Building Intrinsic Motivation: A Guide for Business Professionals

Steve LudwigCoachingLeave a Comment

two people stood over writing on the pavement stating "Passion Led Us Here"

If you are reading this, you likely already have a decent level of intrinsic motivation. While we all need external validation and support—monetary incentives, promotions, or accolades—we know they don’t provide enough fuel for the length of a career. So, it becomes a question of what motivates you, as an individual, beyond those external factors.

What is surprising is that we have found people with strong internal motivation also wind up getting external validation as well.

Before we dive into some concrete advice, it helps to understand what intrinsic motivation is.

Understanding Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation refers to the desire to engage in an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for an external reward. It’s driven by personal enjoyment, fulfillment of personal values or commitments, interest, or the inherent challenge of the task, as opposed to external pressures or desires. For business professionals, this means a genuine passion for their work, a deep interest in their industry, the pure joy of mastering a challenging project, serving others in a meaningful way, etc.

We don’t believe that superhuman efforts are necessary to strengthen your intrinsic motivation. Nor do we suggest that you can transform a work environment or job that is a bad fit by just “getting motivated.” Here are some steps you can take to build intrinsic motivation.

Self-awareness and Reflection: This is very important. If you don’t know what lights your fire, you will have a hard time adding fuel to that fire.

Ask what truly resonates with you. What activities make you lose track of time? Which tasks leave you feeling accomplished and satisfied, even in the absence of praise or rewards? Why?

Equally important is understanding what makes you feel drained. What takes your energy away?

Reflecting on these questions can reveal your true passions and interests.

Set Personal Goals: Of course, team and company goals are very important, but what do you want to accomplish for yourself at the same time? Understanding what you want to get out of the work will help drive intrinsic motivation.

These should be goals you’re passionate about, irrespective of external pressures. Maybe you aim to master a new business strategy, understand a complex topic, or enhance your leadership skills.

Embrace the Growth Mindset: It can be easy to think you can’t really change. However, research shows that’s not true. Popularized by psychologist Carol Dweck, the growth mindset emphasizes the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort, learning, and persistence. By adopting this mindset, challenges become opportunities to learn, and setbacks are seen as chances to grow, fostering intrinsic motivation.

Surround Yourself with Passionate Individuals: Enthusiasm is contagious. Surrounding yourself with people who are intrinsically motivated can bolster your own drive and ambition. Their passion and drive can reignite your own flame, pushing you to pursue activities with innate interest.

If you have a challenging work culture or a boss, you can find your tribe outside of the office in professional organizations, Meet Up groups, or clubs.

Prioritize Autonomy: While guidance and supervision are necessary, excessive micromanagement can extinguish intrinsic motivation. Give yourself the autonomy to approach tasks in unique ways, make decisions, and own the outcomes. This creates a sense of responsibility and pride in one’s work.

Sometimes, you might need to take on a personal project outside of the traditional scope of your daily job if you are not given the opportunity at work. While not ideal, it can create new areas for personal growth and professional opportunities.

Seek Feedback, Not Validation: It’s okay to want validation. As we mentioned above, we all need some. External validation feels good, but it’s fleeting. And, if you have some insecurity (which most of us do), sometimes that praise won’t do what you were hoping it would.

Instead of seeking praise, actively request constructive feedback. This not only provides a pathway for growth but also shifts the focus from external accolades to internal improvement, thereby nurturing intrinsic motivation.

Engage in Continuous Learning: The world of business is ever-evolving. Make it a point to keep learning, not because it might lead to a promotion or pay hike, but because it satiates your curiosity. This could mean attending workshops, reading books, listening to podcasts, or simply engaging in thoughtful discussions with peers.

Celebrate Small Wins: While the completion of a massive project is rewarding, it’s the journey that offers numerous opportunities for intrinsic satisfaction. Celebrate the small milestones along the way. Recognizing these moments can rekindle passion and remind you of why you embarked on this path in the first place.

Take a Vacation: Get away from work. Take a real break. More research is showing that taking time off is critical to preventing burnout, improving creativity, and increasing long-term productivity. Who knew?

People cannot stay motivated if they are exhausted. You are no exception.

And you just might have some fun.

In the vast ocean of business, where external pressures and ever-changing tides can often lead one astray, intrinsic motivation serves as the inner compass, guiding professionals toward their true north. It’s an asset, a force, and most importantly, a choice. By recognizing its importance and actively cultivating it, individuals can not only achieve professional success but also find genuine fulfillment in their journey.

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