50 Intrinsic Motivation Examples

intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation definitions and examples

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation occurs when you do a task without any external incentives. Extrinsic motivation occurs when you’re offered a reward for doing the task (or a punishment if you don’t do it!).

For example, it occurs when you’re so passionate about sports that you go and play them even if you’re not keeping score to see who wins. It’s also present when people who learn for the sake of learning rather than to pass an exam.

Examples of factors that contribute to intrinsic motivation include the need for self-control, personal fulfillment, curiosity, and a desire to challenge yourself.

Examples of Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation differs from person to person because it’s usually based on the person’s objectives and desired outcomes.

Here are 15 different examples of intrinsic motivation:

1. Pleasure in a Sports Activity

Occasionally, you may find yourself doing something simply because it makes you happy. Sports are a fantastic example of this. You can engage in a sport, such as football, because it’s enjoyable rather than for the sake of winning.

What’s more, regular exercise increases endorphin levels in the brain. These hormones work with pain neurotransmitters to reduce pain perception. They also reduce pain and stress, as well as improve mood.

This release of endorphins is also known as a runner’s high. This is a momentary euphoric experience that’s very soothing to the runner. As a result, achieving a runner’s high can be a powerful intrinsic motivator because it brings joy.

2. Pursuit of Knowledge

The majority of the time, students go to class because they have to and they’ll only study because there’s an upcoming exam. Some people, however, are so interested in a particular subject that they are eager to learn just for the pleasure of it.

One example of the intrinsic pursuit of knowledge is studying a new language because you want to learn it, not because you have to for school or employment.

Pursuing knowledge is vital for many reasons. Generally, it expands your mind and drives you to new heights. It also encourages you to learn about new topics.

All of these rewards that you receive during the process are intrinsically motivating.

3. Volunteering for a Cause

We humans have a strong desire to find meaning in our lives. Volunteering may be a viable option to achieve this. We do get some internal satisfaction out of it, but there is no extrinsic ward like money or a certificate at the end.

A person may believe in a cause so passionately that they choose to fight for it, such as raising money for world hunger. This gives them a sense of purpose that means a lot more than money.

Your goals and aspirations become more evident when you have a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Not only that, but you can improve your ability to persevere in the face of adversity. That’s why it’s a powerful motivator.

While monetary prizes can be effective motivators at times, they’re mostly ineffective. Money, for example, is temporary and doesn’t last a long time. As a result, it may lead to a lack of motivation in the long run.

4. Testing Yourself

At some point, we tend to feel that we’ve reached our full potential. Hence, we may attempt to put ourselves through more complex tasks in order to progress.

For instance, joining an escape room isn’t about winning. It’s all about having a good time while solving problems and thinking critically.

Continuously testing yourself allows room for self-improvement. Self-improvement can help you better your abilities, your mental wellbeing, and your relationships. It also allows you to gain a broader view of things and improve your skills.

5. Reaching Fulfillment (Self-Actualization)

A life of fulfillment is one that is purposeful and satisfying. It can be hard to reach this and varies from person to person. The pursuit of fulfilment is an excellent source of intrinsic motivation.

You may consider becoming a school teacher because it’s a satisfying profession for you. It allows you to help children, which gives you a sense of satisfaction. Despite the low pay, you feel an intrinsic pull toward the job.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, the pursuit of self-actualization is the ultimate goal of humans. When we can pursue our own fulfillment, we will maximize our human potential and become the best versions of ourselves.

6. Constructing a Legacy

One of many people’s dreams is to leave a lasting legacy. Therefore, many people attempt to improve themselves so that they’ll be known in a positive light.

A chef doesn’t cook solely to satisfy their appetite or even to make money, for example. Instead, they may cook to enhance their skills and become a chef who will be remembered.

Recognition allows people to see their worth and potential in their community. It improves motivation by helping people understand themselves and their position in society.

While we may see this as internal motivation because it’s about an internal desire, it may also be seen as external motivation because an external force (social status) is driving action. Sometimes, there’s a bit of both internal and external motivation in our actions!

7. Increased Feeling of Self-Worth

Increasing self-worth and confidence is a powerful source of intrinsic drive. If you win at a sport, you’re likely to have a lot of self-assurance.

So, for example, you might run a marathon, not for the sake of winning a prize. Instead, you join because you believe that winning will boost your self-esteem.

When you have good self-esteem, you’ll feel safer and more confident. As a result, you’ll be more confident in your talents, and you’ll be more willing to take risks. Furthermore, you may feel less anxious and more capable of achieving your goals.

8. The Need to Be Productive

Taking on extra roles at work is an effective way to advance personally and professionally. Professionally, it will allow you to be see yourself as a dedicated worker on the job. Personally, it will give you the feeling of being productive.

As a result, you may take on new jobs because you want to feel productive rather than because you want to earn a promotion.

Productivity is crucial because it provides you with a sense of direction and purpose. Having a sense of purpose motivates you to work for your aspirations. That’ll increase your self-esteem when you achieve a goal.

