Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation: Which One Do You Have?

While studying for an exam, I came across the above terms and found them to be intriguing. People are driven to act based upon one of two stimuli: either to move toward a desire or to move away from a punishment and/or to achieve an award. From an exercise adherence perspective, here are the differences between the two:

Do you avoid the punishment/desire the reward?

Avoid punishment.gif

That's Extrinsic Motivation!

You are:

  • Motivated behavior is engaged to achieve a goal or costume
  • Exercises only to achieve an external award
  • Less likely to maintain exercise behavior because they "have to do it" rather then they "want to do it"

Or are you fueled by desire?


That's Intrinsic Motivation! 

You are:

  • Motivated behavior is engaged for the sense of enjoyment derived from the activity 
  • Truly loves to exercise
  • Possesses desire to achieve goals organically thus creating a better change to stay committed 

Studies show that achieving success via intrinsic motivation has more impact than anything else in raising one’s level of self-efficacy (a belief in one's ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task.)

 Think of extrinsic as short term motivation (losing weight for a wedding/ class reunion or finishing a 5k) and intrinsic as long term (I want to be able to play with my grandkids or wake up and feel energetic each day.) There is nothing wrong with a bit of extrinsic motivation mixed in with the intrinsic. For example, I just trained and completed my 9th marathon (extrinsic). I will, however, continue to run and build my cardio stamina because I love the sport of running (intrinsic).


(I can hear you saying: “Yeah, right! In a perfect world we would all love exercise! But that’s not happening with me!”) Fair enough.

do nothing.gif

Even big wig personal trainers don’t get up EVERYDAY and croon: “I love to exercise!”


There are several techniques you can do to help you achieve intrinsic nirvana:

  •  Mental imagery: Imagine yourself successful
  • Visualization: “Draw” or “Recall” a past event where you have seen your own success – how did you feel? Witness the value immediately before, during and after a workout – what will this achievement bring to your overall health and physical fitness?
  • Develop “self-talk” – develop catch phrases that will help you affirm your commitment. Examples would be: “I am powerful! I am healthy! I am able to enjoy time with my family and friends when I put in the work to help myself!"
Positive self talk.gif

So where do you fall? If you have a good suggestion for staying on track, let me know! We could all use a little push now and then!

Author’s Note: I would like to thank Ronnie Smith and Charles Glorioso for suggesting this topic without even saying a word!