Psychologists describe two types of motivation:
- INTERNAL MOTIVATION—when we do things for the love of the game, simply because it’s personally meaningful and reflects who we are.
- EXTERNAL MOTIVATION—when we do things in order to earn an award, for recognition or because it “looks good.”
So which one is better?
Studies show that people who act on intrinsic aspirations lead happier and healthier lives. Living life according to one’s values and internal motives prevents burn out, helps to keep setbacks in perspective and buffers against stress during periods of transition and change.
Of course there is a great deal of overlap between external and internal motivation. A best-selling author might be passionate about writing and also enjoy the fame and fortune that accompanies his success. Problems arise when external motivation eclipses internal motivation.
In our culture there is increasing emphasis on external motivation. I think we should ask ourselves what matters more—to be known widely by many or loved deeply by a few? To be known for one’s achievements or to be a good person who lives life according to one’s values?
When behaviour is driven primarily by success, we risk losing perspective and missing out on what truly matters. As author of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” describes:
…success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.