Intrinsic Motivation

As an Intrinsic Motivation enthusiast I have had several discussions with people about the subject. I have learned over the years that many people do not understand what Intrinsic Motivation is about. For that reason I decided to make a new blog post to explain the idea behind Intrinsic Motivation.

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan explain “To be motivated means to be moved to do something”. I always explain it as having  the energy to do something. Without energy, all of our brilliant ideas will never come to fruition. Energy or motivation is not enough to make us move. We also need direction. Motivation in itself does not say anything about direction, that is why we talk about Extrinsic Motivation or Intrinsic Motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation vs Intrinsic Motivation
We can be Extrinsically motivated: directed by external factors, like money or trying to avoid pain.

Intrinsic Motivation means that we get the direction from ourselves. We decide for ourselves what we want to do.

Polarized Internalization
However, Intrinsic Motivation states that we are solely directed by intrinsic factors. But even our hobbies are affected by our own environment: being short on cash, not having enough time. Many other external factors can be named. The point is, is that we are always partially influenced by external factors.

In truth, the amount of which we are directed by intrinsic factors versus external factors is a matter of polarization. The degree to which we are Intrinsically motivated is called our Internalization.

5 levels of internalization
Self Determination Theory developed a subtheory called Organismic Integration Theory. This subtheory divides our degrees of internalization into five different groups. These five groups helped me understand the internalization of my own actions, while I was still an… lets call it Intrinsic Motivation Apprentice.

Starting at the bottom of internalization:

1) External motivation
Being directed by external factors. The carrot and stick principles is a well known example of this level of internalization: do this and then you will get X, or if you don’t you will get punished by Y. You are being forced by an external source.

2) Introjected motivation
Being pressured. Someone that is pressuring you to sign a contract is a great example of this level of motivation, but also peer pressure is a common example. The external factors that pressure you are not easily perceived and it often feels like you are forcing yourself to do something.

3) Identified motivation
Willing to do something for another. You are not directed by your own self, but you choose voluntarily to help someone else. For myself, doing the dishes in a guests apartment is a good example. But also when you are part of a Scrum team it is important to set your own idealogy aside and let yourself be directed by what the team needs.

4) Integrated motivation
Wanting something. This level of motivation is directed by your own idealogy. Whenever you are focused on a goal that is important to you (but you have not yet achieved) you are directed by Integrated motivation. You are directed by your own self, but you focus on something external.

5) Intrinsic motivation
Purely Intrinsic Motivation is doing something for the experience itself. You are not focused on any external goal. To be directed by this level of motivation you need to study yourself, discover who you are. In My identity I explain who I am and what I want. Who I am is linked to this level of internalization and what I want is linked to level 4, Integrated motivation.

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

Proactive / self managed
The higher your internalization, the more proactive you become. After all, the higher levels of internalization make you less dependant on external factors. If you act based on level 1 internalization (external motivation) you will only act when a carrot or stick is presented at you. If you act based on level 5 internalization (Intrinsic motivation) you have no dependency towards any external factors, thus you act based on your own self. This is what we call proactive behavior. The only risk is that what you think is right, might bring down new problems. The key here is communication. If you talk with your colleagues about your ideas, they can warn you or help you out.

Several studies have shown that we become more skilled at performing heuristic skills (thinking creatively) when being intrinsically motivated. This RSI Animate film explains this concept.

Once you discover who you are (again, read My identity), you will discover you are much more then what your job description tells you. I am a Test Consultant. However, because I act based on my own self, I am now also a capable programmer, a Scrum Master and I have learned a lot about (automatic) deployments.

Control over your energy
Being less dependant from external factors also makes us less vulnerable. We cannot control external factors. As we are directed by lower levels of internalization, our energy is influenced by these external factors. If we are directed by our own self we can also choose for ourselves when to act on something that is important. I’ll give a real-life example.

At work I often start new initiatives that improve the quality of our work. A few weeks ago I had taken up too much extra work. I noticed the effect it had on my own energy levels. I informed my colleagues and for a short periode I focused myself only on my testing and developing activities (which I like to do) and let the other initiatieves rest until I felt better. The other initiatives are based on level 4 internalization, while most of my standard activities (testing and developing) are based on level 5 internalization.

Summing up. Intrinsic Motivation is the most internalized direction you can be motivated for. It means you know exactly who you are and you let your actions be directed based on who you are. This way you become more proactive, more creative and more flexible as a team member, but also as a person. It also helps you take control over your own energy.

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