Digital Strategy

7 Factors that Promote Intrinsic Motivation

August 2015
Che Stevenson

Are you feeling motivated today? Chances are you're reading this blog because you're feeling unmotivated to do whatever it is you are supposed to be doing today.

We are confronted by motivation every day, whether it's within ourself, our friends and family, our colleagues, or business partners and customers.

We are all human, and we all share the same driving force of motivation, or lack thereof. As Wikipedia puts it "Motivation is the driving force that causes the flux from desire to will in life. For example, hunger is a motivation that elicits a desire to eat."

The theory of 'Intrinsic Motivation' is one of the most powerful models for understanding what drives people. Too often when we want to motivate ourselves or others we focus on external (or 'Extrinsic') forces - rewards, punishment, pressure etc. But if you want to create strong, lasting motivation, you need to create an environment that fosters intrinsic motivation.

This illustration shows the seven factors that promote intrinsic motivation. For more information check out the Purdue University page on Intrinsic motivation, some of the more salient points are paraphrased below:


We are best motivated when we are working toward personally meaningful goals whose attainment requires activity at a continuously optimal (intermediate) level of difficulty.


Something in the physical environment attracts our attention or there is a discrepancy between present knowledge or skills and what these could be if we engaged in some activity.


We have a basic tendency to want to control what happens to us.


We use mental images of things and situations that are not actually present to stimulate our behavior.


We feel satisfaction by comparing our performance favorably to that of others.


We feel satisfaction by helping others achieve our goals.


We feel satisfaction when others recognize and appreciate our accomplishments.

It rings true, right? If you have have choice over what you do, it's somewhat challenging, you are doing it with others, and will get recognition for it, how motivated will you be? And that's just tapping into four of the seven motivators...

This concept is really driven home when you look at the gaming industry. The most successful modern computer games in the world contain every single one of these intrinsic motivators.

Late last year the much-anticipated Grand Theft Auto V made $1 billion in sales within three days of release – smashing no less than six Guinness World Records for sales of entertainment products and going on to make $2.14 billion by the end of the year. That is almost double the highest grossing film of the year, Iron man 3 (at $1.24 billion).

Grand Theft Auto V is a challenging game, with an unfolding storyline that lets you determine your own course of action in an open-ended fictional world. You compete online against your friends, or cooperate with them to gain achievements and beat difficult tasks, in the process earning the respect of your fellow gamers. When you look at it this way, you can see why games like this practically sell themselves and people become obsessed with playing them - often to the detriment of their real lives.

So next time you want to motivate yourself or those around you into action, think about how you can create an environment that fosters one or more of these powerful forces of intrinsic motivation.

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