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Intrinsic Motivation: What, How & Examples (Complete Guide)

Intrinsic Motivation - Theory, Overview & List of Examples

I’m sure you are familiar with the term “intrinsic motivation”, but what does it mean? Intrinsic motivation is an umbrella term that describes stimuli or rewards that come from within an individual.

It can be a sense of accomplishment, enjoyment of the task itself, and interest in learning more about something. In contrast to this intrinsic motivation is extrinsic motivation which involves tangible rewards like money or admiration.

In this article, we will examine the motivation theories that researchers have put forth, as well as some of the research that has been conducted on this topic to understand what intrinsic motivation is.

We’ll also give you a list of examples so you can better understand what it’s all about.

What Is Intrinsic Motivation? Definition & Theory

Intrinsic motivation is a theory that suggests that people are motivated to perform an activity for its inherent satisfaction and enjoyment.

Intrinsic motivation can be defined as the fun you get from doing something or seeing it done, instead of what you get out of it, such as money. Here’s another way to think about intrinsic motivation.

Imagine learning how to play basketball. How much effort do you put into learning the game? I’m sure when you started playing basketball you had no idea how to shoot, dribble, pass, etc. but eventually learned them all because something was gratifying about every step of success along the way.

As your skills improve you become more and more motivated to practice. Eventually, you will become good enough to start playing games with friends, which is also motivating because it’s fun.

Now your motivation comes from an internal satisfaction in possessing the skills. If you have ever played a sport like a basketball, you will recognize that all of the above applies to you – maybe even in other areas of life.

Intrinsic Motivation – Theory in Translation

What is intrinsic motivation? It’s kind of like intrinsic ethics. For something to be intrinsically ethical, it must come from an internal source and not an external one.

This means feeling good about what you’re doing or learning because it feels right, as opposed to being compelled by external forces.

With intrinsic motivation, the idea is that we are inspired to do things out of pleasure and interest rather than because we have been rewarded for them or expect rewards in the future.

If I tell my son he can earn $1 per math fact he knows, then his motivation to learn math is extrinsic.

If I simply tell my son that I’m proud he’s learning math and want to see how interested he gets, then his motivation is intrinsic.

List with 30 Examples of Intrinsic Motivation

  1. Doing your homework because you want to learn
  2. Volunteering for a cause you believe in
  3. Playing a video game because you enjoy the thrill of competition
  4. Staying in shape because you want to live healthily for many more years to come
  5. Supporting your favorite sports team because they inspire you to become a better person and improve yourself
  6. Working hard on tests or assignments because learning something new is pleasant in itself
  7. Going home after a long day at work and working out to relieve stress and unwind 
  8. Singing along to the lyrics of your favorite song, even if you can’t sing very well 
  9. Talking about fashion with your friends because it helps bring out your creative side and empowers you to feel stylish 
  10. Taking care of nature ‘s creatures like pond-skaters and iguanas because you believe that all living creatures deserve to be happy 
  11. Dancing in the rain ‘just because’ it’s fun, not for any other reason
  12. Playing sports with friends because something is gratifying about every leap of progress along the way
  13. Practicing your step-over dribble until you become good enough to play an actual game with your friends, which is also gratifying
  14. Helping someone feel better after they’ve had a bad day by talking them through their problems
  15. Learning how to cook because food tastes much better when it’s made from scratch than from frozen dinners or takeout food 
  16. Writing a book because there is nothing more gratifying than seeing someone else’s life improve as a result
  17. Reading books about science or religion because it helps you become more aware of the world around you 
  18. Listening to music without having any interest in joining a band, writing songs, etc., simply for the enjoyment of it 
  19. Making friends with people from other countries because experiencing diversity broadens your understanding of the world and its people 
  20. Playing an instrument because feeling like your skills improve, makes every practice session enjoyable 
  21. Cleaning up after yourself and putting things away where belong because doing so makes your space clean and tidy
  22. Helping someone because you know it will bring them a genuine sense of relief 
  23. Doing chores around the house, e.g., setting up a new computer or cleaning out the car, simply to make your family’s life happier and easier  
  24. Editing or proofreading a friend’s essay because you want to help them out and more importantly you enjoy the work itself  
  25. Picking up trash from public parks because it makes the world a better place for everyone to enjoy 
  26. Listening to classical music so that you can savor every note and musical phrase because listening to music is such a rewarding activity 
  27. Helping an elderly person carry their groceries because you believe in being kind and helpful when you can  
  28. Listening to friends’ problems because it helps them unburden themselves and feel supported, which makes everyone happier as a result   
  29. Reading your favorite novel because it’s just as enjoyable the tenth time around as it is the first  
  30. Playing chess with a friend simply so that you can enjoy their company and learn from playing against someone better than you 

Benefits and Why is Intrinsic Motivation Important?

