Intrinsic Motivation Vs Extrinsic Motivation for Runners
Why do we do things? What is it that affects our choices and decisions? What is it that drives our daily lives and makes us the person we are? Well psychologists have proposed different viewpoints with regard to motivation. Essentially they have come up with two main solutions. We either think internally (intrinsic) or externally (extrinsic). So let’s see what’s best from a runner’s perspective: intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation.
Before we can understand the functions that drive us and influence us as humans, we need to take a peek at the these two motivational factors and see what they’re all about.
Crazy running quotations aside, today’s motivational advice is more technical, but it’s still good to know why we do what we do and, most importantly, how we can tap into that knowledge as a runner and utilise it to make our distances increase while our times drop.
What is Intrinsic Motivation?
Intrinsic motivation involves everything that we do on our own accord. If we were left to our own devices and we decided to do various things like play a game of football, we would be doing them because it gives us pleasure. Essentially we get a kick out of them and like doing them for the sake of it rather than some reward like a payment, a prize or recognition from others (fame and fortune.)
Human beings are essentially pleasure seeking individuals so intrinsic motivation is something we naturally take to. If you think of it, on every level we do things that we like. We don’t get up on a morning and eat a breakfast that we don’t like, do we? No, of course not, we get up and eat stuff that we enjoy. We might not put much thought into such things, mainly because we do them autonomously, but they are still on a fundamental level powered by an intrinsic thought process and personal reward system.
Intrinsically Motivated Actions:
- Participating in a sport that you find enjoyable, such as running.
- Having a game of chess with your friend, again because you find it enjoyable.
- Going out for a meal because you are hungry and you like the banter afterwards.
What is Extrinsic Motivation?
Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is as it says on the tin, externally driven motivation. Regardless of whether we personally benefit from carrying out such tasks, we are still acting on an external motivation source such as money, a prize, a championship winner’s medal, etc.
In each scenario that I’m about to outline, the goal is to gain something or avoid something or both.
Extrinsic Motivation Goals:
- Get top grades at school (gain parental approval, but avoid shame from school friends).
- Go to work for a day (you do this for the money).
- Entering in a contest (to win a prize).
- Paying a bill (to avoid being punished).
We don’t necessarily act on extrinsic motivation because we find it pleasurable, sometimes we act on it to prevent us being involved in something unpleasant in our life.
Imagine if we didn’t pay our bills on time and the bailiffs were knocking at the door. Most people would find that embarrassing as well as discomforting.
Intrinsic Vs Extrinsic Motivation in the Real World
Like so many other things in life, nothing is ever straightforward and there are so many grey areas. You could argue that this is the case when it comes to motivation, specifically intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
If you see an advert with your favourite sports star wearing a brand new pair of Nike running shoes, then you are going to be initially acting extrinsically, because you want the trainers that they are wearing. Most adults aren’t going to pretend they’re a famous athlete, but some kids might pretend they’re Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo when they’re playing football. That’s what advertising does after all, it tries to hook us on our insecurities. Our looks both physically and from a fashion standpoint.
Once you’ve bought the trainers in the advert, you’re then transitioning from extrinsic motivation to a more intrinsic motivation. You keep on wearing them because they make you feel good. They look smart and they’re comfortable. The memory of the advert is long forgotten now as you keep on wearing them on a daily basis and when friends give you a compliment you get a buzz.
So the barriers between intrinsic and extrinsic aren’t as clear cut as what you might think. Not that it is something that you need to worry about.
Next we’ll see how we can benefit from this knowledge…
What Type of Motivation is Best – Intrinsic or Extrinsic?
We now know that the two main differences between the two is that intrinsic motivation stems from within ourselves, while extrinsic comes into our lives from outside sources.
Researches have studied the two closely and found that they do vary on how effective they are at driving behaviour and enticing us to take action.
There isn’t necessarily a clear cut winner with regard to which one is better for a runner or athlete. What matters is that you understand the difference between the two.
If we take extrinsic motivation as an example. Say you look up to a famous sports person and use them as inspiration and take all the good points from them. Then that is clearly a good thing and nobody is going to argue otherwise. If you start to feel insecure and talk yourself down, say that you feel diminished compared to a professional athlete then it clearly isn’t a good idea to compare yourself or judge yourself against one.
