Paul Mitchell and John Paul DeJoria took the term “bootstrapping” to the extreme when they launched their haircare business. To begin with, a major investor backed out of the company at the last minute, leaving them with a mere 700 dollars to start the company. At the time, the situation was so dire, DeJoria had to live in his car. For two years, they barely scraped by, only surviving thanks to net 30 payment agreements with their vendors. Recounting the experience, DeJoria said, “Every week for probably two years, we should have given up […] but didn’t.” The duo kept going, overcoming all obstacles in large part due to the intrinsic motivation they had. They believed in themselves and the product they offered.
That perseverance paid off. Paul Mitchell is now one of the leading haircare brands globally, while DeJoria alone is worth 3.2 billion.
Starting a business and trying to make a change in the world will undoubtedly present some of the most significant challenges you’ll ever face. How do you fight the temptation to give up? The answer lies in intrinsic motivation. While extrinsic rewards are enjoyable in the short term, internal rewards keep you going in the face of adversity.
If you find yourself faltering, wondering whether what you’re doing is worth it, you may need to find your intrinsic motivation. That requires identifying your mission, purpose, and passion. It also means pinpointing the source of your intrinsic motivation that will help energize you when times are rough.
In this article:
- Learn more about what intrinsic motivation is.
- The difference between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.
- And how you can best build your own intrinsic motivation.
What is Intrinsic Motivation?
Intrinsic motivation is the inner drive that pushes you to accomplish great things. At its core, intrinsic motivation is tied to your life purpose. Someone who is intrinsically motivated doesn’t need external (extrinsic) rewards to be happy.
Of all the types of motivation out there, intrinsic motivation is the best for building a business. In fact, it might as well be a requirement.
The key to how intrinsic motivation works is that your actions and behaviors serve as a reward instead of something like money or perks. You do things because they provide enjoyment or because you find them interesting. An intrinsically motivated person may also do an activity or task because they feel called to do them.
For example, a business leader with intrinsic motivation may choose to endure hardships and challenges because they believe the product they offer makes people’s lives better. It’s not a question of making a million bucks, receiving a new reward, or getting on the cover of TIME. They do it because they know the world can be a better place if people have the product or service. Providing it gives leaders the inner drive to keep going no matter how tough things get.
How Extrinsic Motivation Differs from Intrinsic Motivation
Unlike intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation is the type of motivation most people associate with their jobs. It’s where extrinsic rewards and reinforcements drive people’s behavior day in and day out. When people perform a task, duty, activity, or responsibility to get a promotion, earn a paycheck, or receive a raise, they do so with extrinsic motivation as the main factor. The same applies when people try to avoid a negative outcome, such as doing their jobs so they don’t get let go. The key to understanding extrinsic motivation is that people do something to get a reward in return.
Examples of Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
- Doing your job because you like the work you do, not because you’re anticipating a reward.
- Performing an activity or task because you feel morally or ethically obligated to do so.
- Hitting new sales goals to push yourself to have more competence and expertise.
- Reading and learning from leadership books because you enjoy them.
- Keeping a to-do list because you find it satisfying to check items off.
- Doing your job to earn money and receive rewards.
- Performing an activity or task because you’re getting paid to do it.
- Hitting new sales goals to get extra commission and a raise.
- Reading leadership books because they might help you get a promotion.
- Keeping a to-do list because you often become disorganized and don’t want to get yelled at by your boss.
Why Intrinsic Motivation is Better for Entrepreneurs
Research shows that business owners and entrepreneurs crave challenges. If an activity comes too easy for them, they quickly lose interest. The desire for a challenge fuels them and has nothing to do with any external rewards they may receive from running a business. Similarly, they have no use for outside validation. Instead, they seek types of feedback that are constructive and forward-thinking. This would show they have more intrinsic motivation.
According to Wendell Dunn, professor of entrepreneurship at the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia, entrepreneurs do what they do “to prove a point.” Amar Bhide of Harvard Business School backs this up, saying, “it takes a really extraordinary individual to build a promising company—extraordinary in terms of someone who has an almost maniacal level of ambition.” Bhide says that to the entrepreneur, it’s not the prospect of making millions of dollars that drives them but rather the chance to demonstrate their competence and “leave a significant mark on the world.” In short, entrepreneurs are typically more intrinsically motivated than other types of professionals.
