Understanding What Drives Us

(Part 9 of 9)


Have you ever wondered what fuels our actions and ambitions? It’s motivation, the powerful force that drives us towards our goals. Whether it comes from within or from external sources, motivation ignites our behaviour and propels us to pursue our dreams. Exploring this concept isn’t just fascinating—it’s essential for unleashing our true potential and turning our aspirations into reality.

Motivation, therefore, is the bridge that connects our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, shaping our choices and influencing the level of effort we invest. It is fundamental to our personal growth, development, and overall well-being. Understanding what motivates us is not only fascinating but also empowering. It allows us to unlock our full potential and realize our dreams, putting us in the driver’s seat of our own lives.

Intrinsic Motivation: Doing What We Love

Intrinsic motivation is when you engage in activities because you genuinely enjoy them and find personal satisfaction. It comes from within and is driven by your interests, curiosity and passions. Moreover, it is the most self-determined form of motivation, meaning individuals have control over their actions, believe in their capabilities, and find meaning and value in what they do. Here are examples of intrinsic motivation:

  • Writing stories or poems because it sparks their creativity and brings them joy.
  • Playing a musical instrument because they love the music and the feeling of self-expression.
  • Engaging in sports or physical activities because they find it exhilarating and enjoy challenging themselves.
  • Attending school because they genuinely enjoy learning, motivated by personal interest, curiosity, and love for acquiring knowledge. They find joy and achievement in exploring new subjects, engaging in discussions, and challenging themselves intellectually.

By developing intrinsic motivation, individuals can experience a greater sense of personal agency, satisfaction, and well-being. In addition, it allows them to pursue activities aligned with their passions and values, leading to a more profound sense of achievement and a greater likelihood of long-term engagement and success.

Extrinsic Motivation: Looking for external rewards

Extrinsic motivation derives from external factors such as rewards or punishments. It’s the kind of motivation that pushes us to take action to earn something or avoid negative consequences. There are four types:

1. Integrated regulation

It refers to engaging in activities aligned with the individual’s values and beliefs. They see the importance and meaning behind these activities, even if they don’t necessarily find them enjoyable. It is the closest to intrinsic motivation because it shares similarities regarding the activity’s underlying reasons and personal significance. Integrated regulation occurs when individuals consciously integrate external expectations or values into their identity and beliefs. They have internalised the importance and value of the activity, similar to intrinsic motivation, where individuals engage in activities based on their inherent interest and enjoyment. Examples include:

  • Volunteering for a cause deeply cared about, such as helping people without homes or protecting the environment.
  • Studying diligently for a subject that may not be their favourite but aligns with their long-term goals, like becoming a doctor or an engineer
  • Participating in extracurricular activities that contribute to personal growth and development, such as joining a debate club or learning a new language.
  • Attending school because education is perceived as an essential part of who they are and what they stand for. They see it as an integral aspect of their values and beliefs that aligns with their self-identity.

So, integrated regulation reflects a more internalised and self-endorsed form of motivation than other extrinsic motivation types. The critical distinction between intrinsic motivation and integrated regulation lies in the initial source of motivation. Intrinsic motivation originates from within, driven by inherent satisfaction, while integrated regulation starts from an external source but is later internalised and integrated into one’s value system.

2. Identified Regulation

It occurs when engaging in activities because individuals recognise their importance and value. They understand the significance of these activities for their growth and future aspirations. Both identified and integrated regulation involves engaging in activities for personally meaningful reasons and aligned with one’s values. However, they differ subtly; identified regulation refers to engaging in an activity because one recognises its importance and relevance to one’s personal goals and values. They have intentionally identified the value and significance of the activity, even if it may not be inherently enjoyable or interesting to them. Here are examples:

  • Participating in community service projects because they believe in positively impacting their community.
  • Investing time and effort in learning a new skill or pursuing a hobby that contributes to their personal development.
  • Develop healthy habits, like regular exercise or practising mindfulness, because they recognise the benefits for their well-being.
  • Attend school because they have personally identified the benefits of education and believe it is relevant to their future success or desired career path. They see the purpose behind attending school as a means to attain their objectives.

So, those who are driven by identified regulation understand the instrumental value of the activity in achieving their desired outcomes or fulfilling their long-term goals. They have personally identified the benefits or importance of the activity, and as a result, they have a sense of choice and ownership over their engagement in it. This form of motivation, therefore, focuses on recognising the value and relevance of the activity to personal goals, a feeling that many of us can relate to.

3. Introjected Regulation

Refers to engaging in activities driven by internal pressure, such as avoiding guilt or anxiety or enhancing self-esteem. They may not necessarily find inherent enjoyment or personal interest in the activity but do it to avoid guilt and shame or gain a sense of self-worth or validation.

  • Studying for a test to avoid feeling guilty about not doing well or disappointing their parents.
  • Participating in a school event to avoid feeling left out or socially excluded.
  • Exercising to improve physical appearance or to fit societal standards, even if it doesn’t bring them inherent joy.
  • Attend school to avoid guilt and shame or maintain a sense of self-worth. For instance, they might believe that if they don’t go to school, they will disappoint themselves or others and don’t want to deal with the negative emotions associated with that.

Although introjected regulation may provide some motivation, it has potential drawbacks. The reliance on self-imposed pressures and the fear of external judgment can lead to increased stress, reduced enjoyment, and a limited sense of autonomy. Over time, motivation may even diminish if individuals become overly focused on meeting external or internal demands rather than pursuing activities for their inherent value.

4. External Regulation

It occurs when individuals engage in activities solely for external rewards, incentives, grades, or praise or to avoid punishment rather than for personal interest or enjoyment. Although it is the least self-determined form of motivation, external factors can still influence individuals. Examples include:

  • Completing chores or tasks to earn an allowance or rewards from parents.
  • Studying for grades rather than for the love of learning.
  • Participating in sports or clubs solely to receive trophies or recognition.
  • Attend school primarily because it is required by law, or their parents expect it, or they fear punishment if they don’t attend. In this case, the main motivation is to comply with external rules or authority.

While external regulation can provide initial motivation and drive individuals to act, it is considered the least autonomous and self-determined form of motivation. It relies on external control, and the use of rewards or punishments to influence behaviour may not sustain motivation in the long term. Once the external rewards or pressures are removed, individuals may lose interest or cease engaging. Additionally, it may undermine intrinsic motivation if individuals become overly reliant on external rewards, as it shifts the focus from internal enjoyment or personal achievement.

By recognising and appreciating these various motivations, we can take steps to support and nurture intrinsic motivation, align our activities with our values, and find personal meaning and purpose in what we do.

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Ryun.

For young adults, this understanding becomes even more significant as they experience the difficulties of adolescence. Encouraging them to explore their passions, connect their actions with their values, and develop a sense of autonomy can greatly contribute to their self-determination. When they feel a sense of ownership and choice in their pursuits, they are more likely to experience a fulfilling and successful journey with a strong sense of self and purpose. This, in turn, can positively impact their academic performance, relationships, and overall well-being. As parents, educators, and mentors, we have a vital role in supporting teenagers’ motivation and helping them manage this crucial stage of their lives.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that count.” – Winston Churchill.

So, let us continue to promote an understanding of motivation, accept intrinsic motivation, and inspire teenagers to explore their passions and values. Together, we can help them embark on a rewarding journey of self-discovery, growth, and success throughout adolescence and beyond.

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