We’ve all heard about the grass isn’t always greener. Well it’s a bit like doing something that you love, like running without any pressure, but wishing you were a pro athlete getting paid for your running efforts. When you swap places and start to get paid then your love for running might not be the same and you wished that you were back as an amateur running for the love of it and not the money or power. You could say that the extrinsic rewards or inspiration didn’t quite match up to your lofty expectations and that the intrinsic motivations were much better.
I’d say that there isn’t a winner, but both methods are merely two different tools in your toolbox that you can use to your own advantage.
Staying Motivated for Running
It doesn’t matter about the fancy psychology, all you should be concerned about is that you are on the whole a positive person with a good mental approach to your running. We all have ups and downs, even if depression isn’t something that affects us, so you needn’t panic if everyday isn’t perfect. Nobody’s is, even if you’re super rich. Not that I’d know that one, but you get the picture! 🙂
Intrinsic Motivation Tips
- Feel empowered and believe in yourself.
- Have a tough mental approach to running.
- Work on your weaknesses until they become strengths.
- Use positive affirmations: I can, I will, Let’s do it.
- Listen and learn and expand your internal motivational skills.
Extrinsic Motivation Tips
- Look and learn from winners, sports stars and business leaders.
- Don’t compare yourself to people if it makes you feel insecure.
- Use external factors to your advantage. Be inspired by them.
- Aim high with your money, grades and personal recognition.
- Listen, learn and keep on improving your observational skills.
Improving Your Running With Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
Make time to take stock of your current situation. Evaluate your mental game plan and how you’re feeling right now. Take a few notes if you have to and jot down anything that might give you inspiration. Don’t take it too serious at first – this is your initial draft.
Once you’ve got a few things written down, then you can make a mind map and list the things that you think need improving against the others that you are happy with.
Are there any areas, for example, that you are weak on? Have you been struggling with certain parts of your running like hills or intervals? Give yourself a better chance of improving, even if you have to daydream to visualise yourself blitzing the hills and trails. Having a clear vision of where you are at with your running will ensure that you are in a prime position to, not only improve, but keep on making gains with your running. Bring the times down and increase the distances with your dogged determination that you’ve already got, but now you know how to dig it out that bit more.
Stay Motivated, Run Easy
It’s always good to remember that we’re all human beings at the end of the day, so with the correct mindset and preparation you can achieve anything you want relatively speaking. It’s not about being the fastest person in the world. Only one person can hold that title, but you can be the fastest grandma in London or the quickest 45-year-old in your area when it comes to running up your local mountain.
Running has countless things for us all to achieve…
Hopefully now that you’ve familiarised yourself with the workings of your mind, it’s just a case of putting your plan into action and reinforcing your mental game. There’s no need to be fearful, you have got the ability to go out their and smash your personal best or get a few medals on your living room cabinet. The choice is yours – go for it.
Five More Runner’s Reads
- Half Marathon Pace Chart
- 21 Inspirational Running Quotes to Turbo Charge Your Motivation
- Running in the Heat – Sun Safety
- How to Breathe While Running – Nose or Mouth?
- 30-Day Running Challenge for Beginners
What’s Your Take on Motivation?
How are you going to integrate these newfound strategies into your running regime, unless you’re already on point with such topics?
Personally, I think as we get older our values change and what drives us at 20 isn’t the same as what drives us at 40. We grow as a person through life experience and having the time to reflect on what’s actually good and bad. I think ageing naturally makes us more sceptic of certain subjects and it’s as if we almost become disillusioned with many things.
That said, it’s still good to have role models or if that sounds weird having a younger role model, then you can always use logic as the driving force to do something new. While you might not want to class yourself as a fanboy or girl, you can still learn from other successful people by reverse engineering their success. Surely it’s a good thing to learn from the winners of the world? We don’t have to copy their every move, but we can take the good from all the top dogs.
It’s great to grab a bit of Elon Musk, a slither of Lewis Hamilton – I mean everyone thinks they’re a racing driver, don’t they? – plus a few dashes of your favourite footballer and all the bits of motivation you can take to enhance your own game are definitely worthwhile.
Let’s look at it like this: success and winning essentially equates to being resilient and resourceful. You have to keep on trying and have a never-say-die attitude. If you can muster those few attributes then you’re on your way to being successful. Maybe not the best in the world, but enough to have relative success that you can be rightly proud off.