How to Identify Intrinsic Motivation and Why It Matters

March 4, 2020
5 Min Read
Photo by

Quick what’s important to you? Money or internal satisfaction?

Depending on what you picked, your motives are either intrinsic or extrinsic. And if you don’t know what that means, don’t fret. While each method has a unique approach, they serve the same goal: reaching success.

What does intrinsic motivation look like?

Intrinsic motivation comes in various forms, but you know you’re intrinsically motivated with any given task if it genuinely brings you happiness. That feeling should not be hindered or influenced by money or tangible items.

Here’s what intrinsic motivation can look like at work, according to Don Peppers, a professor at Menlo College:

  • Having a sense of purpose in your job
  • Being autonomous, and able to make your own decisions
  • Feeling a challenge
  • Mastering some subject area or discipline
  • Camaraderie, and making social connections with others
  • Recognition and acclaim

Difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

It’s easy to mix up intrinsic and extrinsic motivation since they are opposite sides of a coin. We’ll help you distinguish the difference and give some real-life examples.

Intrinsic motivation: This behavior comes when you engage in activities that bring personal satisfaction.

Example: Cleaning your office space because you like to keep your area organized.

Extrinsic motivation: This behavior comes when you engage in activities that involve incentives like awards.

Example: Working hard on a project to get a promotion or bonus.

Why intrinsic motivation matters

A 2016 McKinsey survey found that professionals who were intrinsically motivated had 46% higher job satisfaction. Unlocking the power of this deep, internal motivation leads to personal fulfillment that will help achieve long-term goals or passion projects.

A 2016 McKinsey survey found that professionals who were intrinsically motivated had 46% higher job satisfaction.

However, we do acknowledge that both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation yield great results. Extrinsic incentives like recognition from work, bonuses, or raises can give professionals direct and instant results. This behavior carters to short-term goals.

Successful people you know who are intrinsically motivated

Finding internal motivation can be tricky to explore. But what helps sometimes, is hearing from your role models or successful people that are inspired from intrinsic motivation every day.

Kendrick Lamar finds intrinsic motivation to write music for children facing hardships (Courtesy of Highsnobiety)

Kendrick Lamar: With 29 Grammy nominations, 12 Grammy wins, 17.8 millions albums sold worldwide, and 2018 Pulitzer Prize recipient, you would think that music mogul Kendrick Lamar would be motivated to carry on his craft because of money and fame. False. In an interview with Forbes, Kendrick revealed he makes music for the children struggling through life.

"When I can say the music that I’m making can push these kids through — even if one fan at a time — I will continue to do it forever."

— Kendrick Lamar, rapper and songwriter

Nabela Noor: When Bangladeshi beauty activist and entrepreneur Nabela Noor saw that there wasn’t a seat at the table, she created her own table. As a plus-size woman, she felt a lack of representation in the world. Debuting her cover with Paper magazine, beauty mogul told her Instagram followers she "works every day to challenge beauty standards[,] to be more inclusive[,] and to reflect more women like me."

Tai Tran: From Apple to Samsung to being Forbes 30 under 30, our very own Matter member and head of marketing Tai Tran knows a thing or two about intrinsic motivation. His belief of “everyone deserving feedback” has enabled him to not only create impeccable content for Matter, but also his nonprofit.

"I’m looking forward to making this vision a reality – where not too far from now, freelancers, students, and all professionals will light up at the idea of receiving feedback from their teams and peers."

— Tai Tran, head of marketing at Matter

Here’s how we see it: There’s no option better than the other one, it’s about balance. For the projects that you find yourself effortlessly chasing, those are intrinsic motivated. And the ones that require a little more of a push are extrinsically motivated. We urge you to envision your long and short-term goals to see where intrinsic and extrinsic motivations fit.

Speaking of Tai and Matter, we love hearing from you! Don’t forget to share your thoughts, stories, or suggestions with us @MatterApp or reach out via email at dixita(at)

Make employee recognition & rewards fun with Matter!
Free To Try. Easy Setup. No Credit Card Required.
Awwards cat
Awwards cat paws
Awwards ball purple
Awwards ball blue
More in