When you’re working on many things at once, you learn to deal with distractions. Furthermore, you gain knowledge from your failures. All of the aforementioned reasons will help you grow and develop as a person.

9. The Thrill of the Competition

While competition can provide extrinsic incentives, it can also be for an intrinsic drive. The competition allows you to improve your performance since it satisfies your desire to win.

Even if there are no prizes, the thrill of the competition can get us excited to join the game. Instead of playing to earn money, you play because you enjoy the competition.

For example, you might even compete against yourself to see if you can reach your personal best. This self-competition is excellent for achieving personal growth and becoming the best you can be.

10. Working toward Self-Mastery

Self-mastery is the skill to take charge of one’s own life. It enables you to identify and comprehend your thoughts, patterns, and behaviors. It can develop in many ways, including through exercises.

Your self-mastery improves when you stick to a steady and consistent practice program. As a result, you may begin exercising not to lose weight but to improve your discipline.

You may encounter some roadblocks that’ll prevent you from achieving self-mastery. Doubt, worry, frustration, and a range of other negative emotions may obstruct your path to self-mastery.

However, you’ll achieve it if you remain focused and dedicated – use motivational questioning techniques to increase this focus and dedication. The closer you get to your goal, the more your intrinsic motivation will increase.

11. Passionate Pursuit of Hobbies

A hobby can turn into a passion. It’s an excellent source of internal motivation. Passion is the spark that motivates and encourages people to achieve certain goals.

For example, you may create art because you’re passionate about it rather than to earn money.

There are many advantages to being passionate about what you do. For starters, it’ll improve your quality of work, boosting your self-assurance and resilience.

Furthermore, passion will motivate you to keep learning and strive for proficiency. As a result, it might serve as a powerful intrinsic incentive to help you achieve your goals.

12. Feeding the Curiosity

Curiosity drives an intrinsic urge to discover new things. As a result, when a student is interested in a subject, they’re more likely to master it.

For example, a student learning about history out of curiosity rather than getting good grades may pay more attention than usual.

Curiosity is also a driving force behind the pursuit of knowledge. It increases our motivation to learn by making our brains more open to education. As a result, both elements are helpful together as they provide you with opportunities to learn new things and grow.

13. Being in the Company of Like-Minded People

People who share similar views can make you feel safe. This has the potential to bring you happiness.

Being with others who share your interests enables you to be genuine. You are free to enter the place without fear of criticism. As a result, it can be a good source of intrinsic motivation. You want to be around those people because it makes you feel good inside, not because they give you a prize for hanging out with them!

For instance, you prefer to spend time with friends rather than others because you share the same values.

14. Flow States

A flow state occurs when you find yourself doing a difficult task with ease. It fills us with internal enjoyment and we lose track of time.

For example, when I was young, I would get into a flow state playing video games. I would play the games for hours on end out of the pure enjoyment of being in that state where I knew I was on the top of my game.

Often, we’ll go into a flow state and not be striving toward a specific goal. Rather, we’re just enjoying being in the moment and being in the flow of the work.

15. Personal Agency

Human agency refers to the freedom to make your own choices. Having freedom to make your own choices can give you a sense of intrinsic motivation.

For example, if you were forced by your parents to go to medical school, then your motivation may be shallow and you may require extrinsic rewards to help you stay motivated.

By contrast, if you were to choose to go to college and study what you wanted (say, you want to be an engineer), then you’ll likely have this internal desire to prove yourself and achieve personal growth. Simply having the personal choice to pursue what you want can impact your psychology and make you feel like you’re in control of your own destiny.

Additional Examples

  • Creative Expression
  • Spiritual Growth or Exploration
  • Discovering New Cultures or Languages
  • Seeking Novel Experiences
  • Overcoming Challenges or Adversities
  • Cultivating Inner Peace or Mindfulness
  • Exploration of One’s Own Limits
  • Setting and Achieving Personal Goals
  • Cultivating Positive Relationships
  • Learning New Skills Just for the Joy of It
  • Satisfaction from Helping Others
  • Tackling New Puzzles or Problems
  • Seeking Authenticity and Truth
  • Nurturing Personal Health and Well-being
  • Building and Maintaining Harmony with Nature
  • Appreciating Art, Beauty, or Aesthetics
  • Sharing Knowledge or Teaching Others
  • Fostering Community or Belonging
  • Embarking on Self-Discovery Journeys
  • Seeking Sensory Pleasures (like enjoying a good meal or listening to music)
  • Building Resilience
  • Embracing Change and Growth
  • Understanding the Universe or the Bigger Picture
  • Pushing Physical Boundaries (e.g., endurance)
  • Emotional Self-Regulation
  • Reflecting and Introspecting
  • Seeking Silence or Solitude
  • Crafting or Making with One’s Own Hands
  • Exploring One’s Own Identity
  • Reading or Engaging in Stories for Pleasure
  • Playing Musical Instruments for Personal Joy
  • Seeking Out Nature and the Outdoors
  • Committing to Continuous Improvement
  • Nurturing Intimate Relationships and Deep Connections
  • Protecting and Advocating for Vulnerable Groups or Individuals

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is when you’re inspired to perform something because it’s inwardly fulfilling. To put it another way, the drive to partake in activity comes from internal stimuli rather than from external forces.

