The Type of Motivation Matters More Than the Amount
The most frequently asked question I’ve gotten over the years: “how do you stay so motivated?”
First of all, I don’t. I’m human and struggle with motivation, too.
But the motivation I do have – it’s the good kind.
In a recent post, I went over our three basic psychological needs as defined by Self Determination Theory. Today, I will discuss the types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.
The Two Types of Motivation
Self determination theory defines motivation in two categories, intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic goals are based on psychological needs and are personally fulfilling or satisfying. These goals are aimed at outcomes we value deeply.
On the other hand, extrinsic goals are less fulfilling of our basic psychological needs and are often focused on others or conforming to social norms. These goals are aimed at instrumental outcomes and are somewhat separate from the behavior.
Our psychological needs help differentiate between:
The CONTENT of our goals (e.g., personal development, connection with others, fame & fortune, physical attractiveness)
And the REASONING for our goals (e.g., conform to everyone else, self-esteem boosting, to feel good and empowered)
Understanding the content and reasoning determines the type of motivation.
However, as with everything, there’s a gray area.
Extrinsic to intrinsic motivation is on a continuum.
The more self determined your goal is (i.e., a goal that you’ve set based on personally fulfilling factors), the more likely you are to be motivated to achieve that goal.
Note: extrinsic motivation isn’t inherently “bad” - some is more self-determined than others.
For example, if a goal is characterized by “extrinsic-identified” motivation, you’re motivated to do it because it aligns with your personal values. For example, when I set a goal to lose fat and look good for an upcoming trip to Hawaii, this was extrinsically-identified motivation because I personally value things like exercise and eating healthy (things required to achieve this goal) but the purpose of “looking good in Hawaii” is still extrinsic in nature
So, the goal is extrinsic, but the behaviors required to get there are still part of my personal values of exercise and healthy eating.
You could also have an “extrinsic-integrated” motivation which brings a behavior in harmony with other goals and values (your identity). An example of this would be the desire to make money.
The goal is extrinsic, but the behaviors to obtain this goal can be brought in harmony with your other goals and values by working a job that you’re passionate about.
Weight Loss and Motivation [RESEARCH]
Here’s a research example that dives into these different aspects of motivation and how it relates to weight loss (Teixiera et al. 2006).
Research Study Methods
Researchers had 136 people enrolled in a four-month weight loss program focused on increasing intrinsic motivation and autonomy with healthy eating and exercise.
After the four months, participants lost, on average, six pounds each.
But more importantly - they kept the weight off 16 months later!
Researchers suggest that the initial weight loss was due to the diet and a strong focus on it, but the maintenance of that weight loss is attributed to the intrinsic motivation that was developed during the study.
How to Stick to Your Health and Fitness Goals
Although the mentioned study focused on how great intrinsic motivation is, it’s important to remember that not all extrinsic motivation is “bad.”
Intrinsic motivation is definitely the best, but you aren’t doomed for failure if your motivation is extrinsic.
It’s difficult to take something that’s very extrinsic and make it intrinsic, but we can make extrinsic motivation more autonomous (which, based on self determining theory research, is the better route) through identification or integration.
It all comes down to wanting to do something rather than feeling like you have to do it.
If you’re struggling to cultivate “the best” kind of motivation and work on your mindset for success in your health and fitness goals … that’s exactly what we do best at, KJO Coaching! We have a team of passionate coaches who help people just like you reach their goals.
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Teixeira, P. J., Going, S. B., Houtkooper, L. B., Cussler, E. C., Metcalfe, L. L., Blew, R. M., ... & Lohman, T. G. (2006). Exercise motivation, eating, and body image variables as predictors of weight control. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38(1), 179-188.