It All Comes Down to Intrinsic Motivation

Updated on September 6, 2017
Filip Stojkovski profile image

I'm a computer programmer and game developer who is also deeply curious about the arts, philosophy, health, and psychology.

The Struggle to Find Motivation

From time to time, we all struggle to find motivation for the things we want to do. Some of us struggle more than others. It's true that motivation is the driving force behind every action, but where do we go wrong when we try to summon up the motivation we need to accomplish what we want? Are there techniques out there that can be helpful? Let's quickly take a look at few ideas that may change the way you look at motivation.

Motivation Is Another Word for Wish

One way of thinking about motivation is that it answers the question "why?" Or, in other words, it can be expressed in a phrase like "He had strong reasons to succeed." Or "She had to complete the project, because... (motivation)".

We could also consider motivation as a form of energy. It is the driving force behind actions, but this idea in itself is insufficient. It's intuitively like this, but more motivation, in reality, doesn't necessarily translate into more energy and consequently more results. So, try to think about the process of creating or achieving a goal. It starts with motivation. You want to achieve it, but what's next? You need energy and resources to do it. You may need certain knowledge or help from other people.

A Simple Workflow Model

The old model of thinking is:

  1. Motivation
  2. Action
  3. Results

Seems simple, and in some cases, it seems to work like this when all the steps happen so fast, that it's almost one simultaneous movement. For example, you are walking down the street and suddenly you notice a puddle of water and at that very second, you jump over it. The motivation was "you got scared of getting wet," the action was the jump, and staying dry was the result. Great! But when working on more complex tasks or projects, let's say, studying, staying healthy, going to the gym, making some changes in your home or office, all that takes more time and all the steps are not simultaneous.

Refining The Model

So far, we have looked at the phases of achieving a goal, but we had a very rough definition. Let's get more realistic by introducing extra steps. One you have a wish, that is motivation right there "I want." That is enough to define some goals, but it's far from getting the results for bigger projects. Think about it, many people "want" to be rich and famous, but in reality, few get there. This is not because they don't wish hard enough. What can be considered a real motivation is a determination to experience the difficulties and reach the end goals regardless of discomfort. In the real world, wanting is not enough, it can even become a source of frustration and suffering if the following steps are ignored. Now, let's make a revised list and add some questions that can be used to inspect your project. Remember, being honest with yourself is the best thing you can do to improve your effectiveness. Admitting mistakes can make you feel uncomfortable at the moment, but it will get you tons of improvement and benefits in the future.

Revised Cycle: Motivation, Strategy, Energy, Action, Results, Evaluation

Here is a quick checklist that can help you clear things up and move forward

  1. Motivation - The what and why of wanting.
  2. Strategy - Time to get real, and start making your dreams come true.
  3. Energy - Okay, you have the information and knowledge, but what about resources and requirements?
  4. Action - Start doing. You've completed all your homework, time to go out in the world and meet the challenges face to face.
  5. Results - Enjoy the results, or survive them if things go wrong, but make sure you don't forget the next step.
  6. Evaluation - After a project is completed, take at least some time to learn something from the experience. If you failed, maybe you can make few adjustments and try again.

As you can see, motivation is such a small part of success, most of the blockers and troubles come in different phases of working on a project, and yet, so much of our attention goes to "finding better motivation.

It All Comes Down to Intrinsic Motivation

Behaviour science has always been interested in motivation, and some concepts like intrinsic and extrinsic motivation have become very popular and slowly entered the pop culture. In short, this is internal and external motivation. Reward or punishment being the de facto ways that we get motivated as humans. Why do you do a certain activity can be motivated by external reasons, or it may be simply an activity that you enjoy. "Art because of Art" is a good example of intrinsic motivation. At a deeper level, we really want to be creative and successful and that is the most persistent kind of motivation. A month ago, you might have wished for a new car, but once you buy the car, after a while it becomes just a regular, everyday activity you do, driving to work, and you're not passionate anymore. But you'll still want to create, change and achieve new success. Going even further with this concepts, activities that are making us creative and pushing us to grow are addictive. The more you succeed, the more succeed you want. It has to do a lot with neurochemicals that the brain releases when we're learning and creating.

Summary - Get Addicted to Doing

As I have explained previously, much of human behavior at its core, comes from hormones and neurochemicals on a biological level, but you don't have to get too scientific about it. It's enough to know that people spend most of their time and energy on the things they are passionate about, in a way addictions drive behaviors, but not all addictions are bad. If you are addicted to kindness, creativity, and success, you are doing yourself and the world a great favor. Taking some reasonable level of control over your life is choosing how you manage your attention and energy. If you, initially make few easily achievable goals and take the time get addicted to them, you get addicted to success and your ambition will naturally grow. I'll use the gym as a quick example just to illustrate more clearly - if you choose too difficult exercise plan, you'll be failing and feeling bad, not many feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin will be produced in your body. But if you decide to do easier exercises at first, you will have a feeling of success and you will get addicted to doing them. After a while, your muscles get stronger and you'll be able to do more and even get measurable results.

And I will leave you with that - start small, get addicted to the new behavior and then keep pushing to more ambitious goals.


  1. Brown, L. V. (2007). Psychology of motivation. New York: Nova Science Publishers.
  2. Coon, D. & Mitterer, J. O. (2010). Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behavior with concept maps. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  3. Griggs, R. A. (2010). Psychology: A concise introduction. New York: Worth Publishers.
  4. Horn, T. S. (2008). Advances in sports psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  5. Malone, T. W. & Lepper, M. R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. In R. E. Snow & M. J. Farr (Eds.), Aptitude, learning, and instruction: III. Conative and affective process analysis. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  6. Myers, D. (2005). Exploring psychology, Sixth edition in modules. New York: Worth Publishers.


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