Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Bob Kulhan
February 9, 2023

It was the third week of January.  

I sat in a Zoom room, in my dining room, for the second day of jury duty.  I was dressed professionally (from the waist up). I was required to sit stationary and on camera throughout the day as I waited to be questioned or released by the judge and lawyers.

The mundane monotony of jury duty drudged on. A malaise drenched my mind. It was in this disquieted state that I found myself mulling over the idea of motivation.

Motivation is an interesting thing. In simple laymen terms, motivation is a reason.  It is why we do something. Motivation can really only be explained through behavior; yet behavior as a whole is vague and amorphous. So, we should acknowledge that we are each influenced by the situational circumstances and people around us. We are also influenced by our biases – both unconscious and conscious. At its core, however, motivation is often driven by either needs or wants.

Motivation comes in 2 main forms:  Extrinsic Motivation and Intrinsic Motivation.

Extrinsic motivation is an incentive that, by its very definition, is external to who we are as humans. Bonuses, vacations, rewards, prizes, promotions, recognition – it is usually that cool, sexy stuff that many sales reps get at the end of the year for kicking ass and selling the most stuff.  

Though extrinsic motivation has a legitimate place in getting us to work hard and burn the midnight oil, it is often prioritized over its “sibling” – intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is our inner fire. It is the thing that gets us super pumped up, regardless of any external reward or recognition. Intrinsic motivation gets us doing something just because we want to do it, and in the best-case scenario we actually enjoy doing the thing and not just the outcome. Intrinsic motivation is at the heart of who we are as individuals and links to our purpose (as professionals or as humans).

Without motivation our drive to succeed is essentially nonexistent. We are missing our sense of purpose, and the fire that burns in all of us is all but completely suffocated. No motivation is no good.

In a nutshell, extrinsic motivation is what we get if we do our work, intrinsic motivation is linked to our purpose and the why we do our work, and a void of motivation is, at best, problematic and, at worst, downright dangerous.

After two days of 8-hour Zoom calls, I was released from the pool of jurors without even being questioned. My jury duty was completed and ended unceremoniously. I looked at a picture of my children. It was time to get back to work.  

Closing queries:

When do you feel most motivated? 

Are you more partial to being motivated extrinsically or intrinsically?

What is your motivation? 

“You are pure potential.” – Martin de Meat