In general, intrinsic motivation supports benefits in life like living a more satisfying, meaningful, and enjoyable life; feeling fulfilled through work and hobbies; being creative and satisfied in your job or studies; enjoying healthy relationships with others; having a more fulfilling spiritual life because you’re not distracted by non-spiritual pursuits.

The important thing to know about intrinsic motivation is that it’s best when it comes from the inside of the person rather than outside of them.

That is to say that someone who does something out of obligation or expectation will not enjoy it as much as someone who does something because they simply want to enjoy doing it.

How and When To Use Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is best used when it’s your primary reason for working on something.

The more you’re able to focus on doing something purely because you get intrinsic enjoyment out of it, the more likely you’ll be to continue with that activity.

This can be particularly useful for establishing positive habits like exercising regularly or practicing new skills that will help you excel at work or school.

Given the fact that intrinsic motivation is best when it’s from you, and therefore most likely to be effective when it’s your primary reason for doing something, it can be a good idea to rely on extrinsic rewards less over time.

If you do this gradually then eventually you’ll find yourself enjoying what you’re doing more than ever before because there are little or no external factors interfering with your ability to focus on intrinsic motivations.

While this may seem counterintuitive at first (like rewarding fewer positive behaviors might mean they disappear entirely), if you stop relying on extrinsic rewards after a while then those positive behaviors will become increasingly tied to internal sources of value – things like being able to live up to your ideals or simply being incredibly satisfied with the work you’re doing.

This is not only very sustainable but an incredibly healthy way to build the foundation for a satisfying, successful life.

Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

Intrinsic motivation in the classroom can be a lot of fun because it offers an opportunity to test out and share your natural talents.

Classwork is much more exciting when you’re pursuing something worthwhile rather than simply trying to pass a class.

Intrinsic motivations can help make schoolwork more interesting, too. Why memorize facts about Shakespeare if you don’t see yourself ever needing them for anything? Instead, try studying different aspects of Shakespeare that you find particularly interesting or relevant – maybe even write up a report on one thing you discovered that speaks to you in some way.

It doesn’t have to be connected to any assignment; just something interesting enough for you that it would feel nice knowing more about it regardless of what happens in the classroom.

Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

Intrinsic motivation is also a big part of succeeding in the workplace, where it can be used to combat things like burnout and boredom.

It’s important to have an enjoyable work ethic if you want not only a sustainable career but one that allows you to enjoy your time while working.

This could mean establishing some kind of personal brand or reputation for yourself, but more often than not, simply enjoying what you do will have positive effects on other areas of your life as well.

Several major advantages go along with intrinsic motivation in the workplace:

Increased productivity – because it makes something inherently meaningful, intrinsically motivated employees tend to find new ways to make any given task both faster and better than ever before (read more on how to motivate your team).

Reduced odds of burnout – because it’s rooted in personal interest, intrinsic motivation helps to ensure that you’ll be able to work as much as you want without ever feeling like you’re working too much.

Increased workplace satisfaction – since the things you do intrinsically motivate you, they also tend to make your life outside of work more enjoyable.

Intrinsic Type of Motivation:

Let’s now look at three key factors when it comes to the intrinsic type of motivation:


Autonomy refers to the desire for self-direction, a basic need that everyone possesses.

For people with autonomy needs strong enough to motivate them, direction or internal motivation is often more effective in achieving goals than external controls (which are always less motivating).

This also applies when they use their creativity and imagination since these are intrinsic rewards as well.


Mastery is a need for continual improvement in one’s self. It means that they have an interest and desire to get better at something, to keep learning, growing, doing, and being better.

This means that they will both enjoy the process and be more likely to reach their goals. Motivation through extrinsic rewards can also lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, in which a person’s expectations influence his or her behavior so that he or she unwittingly fulfills those expectations.

If students believe they are good at math and have received positive feedback about it from others, they tend to perform well on future tests even if all of the positive feedback is false.

On the other hand, negative feedback that is believed (or pretended) leads students to underperform.


