Internal Motivation Versus External Motivation: Which Is Best and Why?

Motivation pushes us to reach our goals and achieve accomplishments in life. Some individuals lack drive and ambition, while others seem unstoppable. When people are unmotivated, they often struggle to experience fulfillment and purpose. Knowing your intrinsic versus extrinsic motivators is essential. While we want to find a work-life balance in life and avoid burnout, finding ways to pursue what is important to us and discover ways to motivate ourselves is crucial.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Construction workers consulting a building plan on an I-pad.You may not have known that there are different types of motivation. The two subcategories of motivation include internal and external, as mentioned in this article’s title. There are benefits to both types, although there are arguments about each type of motivation on how one is better than the other. Psychologists have researched human motivation for years, and in psychology, internal and external motivation are referred to as intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Before we dive into the difference between these two categories, let’s explore components that impact our motivation, particularly in developmental years. Motivation is a complex subject with many influencing factors.

Related reading: "How to Use Internal and External Motivation to Catapult You to Your Goals."

Key Influencing Factors of Motivation

In-Born Temperament

Our temperament profoundly influences how we are motivated.

For instance, if a person has intense energy and high emotional intensity traits in their temperament, they may be far more driven than those with low energy and mild emotional intensity.

Or if someone has low adaption in their temperament, they may have a difficult time with setbacks, disappointments, and criticisms, whereas an easy-going person will quickly adjust and stay motivated. These are just a couple of ways temperament plays a role in motivation.

Man skateboarding at sunset motivated by intrinsic motivation and passion.Personal Interests

People’s specific interests and the level of that interest fuels them to explore topics or ideas and cultivate knowledge and skill in those areas. For example, those who are naturally artistic and love art may be compelled to be creative. Or those who love sports may pursue their interest and later turn it into a career, such as being a fitness trainer or football coach. We all have our unique list of passions that inspire us. Interests are enjoyable to do and engage with, internally motivating people to pursue their interests.


Interests make up part of who we are and influence one’s personality. Our tendencies and what we most enjoy and are comfortable doing also impact our motivations.

For example, if someone is outgoing and sociable, they will likely engage in interests that allow them to interact with people. Joining a club or being part of a sports team are activities one with a sociable personality might be inclined to act on. However, if a person is more private and introverted, they may lean toward computer science and programming or be passionate about writing, eventually becoming an author.

Childhood Experiences

And, of course, our early environment and childhood upbringing will also dramatically affect our motivation. A child shamed or harshly criticized might give up easily, be discouraged, and be unmotivated even to try. In contrast, a child who grows up with encouragement and patience may keep trying well beyond their skill level.

If parents are attentive to a child’s interests, the child is far more likely to be involved in activities that will foster abilities in those areas. As you can see, motivation is an in-depth study, and there are many influences on human behavior.

A team collaborating in a modern office.

Primary Kinds of Motivation: Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic

Now for the two primary categories: internal and external motivation (or intrinsic and extrinsic). Both internal and external motivation influence who we are and what we make a priority throughout our life.

Internal Motivation Explained

Internal motivation comes from within an individual based on the enjoyment of performing a certain activity. When we are motivated to do something for the experience, we are motivated internally. Being internally motivated can assist us in reaching success even though the intent of the activity isn’t to achieve a goal. 

Examples of Internal Motivation

  • learning how to play a song on a guitar or piano because 
    you love music
  • going for a walk because you enjoy staying active or
    for the pleasure of spending time in nature
  • studying a foreign language because you find it fascinating.

Benefits of Internal Motivation

Internal motivation creates many benefits because it is driven by a person’s inner compass and what is important to them. One benefit from this motivation is growing and developing as individuals, which usually stems from a growth mindset. Exploring interests is a wonderful way to develop a sense of identity.

A second benefit is having a sense of purpose for what you are doing. For example, you may volunteer because of your core values of kindness and helping your community.

Lastly, internal motivation reaps success from the time, effort, and passion put into interests and goals. Collectively, internal motivation is much more personal and individualized.

External Motivation Explained

One is motivated externally by a reward or to avoid a negative consequence. External motivation is invoked by our desire to get a positive response in exchange for the effort put into an activity or to prevent an unpleasant outcome.

Football player holding up a trophy with a triumphant shout surrounded by cheerleaders.

This type of motivation got its name because of the external forces that fuel this unique drive. Any surrounding force in life may push a person to become externally motivated.

Examples of External Motivation

  • practicing for a sports event to win a trophy or prevent
  • doing homework to please a parent or avoid failing in school
  • following parental rules to get approval or avoid being grounded.
This type of motivation can be seen as less personal because external forces interfere so heavily, often overriding the genuine intentions one may have instead. Commonly, children are signed up for sports they may not enjoy playing because a parent loves the sport. Children might feel pressure to excel at sports to avoid disappointment from parents or to gain respect from a coach or peers.

Conclusively, external motivation results from the influences and
pressures of our surroundings and the value we place on them.

Benefits of External Motivation

External motivation often comes with more concrete and tangible benefits than internal motivation. One of the first benefits of external motivation is rewards. These rewards include validation and appreciation from others, and physical prizes like status positions, money, or medals.

Another benefit of external motivation is learning to enjoy something you initially hesitated to engage in. Trying new things can be an anxious experience. We grow in skills and confidence when we persevere. For instance, even though we may be initially overwhelmed with a new job, we stick with it because we need the money (external reward), building confidence and rapport.

Another notable advantage of external motivation is feedback. We improve ourselves with meaningful feedback from those around us. Overall, external motivation helps people in several areas of life and is a huge motor of productivity.

It’s clear to see that both internal and external motivation can be beneficial so which one is better?

Dive Deeper: "How to Get Motivated: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation."

Which Motivation Is Better?

Both types of motivation are fundamental to everyday life. Internal and external motivation allow us to reach our goals and succeed, enjoying our time as much as possible. Depending on the scenario, one type of motivation may be more effective. Decide for yourself if one is more beneficial than the other. Utilizing both gives you maximum support to reach your goals.

If you'd like customized support to help you get motivated and
create a life you love, contact us at Heartmanity at 406-577-2100
or email

You can reach the writer Jenny Han at Boom Essays.

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Guest Blogger: Jenny HanGuest Blogger: Jenny Han
Writer Jenny Han works at BoomEssays and writes about mental health awareness. She has been fascinated with mental health since she was 17 years old. Her work has been featured on numerous websites. She also enjoys reading non-fiction about our brains and her hobbies include knitting and taking long walks with her dog. Jenny is a podcast junkie who listens to mental health podcasts whenever and wherever she goes.

Posted in Brain Fitness, Mindfulness and Perspective, Emotional Intelligence & Fitness

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