Motivation: Internal Versus External

It is difficult to be a human being. This difficulty stems in part from the myriad of needs that we are required to fulfill for ourselves in order to find happiness. Finding happiness is difficult in modern society due to the overwhelming push to find it in things outside ourselves. Simply, the general theme seems to be, “If or when I get something (i.e. the right job, relationship, car, house, money, etc.) I will be happy.” This type of thinking always results in a gap between ourselves and the goal of happiness; the carrot at the end of a string that we can’t quite reach. Once we get one thing, we will then need to seek out the next thing to keep the happiness fresh and alive. And so the cycle becomes or results in always looking for or trying to obtain happiness.

A more valuable way to approach our quest for happiness would be a perspective that values the process of creating moments of happiness, which allows for and gives value to “unhappiness.” In creating moments of happiness, versus trying to grab and hold on to it, there is room for the ebb and flow or up and down cycle that is a reality of life. In essence, the obstacles and benefits are given equal value. Essentially, the distinction that I am referring to is the difference between internal motivation and external motivation as the catalytic drive enabling us to do the things that we do.

The Nature of Motivation

Motivation is a set of internal and external influences that initiate various behaviors and dictate what those behaviors will look like, their direction, intensity and length. Any particular motivation results from various types of interaction between individual (internal) and environmental (external) characteristics that will ultimately spark the actions that people take. Individual characteristics consist of an individual’s personality traits, personal needs, perceptual makeup, and cognitive development (ways of thinking). External factors include things like rules, job requirements, social norms, government regulations and laws. Level’s of motivation can be measured in many ways: by comparing one’s actions to others’ actions, relating the level of action taken to expected outcomes (am I willing to take the amount of action necessary), confidence in one’s ability, consciously setting goals, the overall value that is placed on an expected outcome (is the prize valuable), and by the inherent determination levels of individuals.

My work as a Personal Development Consultant focuses on one key factor in achieving high levels of motivation. I begin by challenging individuals to engage in activities that they desire most versus what they think is possible. There is no magical formula here; it’s as simple as declaring what you would like to do. Naturally, if a client said that they wanted be a professional basketball player and they were 45 years old and had never played the game before I would discourage them in their quest. I am also not suggesting that individuals do whatever they want at the expense of others.

It should be noted that declaring what you want to do in life is not such an easy thing to do. It can be very difficult to think in such a free way because of all the social conditioning that we have been exposed to in the form of people (priests, parents, teachers, friends, technology, etc.) telling us what to do versus encouraging us to do what we love. We block ourselves by taking the notion of doing “what makes sense” too far. It takes some time to clear all of this conditioning, but once it is done and we have tapped into our actual interests the fun really begins. The bottom line is, if you are doing what you choose, it is far easier to be motivated each day.

Four Types of Motivation

1. Extrinsic Motivation: The willingness of an individual to act based on the potential rewards that can be achieved in exchange for that action. People with positive extrinsic motivation make their choices in order to receive formal rewards like salary, money, intimacy, respect, notoriety, etc. A negative example of extrinsically motivated people is when they take a particular action to avoid punishment like economic sanctions, physical or emotional damage, etc. This is an action based on fear and so will likely result in decreased motivation over long periods of time. In general, motivation without rewards will not succeed. Again, taking an action out of fear of losing something versus gaining something is what prevents an outlook of creating happiness.

2. Intrinsic Motivation: The willingness of an individual to act is based on the the potential satisfaction that they will experience in exchange for the action. The action is motivated by the experience of learning or pleasure that could occur from the specified task. Those with intrinsic motivation engage in actions that are personally rewarding and are curiosity satisfiers. A positive intrinsic motivational act is based on the need to have fun and create a sense of achievement. Negativity can also occur here, which results when a task is boring or does not have any interesting components. The byproduct of such negativity is less effort or decreased motivation to do the task.

3. Contributive Motivation: In this scenario, the willingness to act is based on the benefits that an individual thinks other people will experience. Contributing to a project, cause, or group due to a sense of altruism, moral norms, or reaffirming their beliefs is the motivating factor here. Conversely, people can take actions for others that could produce negative consequences that derive from a sense of envy or revenge.

4. Relational Motivation: In this scenario, the willingness of an individual to act stems from the expected impact that the behavior has on the relationship between him/her and the person that the action affects. External norms play a large part in this type of motivation, causing individuals to try and meet expected relationship norms. Examples include, impressing your boss, pleasing a loved one, fulfilling religious rituals, etc. The way to determine the positive or negative nature of this type of motivation is simple. It is positive if the relationship improves and negative if it deteriorates.

About Shawn Athanasios

A little bit about me. I received my BA from California State University, Northridge in Speech Communication and my MA in Culture and Communication from New York University (NYU). My Master’s degree was within the field of Interpersonal Communication and Conflict Management and my thesis topic was Meta-Cognition and Human Defensiveness. I wrote about the importance of individuals learning how to understand their defensiveness and negative thinking habits as a way to improve the overall cohesiveness within their human relationships. Curerently, I am an Adjunct Professor at SAE Institute, and my pasrt teaching experience includes several of the top Universities in the U.S. (NYU, LIM College, Pace University, Manhattan College & Georgia State University). My teaching experience includes the following courses: Interviewing Strategies, Intro to Human Communication and Culture, Interpersonal Communication, Small Group Communication, Principals and Theories of Communication, Public Speaking and Theories of Speech Communication I decided to create my own Coaching Business (JAAS Coaching) under the umbrella of Personal and Career Development for those looking to enhance their current profession, change careers, discover their deepest passions, communicate and manage conflict more effectively, achieve high levels of motivation, and find balance with their total self by offering a holistic approach to career and personal development. My eBook, "The Soul Search Before the Job Search," encompasses all of my work as a Personal and Executive Coach. My website/blog is www.JAAScoaching.comLinks to an external site. I have had many fulfilling experiences that include being raised in Laos, Ghana, India & Egypt by parents of the U.S. Foreign Service and Diplomatic community, teaching ESL in South Korea, serving as a Primary Counselor for kids out of Juvenile Hall, and mentoring grade school children through a Psychologist’s referred program. In addition, I am proud to have received a full scholarship for my Masters Degree at NYU, to have been the sole recipient of the Rosenberg scholarship and for graduating Magna Cum Laude upon completion of my graduate degree. I also presented two papers at the New York Speech Communication Association (NYSCA) conference while at Graduate School where I discussed the importance of taking full ownership of one’s shortcomings as essential to inducing change within oneself and one’s environment and how to be an effective interpersonal communicator. And finally, I was voted Faculty of The Year and Georgia State University after just one semester on the job! The article can be found on my website/blog. My volunteer work is reflected through participating in Buddhist Activities as a member of the Soka Gakkai International, the largest Buddhist lay organization in the world. Previously, I was the Young Men’s Division Leader for Houston District, I transcribed the World Tribune to audiotapes for the blind Buddhist members, I published an article in the Soka Gakkai’s Living Buddhism magazine and was a volunteer staff writer for the organization’s newspaper (The World Tribune). I continues to lead group discussions on Nichiren Buddhist Theory.
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