Over the last week, I’ve spent hours researching intrinsic goals. While doing that I found that to fully understand intrinsic goals, you need to know what extrinsic goals are as well.
Extrinsic goals are goals that are set with a motivation to receive external rewards or outcomes. Examples include seeking wealth, status, possessions, and validation. Extrinsic goals often involve the pursuit of recognition, social standing, or material gain, but may not lead to long-term happiness or well-being.
Generally, it’s not a great idea to set extrinsic goals or have extrinsic motivation. There are some cases where this may be the right thing to do, but you’ve got to be careful. More on that in a moment.
For now, let’s get into a deeper understanding of extrinsic goals with some word math.
Word Math: What Are Extrinsic Goals?
Word math is a simple way to understand words and phrases better. Similar to a math equation, each word or phrase can be broken down and simplified with definitions and synonyms.
To do word math, all we do is define the words and then combine those to understand a phrase better. You can learn more about it here.
Starting with our definitions, all from Oxford Languages:
Extrinsic: not part of the essential nature of someone or something; coming or operating from outside.
- Synonyms: external, outside, foreign
- Origin: Latin word exeter or extrinsecus, which means outward
Goal: the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.
- Synonyms: objective, aim, end, intent, reason
- Origin: from the Middle English word gol which means boundary, or limit
Let’s also include motivation because extrinsic goals and extrinsic motivation are closely related:
Motivation: the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.
Synonyms: drive, ambition, initiative
Origin: From the Latin word “movere,” which means “to move.”
Now we can combine these and with a little rearranging we get:
Extrinsic goals & motivation = the object of a person’s ambition or effort or the reason someone has for acting or behaving in a particular way that is external, outside, or not part of their essential nature.
In other words, extrinsic goals happen when you act toward an end result that doesn’t come from within your natural inclinations and desires. It’s when you want something outside of your own enjoyment and the pleasure you get from working on your goals.
That makes sense, but let’s now go deeper with some real-life examples.
Examples of Extrinsic Goals
In this section, we’ll look at some basic examples, some from my experience, and how the phrase “extrinsic goals” is used in a sentence. Here are nine examples of extrinsic goals to get us started:
1. Setting a goal to gain wealth by trying to reach a certain amount of money earned in a year or month.
2. Wanting to be famous just so you can be recognized and admired by many people.
3. Pursuing greater ability to have control or influence over others.
4. Seeking social standing or a high reputation in a specific group or in society.
5. Working hard just to get a better job title or a promotion or raise.
6. Wanting to live in luxury and be able to buy expensive cars or fancy clothes to try to impress others. Also known as keeping up with the Joneses.
7. Playing sports only to win games and get awards.
8. Having goals that others want you to have so that you can get their praise and approval.
9. Posting a lot on social media and trying to get the perfect picture so you can get a lot of likes and followers.
In my own life, I’ve unfortunately set intrinsic goals at times. Luckily I’ve learned my lesson though and mostly set intrinsic goals only. But here are a few examples of my own extrinsic goals:
- I once set a goal to go to grad school because part of me thought it would be cool to say that I had a Master’s degree. It was a lot tougher than I had anticipated, especially because the goal was extrinsically motivated.
- At one point in my career, I decided to work for myself and tried to become someone I’m not so I could get more clients and earn more money.
- In High School, I took a weightlifting class not because I wanted to be healthy but because I wanted to look great and impress others with my physical strength.
Now to help us understand even better, here are some examples of the phrase “extrinsic goal(s)” used in a sentence:
1. Amber was driven by the extrinsic goal of getting validation through social media likes and comments.
2. John’s primary focus was on wealth and material possessions, as he pursued extrinsic goals rather than personal fulfillment.
3. The company’s culture emphasized intrinsic goals such as personal growth and teamwork, rather than solely focusing on extrinsic goals like financial success.
4. Sarah realized that her extrinsic goal of advancing her career by gaining a promotion had left her feeling unfulfilled, so she decided to shift her focus toward intrinsic goals instead.
5. The study looked at the impact of extrinsic goals on motivation.
A Quick Look at How to Avoid Extrinsic Goals (and When They’re a Good Idea)
Most of the time it’s a bad idea to have extrinsic goals. As we’ve seen from the examples, a lot of the time extrinsic goals focus on short-lived success and happiness rather than the long-term fulfillment that comes from setting goals that help you love life.
Here are three simple truths to remember when thinking about extrinsic goals:
- You should set mostly intrinsic goals to be happy.
- Try to recognize when you have extrinsic motivations toward a goal you’re considering pursuing.
- Utilize both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation with action steps and outcomes.
To set intrinsic goals, find your passions, set action steps and outcomes around those passions, and just begin.
As you go, you’ll find ways to make your goals even more intrinsic. By starting with intrinsically motivated action steps, you’ll naturally set outcomes that have the same intention.
I wrote all about how you can set your own intrinsic goals in this post.
For the second truth, recognize extrinsic motivations, you’ll need to ask yourself some questions throughout the goal-setting journey:
- Does someone else want me to have this goal and is that the reason I’m setting it?
- Am I doing this for money, fame, or some other external reason? Remember that money isn’t always a bad thing if you want it to help others and to free you to pursue more of your interests.
- Am I doing this because I genuinely enjoy it?
- If this isn’t a goal that I’ll enjoy, how can I include my values and passions in it?
For the last truth, you need action steps that are intrinsically motivated and then you can reach some extrinsically motivated outcomes. You might, for instance, set a goal to lose weight by hiking because you love hiking.
This is where extrinsic and intrinsic goals come together to form an even better goal than either can do on their own.
When you’re not wanting to work on it, you can remember your desired outcome and it’ll keep you going. And if it gets tough, the enjoyment you get from the action steps can also help you stay consistent.
Remember though that some days you’ll need discipline more than any form of motivation. By just pushing yourself to do your action steps and getting into it, you’ll find that enjoyment come back and you’ll be able to keep going.
Let’s Wrap This Up
- Extrinsic goals are goals that you set for the purpose of gaining something external rather than working on it because you love it.
- Examples of extrinsic goals include seeking fame, wealth, and approval from others.
- Setting extrinsic goals is generally not as fulfilling, but there are times when having outwardly motivated outcomes for your goals is helpful.