HomeMotivationInternal vs. External Motivation: What's The Difference?

Internal vs. External Motivation: What’s The Difference?

The biggest hindrance to taking action might be a lack of motivation. The only way to solve this problem is to learn where your drive comes from. There are two most important sources: internal and external.

Let’s discuss internal and external motivation.

What Is Internal Motivation?

Internal motivation is the type of motivation that makes you want to undertake certain activities of your own accord, such as hobbies. It usually results from your feelings, like sadness, anger, or happiness. It can also be attributed to thoughts, goals, and values. The other name for this motivation is intrinsic motivation.

Here are a few examples of internal drive.

  • Hanging out with your friends since you enjoy spending time with them. Whether they can improve your finances or social standing is irrelevant.
  • Learning new languages to experience new things, not to meet job or other requirements.
  • Playing sports or cards to challenge yourself rather than win money or an award.
  • Cleaning to improve your living conditions or get good exercise, not to avoid infuriating your parents or spouse.
  • Working out to push your body to the limits rather than fit into certain outfits or lose weight to receive praise from others.
  • Running because it’s relaxing or you wish to beat your personal record, not because you want to win a competition.
  • Volunteering to get a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, not to meet work or school requirements.
  • Painting to calm yourself and make yourself happier instead of selling the art for financial gain.
  • Taking on challenges at work because you want to test yourself and feel accomplished, not to get a promotion or raise.

Without intrinsic motivation, you may feel unhappy and unfulfilled. This can cause significant problems in various areas of life, such as burnout in the workplace. Fortunately, you can determine how to tap into your internal motivation by understanding the factors promoting this type of drive.

  • Challenge – Challenging yourself is a great way to increase your engagement in school or work. Whether you set a specific performance metric or goal, it encourages you to improve your skills and keep going.
  • Curiosity – Anything that grabs your attention is motivating. This curiosity can push you to explore your environment and step outside your comfort zone. Both cognitive (stimulus) and sensory (physical) curiosity can drive you to act.
  • Belonging –  Cooperating with others helps create a supportive community and makes you feel you belong somewhere. This satisfaction typically comes from volunteering and helping others. Regardless of the method, it can skyrocket your internal motivation.
  • Problem Solving – Participating in games, seminars, conferences, school projects, and other assignments stimulates problem-solving skills. You must practice critical thinking to adapt your behavior, which can be a powerful intrinsic motivator.
  • Recognition – Recognition is generally associated with external motivation, but not if it originates from yourself. Acknowledging your own progress makes you feel better and drives you toward new accomplishments.

Understanding your internal drives can significantly benefit your personal and professional life.


When you enjoy your work responsibilities or school curriculum, your intrinsic motivation generates a lot of pleasure. This way, you’re less likely to abandon your activities.


There are many ways to increase your persistence, but engaging in activities that promote internal motivation might be the most effective. As you perform a task for your own sense of accomplishment, working on it until you’re successful is much easier.

Higher Performance and Learning Efficiency

Raising your intrinsic motivation can help you perform better at work in particular. For instance, if manufacturing a product or rolling out a particular service is satisfying, you’re more likely to ensure the offering is of first-class quality before releasing it.

Likewise, one of the most significant differences we’ll discover when discussing internal vs. external motivation is that internal drive is more conducive to learning efficiency. If you’re taking a seminar to acquire new skills for work, motivating yourself intrinsically can expand your learning potential.


This benefit is relevant if you’re a business owner. Helping your employees stay intrinsically motivated reduces your turnover rate because such workers remain longer with your company. They enjoy their work because it’s fulfilling, making them less likely to look for a new job.

Internal vs. External Motivation

What Is Extrinsic Motivation?

As the name suggests, extrinsic motivation is a form of motivation generated by external rewards. It can be tangible (e.g., grades and money) or intangible (e.g., fame and praise). Unlike intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation doesn’t arise from within you. Instead, it comes from the need to earn rewards provided by others.

You can use extrinsic motivation to drive yourself to perform various activities. If you know a reward accompanies the outcome, you’ll be externally motivated to do the work. Here are the most common examples of these rewards.

  • Playing sports to win trophies or money
  • Going to work to stabilize your finances
  • Buying in a specific store due to hefty loyalty discounts or buy-one-get-one-free sales
  • Helping others to receive praise from your family or friends
  • Finding a job to make people perceive you as trying to improve your life
  • Doing various tasks for fame or public acclaim
  • Completing homework or coursework to avoid getting a bad grade or judgment from teachers and family

A large number of factors influence external motivation.

Bad Outcomes

The nature of the end result plays a pivotal role when determining external motivation. Many people take action to avoid bad outcomes, such as punishment, poor performance reviews, losing control or trust, disconnect, disapproval, and negative feedback. All of which can have a major impact on behavior.

