And that’s not always easy when you have been conditioned to pursue extrinsic rewards. It’s too easy to slip into old habits that once served as a coping mechanism but later become destructive.
Destructive habits are a sign the ego is inflated and you’re cut off from your True Nature — the Self. The Self guides you towards establishing constructive attachments that nurture emotional well-being.
Dopamine also plays a crucial role in motivation because it gives you a good feeling that is associated with pleasure and reward.
When you experience something rewarding or pleasurable, such as eating a delicious meal or receiving praise, dopamine is released in certain brain regions.
However, you can reach a point where you are not receiving “rewards” from your environment that trigger dopamine.
Dysfunctions in the dopamine system have been linked to motivational disorders, such as depression and anhedonia (a reduced ability to experience pleasure). In these cases, individuals may struggle to find motivation to engage in rewarding activities.
“Chronic stress or pain depletes dopamine and decreases the sensitivity of dopamine neurons to stimulation, reducing the defining symptom of depression — “anhedonia,” the inability to feel pleasure.” [Unhealthy Caretaker]
~ Robert Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, p.78 (2017)
This means that relying on rewards from external sources could be a contributing factor to your anxiety and depression if you do not feel as though you are no longer getting the rewards that trigger dopamine.
To learn more about dopamine, read the article titled: Dopamine: The Brain’s Built-In Rewards System.
In this article, I’m going to explain the difference between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. It’s important to know the difference when nurturing emotional well-being to overcome anxiety and depression.
In his book, Toward A Psychology Of Being, the American psychologist Abraham Maslow determined that humans turn most attention towards “extrinsic rewards.”
That is, the search for satisfaction from external sources is perceived to offer rewards even when it may not. It can often become the case that extrinsic rewards influence you to pursue destructive habits even though they no longer provide you with pleasure or satisfaction.
For example, when habits begin life as a coping mechanism because it once served as a source of comfort, reprieve or relief, it can later become an addiction.
Moreover, the cultural conditioning in modern times reinforces extrinsic motivation. By doing this we are being depleted of the ability to create “intrinsic motivation” and become self-actualised.
Four decades of research delivered by Carol Dweck, the Stanford-educated psychologist underlines how praise fosters a fixed mindset that limits personal growth.
Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal drive or motivation that comes from within an individual to engage in an activity, pursue a goal, or perform a task simply for the inherent satisfaction, enjoyment, or personal interest it provides.
Intrinsic motivation is characterised by the desire to engage in an activity for the sheer pleasure of doing it, rather than for external rewards or pressures.
Extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation have a significant influence on your behaviour.
Examples of Extrinsic Motivations:
Working a job you don’t like just to receive a financial reward.
Students may study hard to earn good grades in school, which is an external measure of achievement and often tied to extrinsic motivation.
People who do things in the hope of being validated and recognised with awards, or praise from their peers, superiors, institutions or the press can be motivated by extrinsic needs if the endeavour is not emotionally fulfilling.
The desire to win in competitive activities, such as sports or games, can be driven by extrinsic motivation to achieve victory and the associated rewards. Some elite sportsmen do not give themselves permission to celebrate the wins along the way to winning the trophy. The only goal is the big prize.
Employees may strive for job promotions, which often come with increased responsibility, status, and salary.
Avoiding negative consequences, such as a fine for speeding or a reprimand at work, can be an extrinsically motivated behaviour.
Engaging in activities you don’t enjoy but believe it will provide attention or respect can be an extrinsic motivation. For example, teenagers start smoking because they think it looks cool or pursuing a creative endeavour such as learning to play the guitar because you think it will earn you praise.
Engaging in hobbies like painting, playing a musical instrument, or gardening purely for personal enjoyment and satisfaction is an example of intrinsic motivation.
Pursuing knowledge and learning new skills out of curiosity and the desire to expand one’s horizons are driven by intrinsic motivation.
Creating art, writing, or solving puzzles for the inherent joy of the creative process is an intrinsically motivated activity.
Volunteering and helping others in need can be intrinsically motivated by the sense of fulfilment and the satisfaction of making a positive impact.
It’s important to note that extrinsic and intrinsic motivation can coexist and interact in complex ways.
For example, an employee may initially be extrinsically motivated by the prospect of a job promotion (external reward) but may also find intrinsic motivation in the work itself, especially if they enjoy the tasks and feel a sense of accomplishment.
The same is true for people who engage in sports or creative pursuits that take effort but essentially bring pleasure during the process.
Pursuing personal growth and self-improvement goals, such as becoming a better person or developing new skills, can be intrinsically motivated as well as extrinsically motivated.
The balance between these two types of motivation can vary from person to person and context to context. Effective strategies for nurturing emotional well-being to over anxiety and depression should be centred around things that you want to do and have a passion for, even if the ultimate goal is extrinsically driven.
Examples of activities driven by intrinsic motivation include pursuing hobbies, engaging in creative endeavours, learning new skills for personal satisfaction, or volunteering for a cause one is passionate about.
To help you decide which activities to pursue in order to nurture emotional well-being to overcome anxiety and depression, consider the key characteristics of intrinsic motivation:
Intrinsic motivation often involves a sense of autonomy and choice. