Intrinsic Motivation, Passion and Productivity


by William Jackson PsyD


     It is well established in psychological research and theory that intrinsic motivation can be more powerful and long lasting than extrinsic motivation [1,2].

Intrinsic motivation = an internal natural drive for a behavior.

Example: being hungry and wanting to eat, wanting to be liked and accepted by others or working hard for the love of a project.

Extrinsic motivation = motivation by an external reward or punishment

Example: being motivated to work a job you do not like because the money is good, or, you work really hard on a deadline because you know your boss might fire you if you do not get it done.

     The famous behaviorist B.F. Skinner (Skinner, 1953) found that an external reward can motivate behavior change as long as the external reward was present and consistent. When it was removed the motivation for the identified behavior ceased. What happens when a person has not found an intrinsic motivation and the extrinsic motivation is removed? They may feel like things are a bit meaningless, like they are floating without direction.

                                                       (Grant, 2008)

                                                       (Grant, 2008)

 A recent article reporting on the effects of intrinsic motivation in two studies found that when people feel personally invested in their work, they work harder and are more productive [2]. In the first study fire fighters who had high intrinsic motivation for their job, worked nearly twice as many overtime hours because they believed in what they were doing. A second study that looked at the performance of fund raisers, found that fundraisers raised nearly double the amount of money week to week when they reported to be personally invested in their work [2].

"Finding a personal mission takes insight"


Some intrinsic motivations are easy to find and are common to everyone: hunger, thirst and need for love, to name a few. However, most can identify with a need to have purpose and meaning in life. Finding a personal mission takes insight. One must know one’s self and be able to recognize the spark of interest and passion. That recognition takes time and quality attention, as well as courage, good support, and determination to make that spark grow into a fire of passionate intrinsic motivation. Here is a guided meditation focused on mindfulness to assist in this process.

"....time alone, meditation, time to essential to productivity..."


     Deep work, explained Cal Newport Ph.D. author of “Deep work: rules for focused success in a distracted world,”(3) like time alone, meditation, time to unplug, where one can give their full attention and become deeply engaged with what is important to them is essential to productivity. In addition, researchers have found when people are given a choice, context of why what they are doing is important and are able to personalize their use of time the intrinsic motivation and productivity are boosted [4–6].  

     It is no surprise that those who are able to be deeply engaged in working at what they love they report to be upwards of 500% more productive [7]. One medical research from the University of Washington calls this deep work process of taking the time to find what is personally important, and devoting concentrated time, free from distraction the “Productivity Super Power”[8].

What is the fuel of your superpower? Join the discussion




1.     Benabou, Rolan, Tirole J. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. Rev Econ Stud. 2003;70:489-520. Accessed March 29, 2018.

2.     Grant AM. Does Intrinsic Motivation Fuel the Prosocial Fire? Motivational Synergy in Predicting Persistence, Performance, and Productivity. J Appl Psychol. 2008;93(1):48-58. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.93.1.48.

3.     Newport C. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. (UK H, ed.).; 2016.

4.     Cordova DI, Lepper MR. Intrinsic motivation and the process of learning: Beneficial effects of contextualization, personalization, and choice. J Educ Psychol. 1996;88(4):715-730. doi:10.1037//0022-0663.88.4.715.

5.     Baltes, Boris, Briggs, Thomas, Huff, Joseph, Wright, Julie, Neuman G. Flexible and Compressed Workweek Schedules: A Meta-Analysis of Their Effects on Work-Related Criteria. J Appl Psychol. 1999;84(4):496-513. Accessed March 29, 2018.

6.     Deschamps J-C, Brown R. Superordinate goals and intergroup conflict. Br J Soc Psychol. 1983;22(3):189-195. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8309.1983.tb00583.x.

7.     Cranston, Susie, Keller S. Increasing the “meaning quotient” of work | McKinsey & Company. Mckinsey Quarterly. Published 2013. Accessed March 29, 2018.

8.     Bhargava P. Deep Work: A Productivity Superpower. Curr Probl Diagn Radiol. 2017;46(1):1-2. doi:10.1067/j.cpradiol.2016.10.001.