External vs. Internal Motivation

I’ve been thinking the last week or two about what makes us do the things we do, and for me, much of it breaks down to external or internal motivation. Internal motivation comes when you personally decide to do something and then just go out and do it. External motivation comes when you’re forced to do something by any other means. This could be due to legal requirements, family pressure, societal norms, and things like that.

Typically, the only things I’m able to really motivate myself to do through internal motivation are the things I want to do anyway. I like watching television shows enough that there’s not really any need for me to find any external motivation to watch as much as I can. I love playing games, and so there’s no need for me to do anything extra to get that done, either.

Then there are the things we’re generally forced to do. Going to work each day. Obeying laws. Getting up each morning to take people to early morning seminary. These are things that, when left to our own devices each day, we might not be so quick to do. (Though ideally each of us wants to obey most laws and be dependable people at work.) But it’s okay, because society has a whole ton of externally motivating mechanisms to keep everyone doing these things. Paychecks really help. So do strict consequences for breaking the law.

Sometimes when I’m struggling to do something that I want to do in theory (though in practice I’m falling short), I come up with externally motivating factors and put them in place to get me to kick things into gear. I’ll tell people about a goal I have, and then I’ll report back regularly on it. I’ll throw in some monetary goals, or some kind of specific reward. But when you get down to it, all those things I put into place are really just variations of internal motivation as well, aren’t they? Because after all, they rely on me continuing to tell people about those goals and my failure to meet them. I have to decide to want to do it. I suppose you could arrange something where someone else is automatically informed about what you’re doing, and then they agree to impose consequences on their own, but that’s getting pretty convoluted.

So how do you go from being externally motivated to being internally motivated? Are there any tricks I’m missing? Because the only thing I can really think of is developing stronger will power. Just making a decision inside you to stick to a goal or make a change and have it be a lasting decision. Having your will power take the driver’s seat instead of your instincts. Conquering your id.

I suppose these are all basic philosophical questions people have been asking forever. So maybe it’s no wonder I still think about them, both in terms of how I can improve myself and how I can help my kids to improve.

So . . . do you have anything to add to the discussion? What methods have you found helpful?


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