible Rewards

  • Competing in sports for trophies
  • Completing work for money
  • Customer loyalty discounts
  • Buy one, get one free sale
  • Frequent flyer rewards

Psychological Rewards

  • Helping people for praise from family or friends
  • Doing tasks to avoid judgment
  • Doing work for either positive or negative attention
  • Doing tasks for public fame or acclaim
  • Completing coursework for grades

Tips To Stay Extrinsically Motivated

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It is hard to remain motivated sometimes. How do we stay extrinsically motivated when things get tough? Three tips on how to stay extrinsically motivated are to use incentives, use punishments and review your progress.

Use Incentives

Incentives are a great way to remain extrinsically motivated. Maybe you want to become a runner but are having trouble starting. Tell yourself if you run past nine mailboxes you can buy something off of Amazon or watch an episode of television. Neurological research gives insight into why rewards motivate us. In life, we commonly have to act to get something we want.

We have to walk to the kitchen for a slice of cake. We have to work if we want to earn a dollar. On the other hand, we usually only have not to act to avoid negative consequences. If we do not help the stranger look for his lost puppy, we will remain safe. If we do not shake hands with a sick person, we will not get sick.

If you do not find tangible rewards to be useful, try psychological rewards. Join a running club and try your hardest to earn praise or avoid negative feedback. Sometimes a pat on the back or the phrase, "that was a job well done" is all you need to get out of bed tomorrow and try an activity again.

Use Punishments

Let's say your goal is to run a marathon in eight months. To reach this goal you want to stick to a schedule. Allow yourself the option to not follow the schedule but add a consequence. For example, if you skip a run or cross-training session today, you have to run double the missed distance or complete the skipped cross-training session tomorrow. Knowing you have to go for a bike ride or a swim on a day you have a 20-mile run scheduled can motivate you to cross-train to avoid the consequence.

Review Your Progress

Tracking progress is crucial to achieving goals. If you have a goal of shaving 30 seconds off of your 5k run time and you feel like your progress is stalling, take a look and see how far you have come. Look at how you shaved off eight seconds by improving your form and breathing technique and another two seconds by adding cross-training and becoming fitter. Recognize you are one-third of the way to your goal and each run gets easier even if it doesn't get faster. Speed will come with endurance.



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Extrinsic motivation is an incredibly powerful form of motivation. Intrinsic motivation is useful in some instances, but we will not always be motivated to do something for the sake of doing it. Sometimes we need an outside reason. Extrinsically motivated people are more likely to get things done when all they want to do is lay in bed because they have the promise of a reward or the threat of a punishment to keep them going. 


If you are struggling to get going, you should use incentives and punishments for motivation. Also, be sure to review your progress. Incentives can be psychological like praise or fame or external such as a medal, trophy, plaque or money. Incentives are more effective as we are wired to understand that action leads to positive outcomes. Punishments are less effective at getting people to do something as we instinctively believe inaction leads to the avoidance of negative consequences. 


Don't forget to take time to relax and reflect on how far you have come. Whether you ran eight seconds faster, you managed your first ever negative split, or it took you less time to recover from your suicides, any step in the right direction is progress. Keep your eye on the prize, and with hard work, you will be rewarded.

Neither extrinsic nor extrinsic motivation is better. In fact, they serve valuable roles in different circumstances. Use extrinsic motivation to entice them to try something new they find boring or difficult. Once they develop skills and understanding, they may become intrinsically motivated to continue the activity. On the other hand, use intrinsic motivation when an individual already finds an activity intrinsically rewarding, or a reward might make an enjoyable activity seem more like work. Knowledge is power. Understanding how the human brain works and using the right tools to accomplish a goal leads to success.

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