The Science of Motivation and the 7 Secrets Behind it: Unveiling Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation


Motivation is the driving force behind our actions, decisions, and aspirations. This unseen power propels us towards our goals, fuels our desire for achievement, and underpins our most ambitious dreams. In psychology, motivation is not merely a subject of interest but a pivotal concept that unravels the complexities of human behaviour. It sheds light on why we do what we do and how we can harness this understanding to better our lives.

The Differences

Two distinct yet interrelated types are central to our exploration of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation springs from within, driven by personal satisfaction, curiosity, or the joy of doing something. It is the motivation that moves us to pursue activities for their own sake, for the pleasure and fulfilment they directly bring us. In contrast, extrinsic motivation is fuelled by external rewards or the desire to avoid negative outcomes. This type of motivation drives us to act not for the enjoyment of the activity itself but for the benefits or recognition we receive from others.

Delving into the Psychology

The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation opens up a fascinating landscape of psychological inquiry and practical application. By delving into the science behind these forms of motivation, we uncover powerful secrets that have profound implications for enhancing our personal and professional lives. Understanding how these motivations work, how they can be nurtured or hindered, and how they interact with one another equips us with the knowledge to unlock our full potential. With this aim in mind, we embark on a journey through the science of motivation, unveiling the strategies and insights that can lead to a more motivated, fulfilled, and successful life.

1: The Essence of Motivation


Motivation is a complex psychological phenomenon that energises, guides and maintains behaviour towards achieving specific goals. The internal drive propels individuals to act, persist, and strive for success and personal fulfilment. The essence of motivation lies in its role as a fundamental ingredient in setting and attaining objectives, overcoming obstacles, and realising one’s potential. It influences our choices, directs our efforts, and shapes our persistence in facing challenges. Motivation is necessary for actions to become aimless, goals remain unachieved, and personal development stalls.


The study of motivation has long captivated psychologists, leading to diverse theories and extensive research to understand its mechanisms and effects. From the early drive theories, which posited that behaviour is motivated by the need to satisfy basic biological drives, to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which introduced a layered model of motivational priorities, the exploration of motivation has evolved considerably. Contemporary research focuses on intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence motivation, examining how thoughts, emotions, and social dynamics play a critical role in motivating behaviour. This body of research deepens our understanding of motivation and provides valuable insights into how it can be harnessed to improve learning, performance, and well-being.

2: Unravelling Intrinsic Motivation


Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separable consequence. When intrinsically motivated, individuals are moved to act for the fun or challenge rather than because of external prods, pressures, or rewards. The critical characteristics of intrinsic motivation include a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. These elements contribute to an individual’s enjoyment and engagement in tasks, fostering creativity, persistence, and a more profound learning experience.

What Motivates Us?

Examples of intrinsic motivation are abundant in everyday life. A musician who plays an instrument for the sheer joy of making music, a writer driven by the passion of storytelling, or a runner who finds peace and fulfilment in the rhythm of their steps are all driven by intrinsic motivation.

Self-Determination Theory

Several psychological theories have been proposed to explain intrinsic motivation, among which Self-Determination Theory (SDT) stands out. Developed by Deci and Ryan, SDT suggests that intrinsic motivation flourishes in environments that satisfy three basic human needs: autonomy (the need to feel in control of one’s actions), competence (the need to feel capable and compelling in one’s activities), and relatedness (the need to feel connected to others). According to SDT, when these needs are met, individuals are more likely to be intrinsically motivated, leading to higher engagement, satisfaction, and well-being.

Bottom Line

Intrinsic motivation is not just a personal asset but a powerful tool in educational, occupational, and social contexts. Understanding its underpinnings and how to foster it can improve how individuals approach tasks, overcome challenges, and achieve their fullest potential.

3: Exploring Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards or avoiding undesirable consequences rather than the inherent enjoyment or satisfaction derived from the activity. This type of motivation is characterised by pursuing an outcome separable from the activity. It plays a crucial role in many aspects of life, including education, work, and personal achievement, by providing clear goals and incentives for performance.


The forms of extrinsic motivation vary widely and include monetary rewards, grades, trophies, recognition, and praise. For example, an employee may work extra hours to receive a bonus, a student may study hard to earn high grades, and an athlete may train rigorously to win medals. These external rewards can significantly influence behaviour and effort, driving individuals to achieve their goals.

Operant Conditioning & Expectant Theory

Several psychological theories address extrinsic motivation, including Operant Conditioning and Expectancy Theory. Operant Conditioning, proposed by B.F. Skinner suggests that behaviour is shaped by its consequences; rewards can reinforce desired behaviours, while penalties can deter unwanted actions. On the other hand, expectancy theory posits that individuals are motivated to act in specific ways based on the expectation that their actions will lead to desired outcomes, factoring in the value of the reward and the likelihood of achieving it.

