If you look around at the gym, some people on the treadmill run happily, headphones in ears, looking like this is right where they want to be. Others plod along, constantly checking the screen to see if they have reached their desired time, distance or calories burned. People have a lot of different reasons for doing the same thing. Some come from intrinsic motivation, which is an inner reward from the experience of the activity itself. Others are extrinsically motivated, meaning they require something outside themselves to keep them on task.
Playing College Sports
Few people can honestly say they're entirely intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. A college student who plays a sport may be intrinsically motivated by the pleasurable physical feelings of putting down the books and moving around. But extrinsic factors can play a big part, such as keeping a scholarship, meeting new people, getting positive feedback from teammates or being more alluring to potential partners.
Intrinsic motivation is simple and pure. Extrinsic motivation is much more complex. A 100 percent intrinsically motivated runner runs because it feels good and probably won't feel the need to enter a race. Trophies, beating somebody across the finish line, bragging rights at the office and even beating your own previous best time are all extrinsic motivators.
It's hard to imagine a pure intrinsic motivation for losing weight. Perhaps a person craves a feeling of lightness. But most weight-loss motivators are extrinsic, says Tracie Rogers, a sport and exercise psychology specialist who wrote the adherence and motivation chapter of the American Council on Exercise's Personal Trainer Manual. These extrinsic motivators include attracting or keeping a partner, inciting envy from peers at a high school reunion and avoiding diabetes or other diseases associated with obesity.
Working a Stressful Job
Many people work stressful jobs, despite the toll it takes on their blood pressure, relationships and other aspects of their lives. Both high- and low-paying jobs can be extrinsically or intrinsically motivated. Somebody might work at a development agency for needy Third World children because it makes her feel good to make a difference, while another person might hold the same job because she thinks others will see her as a better person. A person might work in finance because of the satisfaction of working with numbers -- intrinsic motivation -- while a coworker needs the money to expand his Ferrari collection -- extrinsic motivation.
Choosing a Partner
Because a relationship takes two people, it can't be 100 percent intrinsic. But you could say a person who picks a partner based on how she feels when she's around him is more intrinsically motivated than someone who seeks a partner with a large house, bank account and influential friends. If one partner suddenly loses a fortune and the other partner immediately leaves, that, too, is a sign of extrinsic motivation.