Creating a Culture of Care: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivators

Creating a Culture of Care: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivators

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We are all driven by both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

Extrinsic (or external) motivators might be praise from others, like a title, salary, or bonus at work, grades if you’re in school, or even social status.  Intrinsic (or internal) motivators might include a sense of freedom, connection with others, or a sense of achievement.

One drawback of only working to achieve extrinsic motivators is the fulfillment or joy we receive once we achieve one of these motivators may be very brief. For example, if you think about letter grades in school, the first minute or two after receiving an “A” might feel fantastic. And maybe you even receive praise from others for your grade. But that joy quickly fades and you’re then again back on the hamster wheel working towards the next high grade.

Another drawback of extrinsic motivators is they don’t bring your own personal interests or passions into the equation. You are working to achieve a goal someone else has set for you (or if you’re lucky, set with you).

Extrinsic motivators also must keep increasing to have an impact. Going back to the school and letter grade analogy, once you receive good grades, that expectation is then set for that level of achievement or higher going forward. There’s less room for failure or mistakes to still receive that external validation.

Intrinsic motivators, on the other hand, come from within. It’s doing something because it brings you pleasure, joy, or a sense of satisfaction.

If you’ve ever participated in a daily steps challenge with a group or yourself, you might work all day towards getting your watch to beep or vibrate once hitting a magical number you set for yourself. You might experience a quick feeling of joy once achieved, but it probably only lasts about 30 seconds.

On the flipside, if your goal is to live a healthier lifestyle including taking a certain number of steps each day, the joy of that gift is far more meaningful. The positive impacts of a healthier lifestyle far outweigh the few seconds of joy from a watch beeping.

You may recall several years ago when McKayla Maroney, a USA Olympic gymnast, became a meme after winning the silver medal on the vault behind Romanian gymnast, Sandra Izbasa in the 2012 Summer Olympics. She was the favorite to win the gold and her face clearly showed her disappointment in falling short.

Was so much of her motivation placed on the extrinsic motivator of achieving the gold medal that she was disappointed in the silver? What would it have looked like if she was more intrinsically motivated to achieve? Could she have found more joy in the moment?

Intrinsic motivators propel us to do things for the love of something! They consider our personal wants, needs, and desires. They are far more impactful on our happiness over time.

This is one of the reasons why finding things you enjoy and feel driven to accomplish both in your career and in your personal life are so vital. If we are always working towards other people’s goals and other people’s dreams, we may never feel fulfilled or satisfied.

Identify what brings you joy. Set some goals directly related to those intrinsic motivators. Find someone to help you stay on track and accountable to reaching them. Don’t forget to take breaks and moments to enjoy the process and small successes along the way too.

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 Stevie Cromer is the Cultural and Enrichment Manager for LUNA Language Services. Stevie regularly provides engaging content to LUNA’s team to encourage a culture of care within our own LUNA family. For more suggestions and resources about how you might build a culture of care throughout your organization, please reach out to Stevie at