With so many external factors contributing to your successes and failures, it’s hard to overstate the importance of utilizing every tool in your tool belt. You may not be able to control the traffic jam that causes you to be late to an interview, or an employer’s preference for a more seasoned applicant. But there is one factor to success that will always be in your control, and that’s motivation. More specifically, intrinsic motivation.

What is intrinsic motivation?

Our motivations in life can be broken down into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. This simply means that anything that motivates us must come from either an internal or external source. For example, if someone were to become a healthcare lawyer because of a desire to help others, they would be considered intrinsically motivated. However, if this same person were to become a healthcare lawyer solely for the fact that they are some of the highest-paid lawyers in the legal profession, they would be considered extrinsically motivated.  

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How to use intrinsic motivation:

Treat it as a starting point. It’s a lot simpler to reap the benefits of intrinsic motivation when the goals you set for yourself are shaped around it. Think about what already brings you a sense of personal gratification and go from there. Someone with a deep appreciation for nature will find success much easier working as a wildlife conservationist than a person with little or no interest in the topic. It’s certainly possible to be successful outside of these bounds, but letting your passions guide you will always give you an advantage.

Build a network. No matter what your intrinsic motivations are, rest assured there are others out there who share the same feelings. This provides a great opportunity to find likeminded individuals and build a community around a common interest. There are many networking sites online, such as LinkedIn and Reddit, where people go specifically to form these relationships. It’s easy to see how this would be beneficial in a business sense, but these communities are also great for casually bouncing ideas around and generally being a positive influence for those involved. Although much of the networking these days happens online, in-person community building offers an added personal touch that some might find appealing.

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Change up your perspective. When you feel like you’re living a life that doesn’t align with your inner calling, a change of perspective might be all that’s needed. Take for instance an aspiring comedian waiting tables at a diner. She may feel like her job is a far cry from being on stage entertaining a large audience, but this is an illusion that can easily be broken. If the intrinsic motivation that compels her to a career in comedy is bringing joy to others through laughter, then her line of work is surprisingly befitting. Waiting tables provides her with a revolving door of customers with whom she can endlessly practice her witty banter and jokes. This is just one example. The point is that even though the current work you’re doing may not seem fulfilling on the surface, it’ll seem more so if you can reframe it as a necessary step to get where you want to be.

Be open to compromise. In pursuit of structuring your work and home life around the things you’re passionate about, there will be some necessary aspects you’d prefer weren’t involved. While it’d be nice if even the most menial tasks in life could give us a sense of purpose, this is usually not the case. Instead of feeling discouraged by this, realize that negatively perceived aspects will be present regardless of the endeavor you choose. And as long as you’re intrinsically motivated, these compromises will seem much smaller than they actually are.

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Remind yourself regularly. Unfortunately, intrinsic motivation does not mean unwavering motivation. Everyone will have the inevitable off day when even getting out of bed can seem like a struggle. If ever you’re feeling tapped out, it’s important to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. This will prevent the personal satisfaction you get out of something from taking a back seat to feelings of stress or indifference. Even on a good day, a quick reminder to yourself can help things run a bit smoother.

Tapping into intrinsic motivation takes time

The process of learning where your sense of fulfillment comes from can involve some trial and error. Even after it has been established, it can take further effort to keep those thoughts at the forefront. The good news is that once you’re aware of your intrinsic motivations, things gradually become easier over time. By lifting the weight of meaninglessness and apathy, you allow the way forward to present itself.

DJ Jeffries EditorAuthor

DJ Jeffries is the founder and editor of

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