How to Motivate Yourself Intrinsically and Extrinsically

At Hardly, we’ve been thinking a lot about what drives behavior. What propels us into those productivity windows or makes us want to go above and beyond? Goals are great, but only if we have the motivation to achieve them. Motivation is about increasing your desire or reason for doing something, whereas willpower is about […]

At Hardly, we’ve been thinking a lot about what drives behavior. What propels us into those productivity windows or makes us want to go above and beyond? Goals are great, but only if we have the motivation to achieve them. Motivation is about increasing your desire or reason for doing something, whereas willpower is about having the self-control to force yourself to do something you don’t want to do. 


When I think of willpower, it is better used as a stop system. It helps you refrain from certain behaviors like eating too many sweets or letting distractions get you off track. Motivation is more about what makes you go. Below are some suggestions for how to motivate yourself intrinsically and extrinsically so that you have a variety of tools to pump yourself up when you need it most.

What is intrinsic motivation?

How to motivate yourself, Hardly

Defined by researchers Deci & Ryan, intrinsic motivation pertains to activities done for their own sake. In a sense, the reward or satisfaction lies in the act itself. You are typically intrinsically motivated when you are doing something you find inherently interesting or enjoyable. Simply put, you are motivated to do it because you genuinely want to even though there is no external reward like money or accolades. Research shows that being intrinsically motivated is energizing, nurtures wellbeing, and boosts our performance. But, not all of us work on passion projects, so how can this concept be translated?

It’s not what you’re doing, but how you are doing it

Figuring out how to motivate yourself is not about pretending you like what you are doing, but making the process enjoyable. Marketing toothpaste or managing your boss’s calendar might not be your cup of tea, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be satisfying. 


We recommend tapping into the power of choice and autonomy. Post-covid work has become a lot more flexible. Workers are able to design their lives with fewer limitations. Get excited about mundane tasks by relishing your ability to blast your favorite song or sit on the beach while doing it. Take that first call in the morning while hanging in downward dog or soaking in a foot mask while you reply to the last couple emails for the day.

Take pride in your work

How to motivate yourself, Hardly

We have all experienced that feeling of doing something to the best of our ability. When you turn in a piece of work that is truly reflective of your expertise it’s magic, you can’t help but smile! Try reminding yourself of this feeling before you start a task you know is going to be challenging and/or time consuming. Feeling competent and that your work is valuable will intrinsically motivate you. All you need to do is think of yourself as the handler. This task was especially assigned to you, because you are the only one for the job.

Bring passion in & keep progress in perspective

Learning how to motivate yourself intrinsically is easier when you know what you do like. Make a list of things you enjoy about your job as a whole and about the project you are currently working on. Even if it’s a small detail, it is a lifeline when you fall into a slump. 


Now that you’ve changed your mindset to zoom in on the aspects you enjoy, zoom out to understand how accomplishing this task will propel you forward. Look at the big picture to give the task context in your greater plan. Feeling like we are on track helps build confidence in the choices we’ve made and in our future which intrinsically keeps us motivated.

What is extrinsic motivation?

How to motivate yourself, Hardly

Extrinsic motivation is reward driven behavior. Ever hear of B.F. Skinner? Well, he’s the psychologist who is known as the “Father of Operant Conditioning”. Basically, he found humans either do things or don’t do things based on whether they are rewarded for their behavior or punished for it. Regarding work, external factors, such as money, praise, or not getting fired, extrinsically motivate us to do our job. But, how can you customize extrinsic rewards yourself that are effective?

Adopt an accountability buddy

I personally work best on a reward system. However, it is sometimes hard to have the discipline to deprive myself of the reward when I don’t accomplish what I said I would. After all, only I know I didn’t finish that powerpoint, and no one will call me out for still eating a cookie. 


A quick fix for this is to ask a friend or coworker to keep you accountable. In fact, make them part of the reward. Tell a coworker if you send them the proposal by noon, the two of you should go out for a lunch date. Or, schedule a movie night with a friend, but only if you get through at least half of your caseload. You wouldn’t want to disappoint them, would you?

Celebrate your wins

How to motivate yourself, Hardly

If you are struggling with how to motivate yourself during longer projects over longer periods of time, celebrate your accomplishments. Since the pandemic, we haven’t had office parties or popped champagne when we are selected for a bid. Not only are the celebrations fun to look forward to, but they fuel us for the next big project. 

Our advice is to not wait for your manager to celebrate your wins; plan a celebration yourself. Organize a happy hour with your team the day after a project is complete, and definitely go all out when you have risen to a challenge or gotten a promotion. I think you deserve that new gaming system!

Use them sparingly

One of the reasons extrinsic motivations can be ineffective is because the rewards are given too frequently. If you give yourself the reward often enough, it loses its allure. However, if you are strategic and determine a few rewards that you are really craving they can be highly effective. One of my rules is that the size of the reward must align with the difficulty of the task. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to equate a new pair or running shoes with one day of exercise. I would need to prove consistency and discipline over a month to justify such a reward. Think of it this way, you won’t want what you already have. 

Let us know if you prefer intrinsic or extrinsic motivation by commenting below. Also, check out our tips for effective goal setting so that you can put your new found motivation to work! 

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