4: The Interplay between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation


The relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is complex and dynamic. While they are often viewed as distinct and separate forces, they can influence and interact with each other in various ways, impacting both performance and satisfaction.

The Dance Between the Two

In some cases, extrinsic rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation, a phenomenon known as the over-justification effect. This occurs when an individual who initially enjoys an activity for its own sake experiences a decrease in intrinsic motivation to perform that activity once an extrinsic reward is introduced. For instance, if a child who loves drawing begins to receive rewards for their artwork, they may start drawing solely for the rewards, potentially diminishing the initial joy and satisfaction derived from the activity.

The Partnership Between the Two

However, extrinsic motivation can also enhance intrinsic motivation under certain conditions, especially when the rewards are perceived as affirming competence and providing positive feedback rather than controlling behaviour. Properly aligned, extrinsic incentives can encourage individuals to engage in an activity, allowing them to discover intrinsic rewards such as personal growth, enjoyment, and a sense of accomplishment.

The Balance

Balancing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is crucial for achieving optimal outcomes. This balance involves creating environments that nurture intrinsic motivation by fulfilling psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness while strategically using extrinsic rewards to motivate and recognise achievements without undermining intrinsic interest. Understanding and leveraging this interplay in educational settings, work environments, and personal development can lead to enhanced motivation, better performance, and greater overall satisfaction.

5: The 7 Powerful Secrets Behind the Science of Motivation

5 The 7 Powerful Secrets Behind the Science of Motivation

The science of motivation reveals several key insights that can dramatically enhance our approach to personal and professional development. These secrets, grounded in psychological research, provide a roadmap for harnessing the power of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Secret 1: Autonomy’s Role in Fuelling Motivation

Autonomy, the sense of having control over one’s actions and decisions, is a critical driver of intrinsic motivation. When individuals feel they are the authors of their own lives, their motivation to engage in activities and pursue goals increases. Self-directed actions allow people to find personal relevance and joy in their tasks, enhancing engagement and satisfaction. Creating environments that support autonomy, such as offering choice and encouraging self-initiation, can bolster motivation significantly.

Secret 2: Mastery and the Pursuit of Excellence

The intrinsic motivation to improve and excel in a chosen domain is powerful. The journey towards mastery, characterised by the continuous effort to develop skills and overcome challenges, is inherently rewarding. Feedback plays a vital role in this process, providing insights into progress and areas for improvement. Encouraging a growth mindset, where challenges are seen as learning opportunities, fosters an enduring motivation for personal and professional development.

Secret 3: The Power of Purpose

Aligning one’s actions with personal values and a sense of larger purpose elevates motivation. When individuals understand how their efforts contribute to a more significant cause or align with their core values, their intrinsic motivation is amplified. This sense of purpose fuels persistence and resilience, driving individuals to pursue their goals with passion and determination.

Secret 4: The Influence of Social Connections

Humans are inherently social creatures, and our relationships and sense of belonging deeply influence our motivations. Social connections can provide extrinsic and intrinsic motivations, from the recognition and approval of others to the intrinsic satisfaction derived from contributing to a community. Cultivating positive relationships and fostering a supportive community can profoundly enhance motivation.

Secret 5: The Role of Rewards and Recognition

While extrinsic rewards can motivate, their impact is nuanced. Rewards perceived as controlling or undermining autonomy can demotivate, while those that acknowledge effort, celebrate progress, and provide positive feedback can enhance intrinsic motivation. Understanding how to use rewards effectively requires a delicate balance, ensuring that they support rather than supplant intrinsic motivation.

Secret 6: Setting Optimal Challenges

The balance between an individual’s skill level and task challenge is crucial for maintaining peak motivation. Tasks that are too easy can lead to boredom, while those that are too difficult can result in anxiety and frustration. Finding the “sweet spot” – challenges that stretch abilities without overwhelming – promotes engagement, learning, and the intrinsic joy of overcoming obstacles.

Secret 7: Feedback and Its Impact on Motivation

Constructive feedback is indispensable for enhancing motivation. It guides performance improvements and reinforces intrinsic motivation by highlighting progress and acknowledging effort. Effective feedback is specific, timely, and focused on behaviours rather than personal attributes, facilitating learning and growth.

By understanding and applying these seven secrets, individuals and organisations can tap into the robust science of motivation, creating environments where passion, persistence, and peak performance flourish.

