Intrinsic Motivation – What’s the Big Deal?

Intrinsic Motivation

In my slow and sluggish return from holiday, I figured my first post would be about vacation fatigue. Instead, this past weekend I was inspired to write about something that has been sitting in my “to-write” list for quite some time.

While attending a wedding on the edge of New Hampshire and Maine, I was meeting some curious subjects. A wonderful trio of friends were back together after a few years apart, two of us traveled from NYC to beyond cell service to watch our third marry the amazing man she met seven years ago working trail crew up in the white mountains. Now, the NYC-gals were the odd-balls in this grouping, as we did not intend to do a “quick” 10 mile hike the morning of the wedding. Over many beers and some good stomp-dancing, the trail-crew friends were infectious in their general joy. Whenever they spoke about the work they were doing, whether it was guiding, ski-patrolling or eyeing lice on pigeons their whole face lit-up. They were animated, excited and just so very passionate.

On our (very) long trip back to the city, we got into the conversation around motivation. This was a group of people who aren’t the richest, who may not have the nicest things, but are inexplicably happy with what they’re doing. It may be the connection to Earth or preservation or whatever, but mostly I assumed it has to do with their ability to tap into intrinsic motivation. So! Quickly put, I just wanted to define(ish) intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. It’s something people talk/write about a lot, and this past weekend was an amazing example of it.

Extrinsic motivation is when you’re motivated by external forces. I.e. my gal and I both like to work because it affords our lifestyle in NYC; we enjoy being able to eat out, get drinks with friends, attend music concerts and have nice things. We also work in industries that may not be the most personally fulfilling but we’re respected by the people we work with, our parents, and our peers.

Intrinsic motivation is when you’re driven by something deeper inside of you. It’s the parasite-lover who now simply studies parasites for a living. It’s the teacher who is completely invigorated by watching people understand a tricky concept. Intrinsic motivation is seen in people who like to attempt to accomplish a task “just because.”

We’re all a mix of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and I think the key here was finding people who lead with the internal passion at their core. Maybe it’s that they found “purpose”, or maybe they have parents passing them cash under the table, but either way, I was envious. It doesn’t mean I’ll leave my job to join a non-profit to go save the world, but it certainly means we should all be taking time to check in with our guts and see if what we’re doing each day is coming from inside ourselves or outside.

In the meantime, I think I’ll certainly be considering more outdoorsy stuff – I saw four shooting stars and the Milky Way! It was awesome, and maybe some more quiet time will give me opportunities to tap into that passion-core. Which I’m now coining. Passion-Core.

Credits: The Noun Project, Shooting Star designed by misirlou from the Noun Project

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