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How to Develop Intrinsic Motivation Skills
for Life and Finances

See also: Personal Development Tips

Intrinsic motivation is a key component to success in any venture. Whether finding motivation as an employee or while working on personal projects, even your health, the ways you motivate yourself make or break the effort.

Motivation is a complex topic that covers many areas, and people approach it in all sorts of different ways. Our individual levels of motivation influence pretty much everything we do. There are, however, different types of motivation that drive us. One type is external motivation, in which we perform work in expectation of some external reward.

Intrinsic motivation is much more difficult to maintain. It’s the aspect of our personalities that affects how much we’re willing to work based on our own sense of accomplishment and dedication. It’s about how hard we work when there are no immediate rewards. As students, workers, and when we work on personal projects, intrinsic motivation becomes important if we don’t expect to see results or rewards for a long time.

Some people are able to maintain their motivation in this way and benefit from increased satisfaction when they work on the things that matter to them. Some people aren’t as able to motivate themselves without reward, and so they create external motivation factors in order to keep themselves on track. The two types of motivation are not mutually exclusive, and they’re not the only ways to get things done!


Motivation for Long-Term Goals

There are cases where an external reward is so far away that you need intrinsic motivation to keep going.

One of the biggest examples of this is in education. It’s not immediately rewarding to complete readings, write research papers, and attend lectures. The reward, completing a degree or a certification in order to advance your career, can feel so far off that it’s difficult to use it as an emotional tool to keep working. In such cases, students need to maintain a disciplined and balanced schedule that focuses on maintaining work over long periods of time, rather than focusing on rewards.

Weight loss and healthy living are other examples of long-term goals where the reward can be a long way away. A lot of work is required before people start to see progress, and people often hit plateaus or walls where progress stalls and they stop receiving results-based rewards.

Strategies for overcoming these obstacles and maintaining intrinsic motivation across a long period of time can include:

  1. Artificial external motivation: Rewarding yourself for adhering to a schedule or completing a task with a pleasurable activity or physical reward. If you aren’t the kind of person that can work purely for the mood boost, this is a good way of keeping yourself on task.

  2. Removing distractions: This is the more negatively focused side of external motivation, in that it focuses on the removal of things that hinder you rather than the addition of things you enjoy. It might involve turning off your phone or unplugging your modem for a certain amount of time per day to get work done without distractions.

  3. Finding your happy: Especially if your goals are personal, finding an aspect of what you’re doing that improves your mood and focusing on it is a great way to maintain motivation. This works especially well for physical exercise, which is known to have mood-boosting effects. Adding exercise into your routine may even make it easier to accomplish other goals if you focus on the quality of life benefits it gives you, rather than taking it extremely seriously. Remember that whatever you’re doing, for school, work, or personal development, you’re doing it for you.

  4. Create competition: Creating a competitive environment is one way to boost motivation. In some studies done using exercise, competition was noted to be a much more powerful motivating factor than cooperative social support. It doesn’t just apply to exercise, however. Comparing exam scores, productivity metrics at work, or progress in other ways could be powerful incentives for the more competitive among us to perform at our best.



The Skills You Need Guide to Personal Development

Further Reading from Skills You Need


The Skills You Need Guide to Personal Development

Learn how to set yourself effective personal goals and find the motivation you need to achieve them. This is the essence of personal development, a set of skills designed to help you reach your full potential, at work, in study and in your personal life.

Our eBook is ideal for anyone who wants to improve their skills and learning potential, and it is full of easy-to-follow, practical information.


Without Tangible Goals: Intrinsic Motivation and Financial Discipline

Sometimes the problem isn’t that our goals are far off and difficult to see. Sometimes we have trouble with motivation because there aren’t really tangible personal goals in sight.

This can happen easily when people become comfortable in their career and either don’t wish to advance or are not provided with opportunities to grow within a company. It can also happen to people who have attained personal goals which require work to maintain — for example, someone who has reached their goal weight or succeeded in quitting smoking.

This can also happen with goals that are so far off that they’re difficult to imagine, such as a person in their 20s who wants to start saving for retirement. Retirement age is so very far off that the tangible rewards are difficult to comprehend, and it’s easy to figure that you can make up for what you don’t save now later down the line. Motivation when it comes to financial discipline is a whole different animal because it requires a great deal of planning and a combination of discipline and awareness. Saving for a specific goal, like buying a computer or a car, is a lot easier because the tangible reward is closer at hand. Saving for when you’re 65 is much more difficult.

In many cases, saving money means actively working against external motivating factors, such as rewarding yourself for getting a lot of work done with a meal out. Removing the ability to create those rewarding moments for yourself can hurt you in other ways.

Everything is about balance, however. You can absolutely use money to give yourself tangible rewards in other areas while you maintain saving discipline. Remember that achievable goals are a huge part of maintaining motivation. If you feel overwhelmed, you’re unlikely to succeed. The more you practice intrinsic discipline, the less you’ll need to spend resources on your own personal development.

Financial intrinsic discipline has to come from a place of confidence and a feeling of safety. It’s a matter of knowing what you’re saving for, why you’re doing it, and reminding yourself why it’s important. Many people like to focus on material goals for saving: getting a boat, becoming a millionaire by a certain age, for example. More modest goals, however, can actually help you with that motivation: having money to leave to your loved ones, being able to live comfortably when you stop working, or paying for tuition fees when your kids grow up. Grounding your savings goals in peace, family, and stability grounds them in love, and that’s a good intrinsic motivator for anything.


Finding ways to propel yourself toward your goals based on your internal conviction of character is one of the most vital skills any person can have. There’s no catch-all answer to developing that skill; many people struggle with motivation, and that has a variety of causes.

Hopefully the strategies shared here are useful to you!


About the Author


Magnolia Potter is from the Pacific Northwest and writes from time to time. She prefers to cover a variety of topics and not just settle on one. When Magnolia’s not writing, you can find her outdoors or curled up with a good book. Chat with her on Twitter @MuggleMagnolia.

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