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Curriculum Catch-Up

There are two major theories as to how to maintain motivation at any task including schoolwork. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivation comes from within, while extrinsic motivation arises from outside. When you’re intrinsically motivated, you engage in an activity solely because you enjoy it and get personal satisfaction from it. When you’re extrinsically motivated, you do something to gain an external reward. This can mean getting something in return, such as money, or maybe just avoiding getting into trouble. Both have valid components and it is likely that we all operate under both motivations at different times. In this article, I am going to take a closer look at how intrinsic motivation operates.

Intrinsic motivation is the act of doing something without any obvious external rewards. You do it because it’s enjoyable and interesting, rather than because of an outside incentive or pressure to do it, such as a reward or deadline. An example of intrinsic motivation would be reading a book because you enjoy reading and have an interest in the story or subject, rather than reading because you have to do an assessment on it. The most recognized theory of intrinsic motivation was first based on people’s needs and drives. Hunger and thirst are biological needs that we’re driven to pursue in order to live and be healthy. Just like these biological needs, people also have psychological needs that must be satisfied in order to develop and thrive. These include the need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Along with satisfying these underlying psychological needs, intrinsic motivation also involves seeking out and engaging in activities that we find challenging, interesting, and internally rewarding without the prospect of any external reward.

Some examples of intrinsic motivation are:

  • participating in a sport because it’s fun and you enjoy it rather than doing it to win an award

  • learning a new language because you like experiencing new things

  • cleaning because you enjoy a tidy space rather than doing it to avoid getting in trouble

  • volunteering because you feel content and fulfilled rather than needing it to meet a school requirement

  • going for a run because you find it relaxing or are trying to beat a personal record, not to win a race

  • taking on more responsibility because you enjoy being challenged and feeling accomplished, rather than to further your profile

Everyone is different and that includes what motivates us and our perspectives on rewards. Some people are more naturally intrinsically motivated by a task while others may view the same activity extrinsically. Understanding the factors that promote intrinsic motivation can help you see how it works and why it can be beneficial. These factors include:

  • Curiosity. Curiosity pushes us to explore and learn for the sole pleasure of learning and mastering.

  • Challenge. Being challenged helps us work at a continuously optimal level toward meaningful goals.

  • Control. This comes from our basic desire to control what happens and make decisions that affect the outcome.

  • Recognition. We have an innate need to be appreciated and for satisfaction when our efforts are recognized and appreciated by others.

  • Cooperation. Cooperating with others satisfies our need for belonging. We also feel personal satisfaction when we help others and work together to achieve a shared goal.

  • Competition. Competition poses a challenge and increases the importance we place on doing well.

The following are some things you can do to help you practice better intrinsic motivation:

  • Look for the fun in work and other activities or find ways to make tasks engaging for yourself.

  • Keep challenging yourself by setting attainable goals that focus on mastering a skill, not on external gains.

  • Participate in a competition and focus on the camaraderie and how well you perform instead of on winning.

  • Before starting a task, visualize a time that you felt proud and accomplished and focus on those feelings as you work to conquer the task.

There are things that parents can do to help foster intrinsic motivation in their daughters. Parents often use external rewards or pressure to try to get their children to perform certain tasks, such as doing homework or cleaning their room.

The following are ways that may help foster intrinsic motivation in your daughter.

  • Give them choices instead of making an activity a requirement. Having a say makes them more intrinsically motivated.

  • Encourage independent thinking by giving them space to work on a task alone and reporting back to you when they’re satisfied with the result.

  • Present opportunities for your child to feel successful by assigning a developmentally appropriate skill for them to fine-tune.

  • Encourage them to focus on the internal benefits of activities, such as how good it makes them feel instead of what they can get for doing it.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with extrinsic motivation, the benefits are more short term. Intrinsic motivation can be applied to all aspects of life and has been shown to be an effective way to improve long term performance. By changing the focus to the internal rewards of a task, such as satisfaction and enjoyment, you can better motivate yourself and others.

This report has been based upon the work of Adrienne Santos-Longhurst which was medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP.

Dr John Fry

Deputy Principal - Studies


Enrolling your daughter at Girls Grammar has never been easier. Contact us today to find out how. 

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