6: Practical Applications

Practical Application

Understanding the science of motivation equips us with valuable insights that can be applied in various settings, from personal development to organisational management. Below are practical strategies and recommendations to enhance intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for individuals, organisations, educators, and leaders.

For Individuals: Enhancing Personal Motivation

  1. Set Personal Goals: Align your goals with your interests and values to enhance intrinsic motivation. Break larger goals into smaller, manageable tasks to create a sense of achievement and progress.
  2. Seek Autonomy: Pursue activities and projects that allow you to make choices and take charge of your actions. Autonomy enhances motivation and satisfaction with your pursuits.
  3. Embrace Challenges: Challenge yourself with tasks beyond your current skill level. Overcoming these challenges fosters a sense of mastery and competence, boosting intrinsic motivation.
  4. Cultivate a Growth Mindset: View challenges and failures as opportunities to learn and grow. Embrace feedback and use it constructively to improve.
  5. Find Your Purpose: Reflect on how your activities and goals connect to a larger purpose or contribute to the well-being of others. A sense of purpose can profoundly impact your motivation.

For Organisations, Educators, and Leaders: Fostering Motivation

  1. Promote Autonomy: Provide employees or students with choices in approaching their tasks. Autonomy-supportive environments lead to higher levels of intrinsic motivation and engagement.
  2. Encourage Mastery: Create a culture that values learning and development. Offer opportunities for skill advancement and set challenging yet attainable goals to motivate individuals towards mastery.
  3. Align Work with Values: Help individuals see how their work contributes to the organisation’s mission and societal values. A strong sense of purpose can ignite passion and motivation.
  4. Build a Supportive Community: Foster an environment of collaboration and support. Recognition and positive social interactions can enhance both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.
  5. Use Rewards Wisely: When using extrinsic rewards, ensure they are meaningful and align with intrinsic goals. Rewards should acknowledge effort, celebrate achievements, and provide constructive feedback, not undermine intrinsic motivation.
  6. Provide Constructive Feedback: Offer regular, specific feedback focused on the process and effort rather than outcomes alone. Feedback should guide improvement and acknowledge progress to reinforce intrinsic motivation.
  7. Model Motivation: Leaders and educators should exemplify motivated behaviour. Enthusiasm and commitment can inspire others to adopt a similar approach to their work and learning.

Implementing these strategies can lead to more motivated individuals and communities, fostering environments where people are driven to excel, innovate, and contribute to their fullest potential. By understanding and applying the principles of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, we can unlock the secret to sustained motivation and success.


The journey through the science of motivation, exploring the nuanced interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic factors, reveals profound insights into human behaviour and potential. Understanding the distinction and balance between intrinsic motivation, driven by internal desires for fulfilment and mastery, and extrinsic motivation, propelled by external rewards and recognition, is crucial for anyone seeking to enhance their personal and professional lives. This exploration uncovers how these motivational forces interact, influencing our actions, persistence, and overall satisfaction with life.

7 Secretes Takeaways

The seven powerful secrets unveiled—autonomy, mastery, purpose, social connections, rewards and recognition, optimal challenges, and feedback—serve as a guide to tapping into our most profound sources of motivation. By embracing these principles, individuals can foster a sense of ownership, continuous growth, and alignment with their core values and goals. Organisations, educators, and leaders equipped with these insights can create environments that drive performance and cultivate well-being and a sense of belonging among their members.

You are Called

Let this be a call to action: Apply the secrets unveiled in your daily endeavours, be it in personal aspirations or professional pursuits. Embrace the challenge of balancing intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to unlock your true potential and achieve greater fulfilment and success. The path to sustained motivation and accomplishment is within your grasp, guided by the powerful insights of psychological science.



  1. “Understanding the Science of Motivation” – Harvard University (Centre on the Development Child). Find it here.
  2. “The Behavioural Neuroscience of Motivation: An Overview of Concepts, Measures, and Translational Applications” by Eleanor H Simpson and Peter D Balsam. Find it here.
  3. “Motivation Science: Controversies and Insights” by Mimi Bong, Johnmarshall Reeve and Sung-il Kim. Find it here.
  4. Process Theories of Motivation” – Principles of Management: Chapter 14.3 – OpenStacks. Find it here.


  1. “Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behaviour” by Edward L. Deci and Richard M Ryan
  2. “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink
  3. “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck
  4. “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth
  5. “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  6. “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” by Charles
  7. “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg
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About Lungisa E Sonqishe:

I am a qualified Executive Coach focusing on Positive Mindset Strategies. I am also an accredited Client-Centred Hypnotherapist CHT and Parts Therapist CPTF, helping take clients to a new level of performance. I am a proud member of the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association®. 

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