Entrepreneurs also usually work by themselves or with small groups, meaning the only people pushing them to succeed at an activity or job are themselves. While the hope to become a millionaire may motivate some of them, most push on because they feel they have to. They have a vision for the future and an internal belief that they are the only ones who can accomplish it. Because of this, they create their own new opportunities by being in tune with their purpose and identity.
Ways to Strengthen Your Intrinsic Motivation
1. Have a Clear Vision and Mission
Greatness starts with a clear vision of the future.Simon Sinek
Basically, psychology says that for intrinsic motivation to take hold, you must have a clear vision of what activity or job you hope to accomplish. That vision helps you to stay focused throughout the good and bad times. Whatever that vision happens to be is up to you, but for it to work, it must go hand in hand with a just cause. If the work you’re doing is strictly money-motivated, you won’t make it very far.
Only after you’ve created a crystal clear vision for yourself doing the activity, can you communicate it to your followers who are interested in learning about it. In fact, leaders will not earn followers without a clear vision. A well-practiced vision inspires people to act and gives them a real sense of purpose.
You must then lay out a plan to reach the fulfilled vision of the activity or assignment with competence. This becomes your mission, which can be broken down into smaller attainable goals. Having a mission also makes calling others to action easier. As you share your vision, you can then explain in detail what others need to do to bring that vision to life.
2. Know Your Purpose
I believe we’re all put on this planet for a purpose, and we all have a different purpose.Ellen DeGeneres
Even with an ambitious vision, you’ll find that it is always out of reach if it doesn’t align with your purpose, needs, and well-being. In such cases, intrinsic motivation drains quickly and interest in the activity dies. As self-determination theory suggests, a person needs to have all their needs met to feel intrinsically motivated. If not, you’ll experience friction in your life, which diminishes your intrinsic motivation. To find your purpose, ask yourself the following questions.
- What natural gifts and areas of competence do you possess?
- What do you feel life has called you to do?
- Is there an injustice that fires you up?
- Is there a problem that you feel like you absolutely MUST correct?
- In what ways are you not extrinsically motivated?
- What kind of positive feedback do you get the most of at work?
- What do you enjoy learning about?
When you answer these questions, you’ll start to discover some common elements that help identify your purpose. Knowing this allows you to cut out parts of your life that don’t align with your vision.
Knowing your purpose also helps you set the correct priorities for your life and can help you embrace the transformational leadership style, which is best for generating massive change in the world.
3. Tap Into Your Passions
It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a very clear path to happiness.Sheryl Sandberg
When you have passion for something, you become willing to go through all manner of difficulties to pursue it. Shortly after graduating from Princeton, Wendy Kopp created the nonprofit organization Teach For America. She had a passion for reaching disadvantaged people and felt that teachers were the key to unlocking their potential. The organization helped her pursue that passion as it helps place talented teachers in some of the hardest-hit public schools in the country. Thanks to Kopp’s intrinsic motivation, Teach For America regularly receives more than 200 million dollars a year in funding.
Like any new business or organization, Teach For America took a while to get off the ground. But Wendy Kopp was intrinsically motivated and used that passion to fuel her during down times. Any business owner or organization leader will say that there are times when it would be easy to give up, but when you fight for what you believe in, giving up on an activity or job isn’t an option.
That same level of passion can draw others into the fold as well. You need to communicate your vision for followers to feel your passion. The result is an intrinsically motivated group that wants to fight alongside you. This type of human behavior found in social psychology aligns with self-determination theory, where people feel motivated to grow and change after fulfilling needs for connection and autonomy.
Intrinsic Motivation is Already a Part of You
Take a moment and think about the meaning of the word “intrinsic.” When you boil it down, intrinsic means “essential” or “belonging naturally.” Learning what your intrinsic motivation is doesn’t mean discovering something in some hidden location. Your motivation already exists inside you.
It’s a natural part of who you are.
At the same time, people who only possess extrinsic motivation will often find life flat and meaningless. Any activity or assignment they’ve been given seems boring and useless. That’s because extrinsic motivation is unnatural and unessential.
When following the tips found above, you can start pinpointing the qualities that will awaken the intrinsic motivation you have. Combined with a growth mindset, you’ll start on a new path to amplify your impact.