When people are intrinsically motivated by a purpose or mission, it usually has strong internal value to them which they are passionate about achieving.

This drives and motivates them since they want to help others in some way or make a positive difference in the world (in their little way). I’m sure you’ve met people like that before.

They are the kinds of people who always seem to be doing something interesting or exciting and often are quite successful in whatever they do (partly because others more easily trust and get behind them).

How to Increase Intrinsic Motivation

Loving What You Do

While the exact recipe for what makes something intrinsically motivating is still being researched, one thing that researchers have noticed is that activities that are done because they’re interesting or fun tend to be inherently rewarding.

Learning New Skills

Another key aspect of intrinsic motivation – if not its most important constituent – is learning why doing so in itself matters.

As soon as someone understands the value ( extrinsic or intrinsic ) of an activity, then they’ll be much more motivated to engage with it and their persistence will generally follow accordingly.

Evaluate Your Motivations

It’s important to ask why you want something or what it is you’re hoping to achieve. Ask yourself if the extrinsic motivators used are really necessary for achieving them (if so, then there might be other ways of doing things).

Look beyond your immediate attitudes and personal preferences. You’ll often find that a lot of your actions come from outside influences, whether they be from societal expectations or even simple manipulations by others.

Be especially careful about those actions which seem like they don’t belong to you since this can sometimes suggest that someone else planted an idea as part of some greater strategy.

Chase Your Passion

It’s amazing how many people give up on something once they realize the work involved or just can’t get a handle on it (because of lack of understanding).

It’s always sad when this happens since there are so many rewarding things that can be experienced by simply spending more time learning about and engaging with what you love.

Make an Impact

A great way to increase your intrinsic motivation is to find ways in which you can indirectly help others.

Whether it’s through volunteering, creating art, writing blogs, or even just being a good friend, the more time you spend helping other people the more energy it will give you and make you feel alive.

Forget the Rewards

Sometimes the greatest rewards are in helping others get what they want: even if you don’t personally benefit at all.

By focusing more on the work or process that leads up to what you want rather than being preoccupied with your desire for a particular result, it will help you maintain a healthy perspective about things.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation – Differences and When to use Which one

The most important thing to understand about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is that they aren’t mutually exclusive. In other words, it’s perfectly possible (and even likely) for someone to be both motivated intrinsically as well as extrinsically at certain moments or in certain contexts.

It can be helpful to think of them along a continuum instead of all being different kinds of motivations: on one side you have internal sources and on the other, you have external ones. Different people will lean towards one end or another depending on what makes sense given their circumstances.

It’s reasonable to want something like more money in exchange for doing something difficult, so it doesn’t make much sense to assume that everyone who takes a job for more than just survival reasons has purely intrinsic motivation.

Some examples of things that can be either intrinsically or extrinsically motivating:

Setting and pursuing goals

It’s possible to have one without the other, but the easiest way to get yourself started is by finding a goal worth working towards; 

Working in teams

People can work well together even when they’re doing so out of personal interest, but being able to share your success with others also makes teamwork intrinsically rewarding. The same goes for positions where you’ll be depending on others: artists, musicians, teachers, coaches etc.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation – Differences and When to use Which one

Conversations with friends

Socializing is its reward for most people because it typically involves talking about shared interests (which are intrinsically motivating), but there can also be extrinsic benefits like finding better jobs, making more friends etc.


In some cases it can be more motivating to focus on understanding something instead of studying for specific test, but either way most people don’t enjoy schooling for its own sake;

Frequently Asked Questions About Intrinsic Motivation

Can Intrinsic Motivation be Taught?

According to research, two general approaches can be taken to increase intrinsic motivation:

1. Explicit: This approach involves directly communicating and interacting with people in ways that support their own self-determined needs and motivations for success . It is focused on making a clear connection between desired outcomes (improvement) and the skills needed to accomplish them (learning).

2. Implicit: As implied by its name, implicit learning occurs when we take in new information through practice and use it more or less automatically without being explicitly aware of how we learned what we learned.

Overall Conclusion Of Intrinsic Motivation

In general, we learned that intrinsic motivation is a person’s desire to do something undertaken for its own sake. It can be fueled by one’s enjoyment or other factors.

Extrinsic motivation is the opposite of this, where people are driven by external rewards such as money or grades.

Understanding what your intrinsic motivations are is the key to living a life that is full of passion while getting the right satisfaction from all you do.

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