Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation…
So, it’s been over 2 years since my last blog, but you could say I’ve had a few distractions that have kept me busy in this sabbatical, namely finishing off my Psychology MSc and raising a young family, all between running my PT business. Timing has never been a strength of mine, so I guess lesson learned (I doubt). Despite this, the knowledge and reward of what I can bring to the table in enhancing PT from just training alone has been invaluable!
I embarked on my Psychology MSc to understand better, what I encountered on a daily basis with my clients. I always had a feeling that it was never really the physical training that dominated the success or failure rate of any one client’s journey, but rather their attitude towards it. In the early days however, this was all I entertained and (in my ignorance and naivety) failed to realise that training alone could never be enough to deliver anything performance and health based if the mindset wasn’t configured to the task at hand. If things were really that simple, we could rid the world of obesity through the great mantra of “monkey see, monkey do” and everyone could live happily ever after, right? Just train, eat the right food and you’ll lose weight. Hell, why stop there, let’s get rid of depression by saying, “be happy, it’s easy, just be positive about everything, even your stage 4 cancer”. You only have to look as far as Social Media to see this type of idealistic and unrealistic message broadcast daily, served up with generous helpings of “shortcuts” or “hacks” in training methods and diets, coupled with the visual aid that reflects the “ideal” body (usually of the person selling their product and usually minus a broccoli). So why after years of trying, can’t everyone eat like Joe Wicks, be “Hench” like Ronnie Coleman or “super CrossFit” like Rich Froning? Why am I not a billionaire or at least a millionaire like the people I read about in Forbes magazine? Why does it not come as easy to me? It is simply because short cuts don’t exist, training is hard, so is dieting and so is becoming wealthy.
The truth is, physical health, mental wellbeing and financial success go hand in hand and so much deeper than the physical. I use business and finance as the psychological comparisons to individual well-being because within the field they are very similar, Healthy Body = Healthy Mind and Healthy Minds = Healthy Business. For some, this comes easy but for most, it is hard to replicate. This is not to say you cannot get the same results as others have done before you, but it is simply not as straightforward as “monkey see, monkey do”. Instead, it is the inner workings of the mind and psyche accompanying every action or task we undertake that determines long-term success. This, amongst other significant factors such as what happened in our lives prior to our decision to make a change, reasons for change, childhood development, trauma encountered, and last but by no means least, parenting styles/role models. Research suggests success in the workplace is determined by 5 key personality traits. These according to the Five Factor Model are; neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience and extraversion. Intelligence and natural ability will always be crucial, but in addition, we have to explore the reasons behind why we do what we do and reveal the true motivation behind the desired and actionable behaviour. After all, you may have the most natural ability of everyone, but if that mindset isn’t right, it counts for nothing except anecdotes of how you once could have been or done something.
Queue Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. In Health Psychology this is one of the driving forces behind sustained, positive health behaviours and the termination of old negative ones. Without getting too deep on the facilitation of it, Ryan & Deci (2001, p. 56 & 60) posit that “Intrinsic motivation is defined as the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfactions rather than for some separable consequence”, whereas Extrinsic Motivation “is a construct that pertains whenever an activity is done in order to attain some separable outcome.” In other words, if the motivation comes from within, and is not influenced by external factors, this change in behaviour will likely sustain. And it is for this reason that so many people fail to train or “diet” consistently because the motivating force behind such changes are extrinsically located e.g. “I want to train to look like her/him”, “My family/wife says I should get a PT”. This is where we find the terms “relapse” or “rebound” explaining when a new behaviour falls back to the negative, original baseline behaviour. Other examples of Extrinsic motivation could be, “I want to be rich so I can buy fast cars/go hunting/salmon fishing/buy expensive jewellery/travel first class all the time/my happiness”. This is not to say extrinsic motivation can be totally negative, it can sometimes provide short term solutions, but in the end, nothing compares to the creativity and drive that intrinsic motivation feeds.
Examples I commonly encounter are the bored housewives wanting a trainer to compete with the other mums in their children’s private school, the parents who bring along kids to my sessions and expect results when I see them once a month and use my services like a creche or the businessman who uses a PT as a tool by which they can flaunt their wealth. On a more affective note, the client who, when experiencing stress, comfort eats, or the unfortunate client who is recently widowed but feels training is what they should be doing. All use my services as a tool to which they believe they should or have to, rather than using my services because they have an innate desire from within to make meaningful change. For this reason, most go home, don’t listen, drink too much, eat too much or quit after 10 sessions citing difficulty in sticking to a diet or training because of “work commitments”. It isn’t any of these, it is when the realisation of how hard behavioural change is really sets in. This reinforces the point of meaning and purpose to what we do because then and only then do the motivating forces behind such behaviour endure the hardships this journey can often bring. Just ask Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor, psychologist, writer and founder of Logotherapy. Logo = Meaning. Intrinsic motivation provides the drive and Self Efficacy provides the ability to endure no matter what setbacks you encounter on the journey to reach your end goal.
But how do we change? Well, the answer is not easy, it often comes to you or you have to endure some form of soul changing revelation, scare or hardship to bring you back around intrinsically. The threat of Type 2 diabetes is usually a good one, lower back pain, depression alleviation or not seeing your children grow up. As from a business point of view, well if you want to be successful to just make loads of money and retire at 55, show how smart you are or keep up with the Jones’, chances are your organisation will eventually suffer the same demise as you. You may even “make it” and achieve everything you set out to. But at what cost? You wouldn’t have to look far to see the devastation you left behind in “trying” to become the next Richard Branson, especially (and most likely) if you are a total narcissist. Perhaps losing everything you love around you might change this? These sentiments are echoed by disgraced Hedge Fund Billionaire Florian Homm in the documentary “Generation Wealth” who now lives in self-imposed exile in Germany with nothing but a little flat to show for his spoils. Or you may come to the realisation, as Arthur Miller’s character “Biff” said in the Pulitzer prize winning play, Death of a Salesman, “I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been”. With this in mind, maybe you should just ask the simple but honest question, “Why I am I doing this?”
You may be happy just plodding along and complaining about how nothing actually changes for you despite your “best efforts”, or maybe, just maybe you can take ownership of something, realise how much it means to you and pursue it fervently with intrinsic desire. You’ll probably find this will help much more in the long run, especially when you’re not lying to yourself or others about why you are doing it!
Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American psychologist, 37(2), 122.
Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning. Simon and Schuster.
Furnham, A. (2008). Personality and Intelligence at Work: Exploring and Explaining Individual Differences at Work: Taylor & Francis.
Maltby, J., Day, L., & Macaskill, A. (2013). Personality, Individual Differences and Intelligence: Pearson Education Limited
Ogden, J. (2012). Health Psychology: A Textbook: A textbook. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 54-67.