By Jeremy Hunter, Ph.D.
A friend of mine, Charlie, is the swim coach at the university where I work. The other day at lunch we got to talking about why he decided to go into coaching. It turns out that he originally was interested in law, but a summer internship at a firm changed his mind.
Talking with his hard-working co-workers revealed that many of them liked being lawyers because of the many perks – like a high salary, and the ability to get nice cars and take exotic vacations. Of course, there are plenty of lawyers who genuinely love what they do, but at this firm, rarely did anyone indicate they actually enjoyed practicing law. It seemed to Charlie that his colleagues were slogging through 48 weeks of the year to savor the four weeks of vacation.
Coaching, on the other hand, which Charlie was also doing on the side, brought daily rewards as he worked with young people to develop their best abilities. While it paid less, it was a great deal more satisfying and energizing to him on a deep level. In the end, although the external rewards of practicing law were tempting, the internal motivations of coaching proved much more convincing.
Ins and Outs
Charlie’s example highlights the differences between two types of motivation recognized by social scientists: extrinsic and intrinsic. When we do things because of an expectation of a reward, prize or social approval, or any other external reason, we are acting extrinsically.
Conversely, when something seems worth doing regardless of the potential outside rewards, we are acting intrinsically. Another way of thinking about intrinsic action is that the “reward” one gets is the feeling of enjoyment, satisfaction or contentment while you are acting. This “prize” doesn’t depend on what others think or offer you in return, but rather how your actions bring about a positive internal experience.
Next: How to channel intrinsic motivation