The 3 Proven Benefits You Get From Intrinsic Motivation

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Intrinsic motivation is when you feel so passionate about something that you enjoy doing it just for the sake of it. The process is remarkably satisfying and exciting on its own, but it has many upsides as well.

Here are the top three scientifically proven benefits of intrinsic motivation:

  1. Increases your ability to stay consistent and persist through challenges
  2. Improves your happiness, which improves your achievement
  3. Lowers bad stresses

To have intrinsic motivation, there are three major components:

  • Autonomy, or the ability to choose for yourself
  • Mastery, which is having skill in an area
  • Purpose, meaning to attach a higher goal to your efforts

These are crucial to understand because they provide both the way to set intrinsic goals and get intrinsic motivation and the reason you should.

To learn more about these, check out my article on how to set intrinsic goals. If you want to understand better what intrinsic goals and intrinsic motivation are, head to this article.

Let’s get into it!

1. Improves Your Ability to Persist and Stay Consistent

Each of these benefits of intrinsic motivation is rooted in science. So let’s begin with the research. 

The first study we’ll look at appears a little bit funny at first glance. Researchers had participants solving Sudoku puzzles while playing a cat video in the corner of the screen. 

They measured the difference in performance and focus between those who naturally enjoyed Sudoku and those who didn’t. While both groups felt tired after the three-hour session, they discovered some major differences in the intrinsically motivated group. 

The intrinsically motivated individuals:

  • Invested more mental effort
  • Were less distracted
  • Performed better

In other words, when you are intrinsically motivated to do the task at hand, you’ll work harder through difficulty, focus better, and see improved results than if you’re extrinsically motivated.

Think about how it feels when you work on something you’re passionate about. You’re drawn to it and it’s a joy just do to the work regardless of the results. 

When roadblocks come or when you have a setback, you’re more likely to get up and keep going because you instinctively want to work on the goal. 

The more you spend time working on what you’re passionate about, the more skill you develop. 

This is the “mastery” ingredient from earlier. And the more you have that, the more you’ll want to continue to work on your goal because it will become even more intrinsically motivating.

I experienced the power of this just yesterday when I woke up to find that one of my articles had dropped in ranking and traffic. 

At first, I felt disappointed, but then I put the situation into perspective.

I remembered that I love doing this for the sake of it. I know that’s true because I have a day job and I don’t have to work on this website if I don’t want to. I’ve also been doing this for years, so I know I’ve got some level of mastery. And the more I do it the more I want to do it. 

After that temporary discouragement, I remembered how much I love doing this and got back to work. It’s still frustrating that I lost the ranking, but I’m just doing this because I like it.

Set intrinsically motivated goals, and you’ll unlock the power of persistence through difficulty. Here’s how.

2. Increases Happiness and Achievement

Our next bit of research looks at how intrinsic motivation benefits students. But we can apply these principles to every area of life and to every goal.

Unfortunately, these students didn’t get to play Sudoku while watching cat puzzles, though. They were simply given a questionnaire that measured their academic performance and levels of intrinsic motivation.

The results showed that generally, more internal motivation meant the students had better grades and were happier.

This means that if you have you’re more likely to have more fulfillment in life and accomplish more. It may sound simple, but usually, the way to improve your life is simple, not easy.

It makes sense if you think about it, too. What you’re good at you naturally get better at. 

If you’re good at biking, you want to do it without anybody telling you to. Setting a goal to bike for exercise will make you even better, which makes the goal even more intrinsically motivating. 

Find something you’re already happy doing and that you’re already good at and you’ve got the base for intrinsic motivation. 

With that, you’ll have added autonomy to the equation. The freedom to choose for yourself becomes both a way to set intrinsic goals and a benefit of intrinsic motivation.

I saw the power of this when I took calculus in college. Feeling a little nervous about a class that everybody said was hard, I signed up anyway because I liked math and wanted to go into engineering.

Fast forward a few weeks and I was absolutely loving it and crushing it in the class. I’d never done so well in any class before. I got 100% on one of the tests and an A in the class. 

I hadn’t ever enjoyed or done well in such a difficult thing as much as I did in that class. And it was all because I had intrinsic motivation.

3. Decreases The Wrong Kinds of Stress

Most people want less stress in their life. That’s not a bad thing, as long as you recognize that there are also healthy kinds of stress that you want to keep. 

Chronic stress hurts your immune system, increases aging, impairs your brain function, and more. But certain kinds of stress can improve performance and help you grow. 

Think of the times you’ve thought “This will be difficult but I can do it. That’s healthy stress.

Bad stress is when someone goes to medical school and feels overpowered by their workload. Which happens to be the testing ground for the last bit of research we’ll look at.

This study, like the last one, had students take a questionnaire. But these scientists measured med students’ levels of intrinsic motivation and stress. They found that:

“Students driven by intrinsic motivation had lower levels of stress than their colleagues and counterparts, whereas extrinsic motivation resulted in increased levels of stress.”

It seems obvious, but the students who were motivated by external factors like wealth or status had more stress. They felt more overwhelmed by med school than their peers who were doing it because they had a natural inclination toward medicine.

Think about a class that you hated, maybe it was history, like me. Or math, unlike me. You had very little motivation to work on it and it was likely a source of stress because you struggled with it.

You had low levels of autonomy, mastery, and purpose in that class. There was no why behind it. There was no future for you in it. So naturally, it was probably your lowest grade and your greatest worry for your GPA.

Consider my college calculus class. I didn’t have any of the bad kinds of stress because I was intrinsically motivated to do homework and learn. It was still difficult, but I grew from the stress rather than drowning in it.

As opposed to my chemistry class which was a major source of anxiety for me.

I’ve talked a lot about school but remember that this applies in other areas also. If you happen to be in school right now you can take advantage of this by focusing harder on the subjects you’re good at and just maintaining your grades in those you aren’t. 

Consider other areas like work or fitness though. Think about what kinds of projects or workouts you like best. What gets you into the flow state? You might not be able to avoid certain tasks or workouts and that’s okay.

But if you double down on what you’re good at you’ll unlock the power of intrinsic motivation. You’ll feel happier and have less stress. And you might even get a raise or hit a new weight loss goal!

Wrapping Up

In summary, here are the three main research-backed benefits of intrinsic motivation:

  • Improved ability to persist through difficulties
  • Higher levels of happiness and achievement
  • Lower levels of the bad kinds of stress

The way to take advantage of these is by setting intrinsic goals, which you can learn how to do here. Doing so will let you attain bigger goals than ever, and soon, you’ll be living life at the fullest.