How To Figure Out Which Type Of Motivation Really Propels You To Be Your Best

There's no single path to success, and as any parent or teacher can tell you, no single, fool-proof way to motivate everyone. So, when you reach that point of adulthood where you're ready to invest in yourself and pursue self-development, you may not know how to best propel yourself forward.

Some individuals are like chunks of coal that turn into diamonds under pressure, flourishing in high-stress scenarios that force them to sink or swim. However, other people thrive in an environment of nurturing and gentle discovery where they can explore their goals and ambitions in their own time. And for each person, your own experiences and background will determine what qualifies as a high or low-stress situation (via TalkSpace).

Complicating the idea of motivation further, some people can tackle their to-do list simply by deciding they want to, while others must find ways to bribe, punish, or trick themselves into getting started. The key is understanding which approach is actually the most effective for you, personally. So, if you're ready to step up and start excelling in any area of your life, how can you tell what type of motivation you need? First, it helps to know whether you're pushed by a motivation that comes from within or without.

Intrinsic motivation

Are you a natural go-getter who is always taking classes, picking up hobbies, or following a faithful exercise regimen in your free time? Then you may be driven by something called intrinsic motivation.

At its core, intrinsic motivation is an internal ambition to do something just because you feel like it. "Intrinsic motivation refers to people's spontaneous tendencies to be curious and interested, to seek out challenges and to exercise and develop their skills and knowledge," states a 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, specifying that these behaviors take place even with no promise of an external reward.

Many forays into self-development are intrinsically motivated, from learning a new language to taking up yoga. Yes, you're rewarded with knowledge, a new skill, or better fitness, but these are all internal goals you set for yourself. No one is offering to pay you or shower you in praise for the effort.

If you find yourself often pursuing these kinds of goals, embracing intrinsic motivation in other aspects of your life may open doors to success. For example, if you're struggling to stay enthused at work, rewrite the narrative. Instead of "I'm doing this because I need a paycheck," tell yourself, "I'm learning so much at this job and acquiring experience for my future career." This may help you see responsibilities in a new light. Plus, these kinds of affirmations can have a positive impact on your mental health.

Extrinsic motivation

Say that you're a person that works hardest when it's for a specific reward, or for someone else's benefit. You do overtime to earn extra money, volunteer at a theater to score free tickets, or pull out all the stops to spoil your partner. But when it comes to taking care of yourself, you can never get a new project or good habit off the ground. This may be a sign that intrinsic motivation isn't enough, and you need to look outward for inspiration.

External factors that impact your drive are called extrinsic motivations. These can include obvious motivators like money and fame or more intangible rewards like affection, admiration, and prestige (via Healthline). On the flip side, you may also be extrinsically motivated by an urge to avoid consequences, such as a scolding or loss of job perks.

"Extrinsic motivation involves doing something because you want to earn a reward," clinical psychologist Monica Vermani, Psy.D., tells PopSugar. "When we are extrinsically motivated, our behavior is motivated by external factors pushing us to do something in hope of earning a benefit or avoiding a less-than-positive outcome."

If you find yourself struggling to self-motivate or enact those January resolutions year after year, you may require the extra kick of extrinsic motivation. Find ways to tie specific rewards to the behaviors you want to adopt, such as grabbing your favorite Starbucks drink when you finish a work project early or letting yourself sleep in if you've already run all your errands for the week. This will give your externally-motivated brain a stronger benefit to latch onto than the vague idea of doing something "because I should."