What is intrinsic motivation? (And why it's beneficial)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 22 June 2022

Published 3 January 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Intrinsic motivation is the natural, built-in motivation that compels you to complete tasks and fulfil your responsibilities. People with a high degree of intrinsic motivation tend to get more work done, as they are eager to get up in the morning and start the day. Understanding what causes you to feel motivated can help you promote feelings of motivation and perform better at work. In this article, we look at intrinsic motivation, discuss its features and benefits and offer advice on how you can enhance your intrinsic motivation and perform better in the workplace.

What is intrinsic motivation?

To understand 'What is intrinsic motivation?', note that it describes the feeling that inspires you to do a task because you find it gratifying. It means drawing on internal inspiration instead of external motivators. Intrinsically motivated people enjoy completing tasks and take a sense of pride in their achievements. While harnessing intrinsic motivation, people can complete more work because they can more easily enter a state of ‘flow'. Fully immerse yourself in a task, with full energy and concentration, and time appears to pass by quickly, such as the way we perceive time passing when having fun.

The opposite of intrinsic motivation is extrinsic motivation, which refers to external rewards, like money or praise from managers. Intrinsically motivated people find their rewards within themselves, such as through emotional response, like happiness or contentment. People who draw their motivation from within themselves may find it easier to sustain their motivation, as they don't rely on the dynamic and uncontrollable factors of extrinsic motivation.

Read more: Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

Applying intrinsic motivation in the workplace

There are several ways you can apply intrinsic motivation in the workplace to progress your career to the next level. Here are some steps to applying intrinsic motivation to your career path:

Find a job that aligns with your core values

If you believe in what you are doing and are passionate about it, you are more likely to feel intrinsically motivated. As a result, it is a good idea to find a profession that aligns with your values, as this can give you a sense of purpose, which can lead to intrinsic motivation because it is gratifying to feel valuable. Perhaps your core values centre around honesty, integrity and environmentalism. Seek a company that reflects these values to boost your intrinsic motivation. Here are some tips for finding a job that aligns with your values:

  • Consider what is meaningful to you. To find a company that aligns with your values, it's important to consider what your values are.

  • Research the company. By researching a company, you can discover their values and how they impact society, which you can then measure against your values.

  • Evaluate job descriptions. Job descriptions reveal most of what a role entails and from it, you can determine whether the position aligns with your values.

Read more: How to be self-motivated (with steps, tips and an example)

Organise your day around meaningful tasks

Once you have identified your core values, find roles that allow you to act on those values through specific tasks, responsibilities and projects. You can also find those that enable you to practise certain skills and demonstrate qualities related to your values, such as customer service, empathy and integrity. During your job search, review listings to understand the responsibilities and projects required, and try to see what parts would be meaningful to you. Here are some tips for organising your day around tasks you find meaningful:

  • Consider which tasks you find meaningful. This varies between each individual, but many people find meaning in aspects of work, such as customer service and coaching colleagues.

  • Tell your supervisor what you find meaningful. Your employer may be more than happy to encourage your efforts to boost intrinsic motivation, and in doing so, they might help you structure your day around tasks you find meaningful.

  • Allocate time to meaningful tasks. As much as it is within your control, try to allocate as much time as possible to tasks you find meaningful and de-prioritise those that don't give you a sense of fulfilment.

Embrace new challenges

If your schedule has space for new responsibilities, taking on a challenge can be motivating. Try something you have never done before, such as learning how to use a new piece of software. Gaining skills and learning can provide the internal satisfaction that drives those with intrinsic motivation. Working autonomously can boost job satisfaction, so find space at your office to do so. This could mean taking the lead on a project or working a flexible schedule so you can occasionally work remotely. Working independently often grants a greater sense of accomplishment to those with intrinsic motivation.

Read more: How to write a motivation letter

Invest in your professional development

Pursue opportunities for professional development, such as skill-building, certification or advanced education. You could ask your supervisor or human resources department whether your company offers scholarships to take outside courses or sponsorships to attend seminars or conferences. You could also consider enrolling in an online degree to work during the day and complete assignments at your pace after work. Strengthening your professional skills gives you a sense of accomplishment both in your professional development and through the skills that make you more effective and productive at work.

Read more: 60 inspirational quotes for employees

Establish a work-life balance

Work-life balance refers to the time and energy you allocate to your job as compared to your personal life. Those with intrinsic motivation tend to have a satisfying work-life balance and are generally happier people. It may be tempting to stay late to complete a task, but having a life outside of work refreshes you and can help make you more effective at work. Set aside time each day to do something that feels satisfying outside of your job, such as reading a good book or going for a walk.

Tips to boost intrinsic motivation

Once you understand the benefits of intrinsic motivation, you may want to work on promoting the feeling so that you can experience it more often. Here are some tips for nurturing and growing your intrinsic motivation:

  • Focus on the end goal. Keeping your goals attainable is an effective way to motivate yourself and cultivate lasting intrinsic motivation. By focusing on the rewards that await you after completing a task can make you highly motivated to get to that stage.

  • Rest. To achieve intrinsic motivation, it's important to ensure you get enough rest, as having full energy reserves is necessary for turning motivation into action. It is also difficult to feel motivated when you're exhausted.

  • Focus on your health. By eating healthily, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep, you can expect your levels of intrinsic motivation to rise dramatically. A healthy body and a healthy mind can cause you to feel highly energetic, mentally sharp and motivated.

  • Reflect on your achievements. Reflecting on where your hard work has got you in the past is an effective way to stir intrinsic motivation, as this reminds you of the value of your efforts. By contemplating what you are capable of, you can find the inspiration to re-enter this state and get to work.

  • Foster healthy competition. If you're a naturally competitive person, placing yourself in a situation where you and a friend are competing against each other can be exactly what's needed to ignite your intrinsic motivation. Ask a colleague if they would be up for a friendly competition, and set up a scoreboard to measure work-related achievements.

  • Stop procrastinating. A good way to promote intrinsic motivation is to stop procrastinating and do things without overthinking. Procrastination is a large hindrance to motivation, so conditioning yourself to act and not overthink can help you foster a sense of intrinsic motivation.

  • Focus on your life goals. By focusing on your overarching life goals and your progress towards them, you can sustain a long-term feeling of intrinsic motivation. By contemplating how far you've come, you can find the motivation and excitement to see you through to the completion of your goals.

  • Keep a diary. By regularly writing in a diary, you can write down which events trigger positive emotions and what makes you feel motivated. The data you collect tailors your life around that which causes you to feel intrinsic motivation.

Explore more articles