Rewards and Praise

Receiving a reward drives people to work harder on projects. Additionally, they may do certain things to gain attention, get credit, or remain in the spotlight.


Bonuses, allowances, and other financial perks can be motivators to boost workplace performance.


Although negative, fear is one of the most potent external motivation factors. People go to great lengths to avoid this scenario, whether it’s the fear of losing someone or something.


Another external motivator is the ability to exercise power, management, and control. It could be what drives someone to climb the career ladder, so they’re no longer managed by others.

Even though it might not be as meaningful as internal motivation, external motivation can be highly beneficial.

Raises Individual and Group Productivity Levels

Introducing external incentives in your company for teams or individuals ensures everyone receives the same drives through the same processes, which can optimize their productivity.

Clarify the desired behaviors and the positive outcomes those behaviors entail. This can be used in various settings, not just the workplace. For instance, this method lets you set up a streamlined learning environment in school and help your family do chores consistently.

Basis for Survival

We look for extrinsic rewards daily because they’re essential for survival. They enable us to meet our core needs, such as shelter, food, and water. Clothing is another must-have.

The reason we pursue these rewards and how we do it may vary, but our will to survive is usually the main factor that influences our choices.

For instance, you might not need to go to work to meet your core needs. You might abandon your formal workplace and start tending your garden to provide food for your family. Additionally, you may build a robust shelter in the mountains or woods due to a powerful external motivation.

Much-Needed Source of Inspiration

When discussing internal vs. external motivation, it’s essential to consider the element of inspiration. Finding inspiration in an activity can be challenging if you only want to drive yourself internally. External rewards are inspiring by their very nature.

If extrinsic motivation is at play, you can be inspired to behave in a certain way. This improvement or change wouldn’t occur if tangible or intangible rewards were unavailable.

For example, someone might not enjoy their job, meaning they lack internal motivation to go to work every day. However, the extrinsic factor is having a roof over their head and being the breadwinner. This can motivate someone to raise their performance so they and their family can have a comfortable life.

Drive to Chase Your Dreams or Goals

Goals are a vital part of our daily life. Our activities become more meaningful when we know we’re working toward something.

For instance, suppose you’re considering a divorce but wake up one day and decide to give your spouse another chance. Your decision is probably based on external rewards that align with your relationship goals.

The same goes for your workplace. You may perform consistently daily despite hating your job because the rewards earned through your work outweigh your dissatisfaction.

Following the path to our dreams or goals creates a meaningful life journey, even if we regret a few decisions along the way.

Which One Is Best for You?

Many people take an idealistic standpoint when comparing internal vs. external motivation, with most of them giving the edge to intrinsic drive. Being perfectly self-motivated all the time is hardly attainable. We need both types of motivation to live comfortably.

Intrinsic motivators can be used in numerous spheres. For instance, let’s assume you want to prevail over your business competitors. You can gain an edge in the business world by focusing on internal motivation because the standards you and your team set within yourselves are unique. In other words, they’re hard, if not impossible, to replicate.

When you’re fueled by a greater purpose that goes beyond key performance indicators, you truly understand the meaning of your activities. You’re more motivated to excel in your work and meet your customers’ expectations. Plus, you may keep improving your products or services even after fulfilling the industry standards. Internal motivation drives you to take your offerings to the next level.

Intrinsic motivation encourages us to redo something when we don’t meet our goals. This is because when someone understands what they’re working toward, they don’t consider setbacks insurmountable. Instead, they’re viewed as an opportunity to practice creativity and innovation to develop appropriate solutions.

The only major downside of intrinsic motivation is that we might be too picky about selecting our tasks. We may also refuse to explore skills that don’t excite us, which can be risky if the skill is critical in our personal or professional life.

That’s where external motivation comes in. It can help us meet goals just as effectively as internal motivation, despite having wildly different methods.

Be it through the fear of punishment or desire triggered by incentives, it forces us to stay consistent and stick to deadlines. This drive is beneficial for maintaining high productivity when doing menial tasks, which may make up a large part of someone’s workload. An external push is a great way to learn how to step outside our comfort zone, take up new activities, and acquire new skills.

Still, extrinsic stimuli limit the need for innovation, don’t offer a sense of ownership, and may make someone give up faster if agreed-upon conditions change.

Both types of motivation are beneficial, but the question isn’t which is better. Instead, determine the ideal ratio between the two drives to create a perfect daily routine and perform better.

Each person’s motivation style must be harmonized with their personality and the rewards they find most satisfying. Otherwise, they’ll struggle to achieve their goals.

Find Your Internal and External Drives

Internal vs. external motivation depends on the rewards and outcomes associated with a task or project. Understanding how the drives work and when to use each type of motivation helps you perform tasks even when you don’t want to. Focus on your priorities and determine the ideal motivation ratio of internal vs. external motivation to address them.


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