What Motivates Me (and What Doesn’t)

Why can you spend hours on your personal projects but can’t make yourself do something you are “supposed to” do?

Turns out, that’s a totally normal part of being human! Behavioural psychology tells us that there are two main types of motivation: Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Motivation, and they each have powerful effects on what we want to do and whether or not we do it!

Intrinsic Motivation is motivation that comes from within. This happens when someone enjoys doing something for its own sake. An example of this may be reading books because you love getting lost in the stories or practicing football because you feel great when you play.

Extrinsic Motivation happens when something outside ourselves motivates us by offering a reward or threatening punishment. Sometimes people call this “the carrot and the stick.” An example of a “carrot” could be getting a promotion at work or receiving a high mark on an exam. An example of a “stick” may be getting a ticket for driving too fast or getting in trouble for not cleaning your bedroom!

Throughout this block you will have opportunities to explore how motivation works in your life, whether at school, at work, or in pursuing your individual passions. Understanding your motivations may help you unlock your personal goals and determine what success looks like for YOU.

Take A Deeper Dive!

Daniel Pink is a business and human behaviour expert who has written a book about motivation called “Drive.”

Do rewards and punishments work? These videos ask this question from two different angles: criminal justice and education!

 Dr. Ian Smith offers suggestions for combating the Overjustification Effect:


Learning on Your Own Terms

If you could choose ANYTHING to learn, what would it be? What’s holding you back from learning that thing?

You might consider whether repeated experiences of extrinsic motivation (carrots and sticks!) have left you feeling like you can’t learn on your own terms.

Challenge: What Type of Motivation is This?

“Carrot + Stick < Love” by opensourceway is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Our world is FULL of extrinsic motivators, and many people think they are the best way to motivate others. However, research has shown us that extrinsic motivators only help for activities that are short-term and simple. For everything else, intrinsic motivation is usually a much more powerful tool!

Think about the following scenarios. Do you feel they describe INTRINSIC or EXTRINSIC motivation?

1. Pablo stayed up late finishing his homework because he was afraid of failing his math test.

2. Madeline worked hard on Jerome’s birthday card because she wanted to be a good friend.

3. When Aki complained about washing the dishes, their mom threatened to take away video game privileges.

4. The manager at the grocery store offered an award for the cashier who sold the most gift cards. 

5. Grandpa told Jenny he would pay her $5 for every book she read over the summer. 

6. Femi hated doing the laundry, but loved fresh sheets! So he did them anyway.

7. Even though he had already finished his homework, Marcus kept going on his math problems because he wanted to get faster at solving them.

Can you think of a time when you acted based on intrinsic motivation? How did that feel?

Intrinsic Motivator: Purpose

One way to find intrinsic motivation is by connecting to a greater purpose. By finding a PURPOSE for what we are doing, our desire to keep going kicks in!

We don’t need someone to offer us a reward or a punishment to motivate us when we know what we are doing MATTERS.

The video above is about Marley Dias, a girl who found purpose in her quest to make stories about Black girls available to all children. Marley’s passion was her internal motivator. What do YOU care about?

Wherever you find your passions lie, you can find ways to connect that purpose to all the smaller steps you will need to take along the way to realize your visions.

Find Your Ikigai

The Japanese concept of ikigai can help us in connecting to an inner purpose. The video above shows one way to uncover your own ikigai.

Supplies needed:

  • Notebook or paper
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Coloured pencils or markers to decorate (optional)

Did you discover anything interesting about your ikigai?

It’s ok if you did not find one single purpose that brings all four sections together. Now that you have been thinking intentionally about what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs, you are closer to tapping into your purpose.

You might have noticed that the motivation which comes from your ikigai is a blend of intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.

Is it useful to combine the two types of motivation?

Do you think that pursuing something you love AND which can make money will lead to losing your passion?

Explore Further

Motivation in Gaming

Are you into gaming? In this video, you will see examples of how reward systems in video games can ruin the fun of the game AND how motivation can be harnessed to create games that people come back to again and again.

If you have an interest in developing your own games (either video games, card games, board games, or any other kind), have you considered how to find the ‘sweet spot’ for motivation? How can you make sure your players are deeply motivated by the game without killing their inner drive with too many rewards?

Do you know of any games which do this really well?

If you are interested in game design, you may want to try building your own game through a free app like Game Maker Studio 2.


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