When a person is intrinsically driven, they act based on the enjoyment or challenge involved. They don’t do things because of external stimuli, demands, or tangible incentives.

Why Is Intrinsic Motivation Important?

Intrinsic motivation is important for a variety of reasons. One factor is that when we have internal motivation to accomplish something, we do it merely because we love it. As a result, a person is more likely to stay motivated for a long period.

Another reason for the importance of intrinsic motivation is that it’s linked with a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment. In life, it’s necessary to reach fulfillment. In fact, it’s at the very top of the hierarchy of needs by Maslow.

The key to having meaning and purpose in all you do is fulfillment. The need to find a purpose, create a change, and have a satisfying life is frequently at the root of your desires and goals.

As a result, intrinsic motivation may be more effective than extrinsic in guiding you to what you seek.

Examples of Factors that Promote Intrinsic Motivation

Because everyone is unique, the factors that motivate them vary. Therefore, multiple factors encourage intrinsic drive. Some of these factors are:

1. Curiosity

Humans are naturally inquisitive creatures. Curiosity trains your mind to be on the lookout for new thoughts.

When you’re curious about something, your mind awaits and expects fresh concepts. As a result, it has the potential to generate high intrinsic motivation.

2. Challenge

For some people, challenges may be an intrinsic motivation factor. What drives these people are goals that demand moderately difficult activities to achieve. Hence, they’ll feel rewarded when they succeed in overcoming the challenge.

3. Belonging

A sense of belonging is essential for joy and life satisfaction. It provides us with a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

The social bonds that come with a sense of belonging have many advantages. They aid in the management of stress and other behavioral problems.

4. Recognition

Everyone wants acknowledgement and appreciation for their work. As a result, recognition can be a powerful intrinsic drive. This may be more common in businesses and team sports.

5. Control

One factor that increases intrinsic motivation is the desire to control. Many people become intrinsically motivated when they have control over outcomes or make decisions that influence those outcomes.

6. Problem-Solving

In everyday life, persistence in problem-solving is essential. When people overcome obstacles, they become more adaptable. They learn to approach challenges from various angles and not give up on the first try.

Go Deeper: Problem-Solving Examples

Barriers to Achieving Intrinsic Motivation

While intrinsic motivation is great, it can be hard to come by. Here are some of the barriers you may face.

1. Overjustification Effect

One of the biggest limitations of intrinsic motivation is the overjustification effect. A person may already have intrinsic motivation to do a job. However, if someone gives us extrinsic motivation, suddenly our motivation disappears.

The reason this happens is that we’re no longer doing the task for the love of it. For example, someone who formerly loved writing but turned it into a full-time career may be now less enthusiastic about it.

If this is the case, you must re-establish your intrinsic motivation. Take a break and compile a list of what makes you joyful about this task or job.

2. There isn’t a Tangible Reward

Intrinsic motivation is difficult to quantify. Sometimes, people need to have a way to have a measurable reward in order to get motivated.

it’s hard to ascertain how much incentive a person will need. That could be an issue, particularly in organizations. This is due to different people demanding different methods.

Some people may require a sense of achievement. Others may want more challenging jobs to feel fulfilled. As a result, it may be difficult to apply and ineffectual in large enterprises.

3. Intrinsic Motivation Is Usually Not Enough

An intrinsic incentive isn’t always sufficient. People usually want to get compensated in a way that makes them feel secure.

The pleasure derived from completing a task isn’t an outcome of the task. Intrinsic motivation can aid someone in achieving a goal. However, it doesn’t assist them in determining what that outcome should be.

In most circumstances, it’s ideal to use both forms of motivation at the same time. The enhanced performance will occur when intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is more balanced.

For example, you may perform better if you run so that you can win awards while breaking your record.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation and Rewards

You may have noticed that sometimes it’s unclear if something is truly intrinsic or extrinsic in nature. Sometimes, an intrinsic motivator could also be seen as extrinsic (the perfect example of this is recognition: this is an external reward, but also a source of personal fulfillment).

To address this issue, behavioral psychologists Deci and Ryan came up with the self-determination theory. In this theory they look at motivation along a spectrum from extrinsic to intrinsic:

  • External Motivation: You do a task for a reward or punishment.
  • Introjected Motivation: You do a task because it boosts your ego.
  • Identified Motivation: You do a task because it makes you feel better.
  • Integrated Motivation: You do a task because you believe it’s right to do.
  • Intrinsic Motivation You do a task for the personal satisfaction of doing it.

Go Deeper: Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation


Intrinsic motivation is a sort of incentive that arises from within a person rather than from external influences. Curiosity, challenges, and recognition are all good examples.

Intrinsic motivation can be better in the long run because it resonates more with the person. It may, however, have some drawbacks.

The overjustification effect, in which internal drive is lost, may become a barrier. However, recognizing and balancing your own intrinsic and extrinsic incentives can be quite gratifying. That way, you’ll be able to happily achieve your goals.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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