External vs Internal Motivation

Parents and teachers often want to know how to increase motivation in students. While we know how important motivation can be with initiation of tasks, maintaining focus and follow through, and putting in effort for quality work, the actual act of increasing motivation can be elusive. Parents may resort to bribery and negotiation, such as “If you clean your room, you can have screen time.” Teachers may use peer pressure as motivation, such as using a class party reward to help encourage classmates to motivate each other to behave and follow directions.

Both of the above examples rely heavily on extrinsic, or external motivation. While there are some internal factors required (the children in the above examples have to want screen time, or a class party, for this to be effective), the overall motivating factor comes from an outside source, the parent or the teacher. Studies have found that too much of external motivation can actually reduce the effectiveness of the motivator. If screen time is available in abundance, or accessed in other ways, there is reduced likelihood of cleaning ones’ room. If there are class parties every other week – caring about behavior is probably reduced.

Intrinsic, or internal motivation, is when we do things because we find it important to ourselves, or because it is enjoyable. A common example may be found in music lessons. Children often enjoy playing with music, and musical instruments. Excitedly, parents sign their child up for music lessons, and assume they have a musical prodigy. As soon as there becomes a requirement for practice and rehearsal, tied to rewards and treasure box at the music teachers house, the motivation may drop off. Finding ways to cultivate and maintain intrinsic motivation can be tricky!

It is worth it, though, to help students find intrinsic motivation, particularly when it comes to academics. Studies have found that when students have intrinsic motivation about learning, they tend to exert more effort, take on more challenging tasks and activities, and have a better understanding of the concepts that they are learning. When students are able to apply what they are learning to the real world, this tends to increase intrinsic motivation – they are able to see the application, and see the pay off. Allowing students to have a choice or say in their work, and in setting their goals can also help. When students are able to see that they are doing these learning strategies for themselves, and not for their teachers or peers, they tend to accept more ownership of their learning. Students want to have a say – allowing them to provide feedback and allowing personal interests to be relevant in learning can also help.

The factors of motivation can apply beyond the classroom, for personal goals, for business related goals, and general perseverance. It isn’t necessarily that one type of motivation is better than another – both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation has its place. However, finding the ability to harness internal motivation can be powerful, and when taught to children and adults, can have lifelong benefits. For more information on increasing motivation, contact us! We can help.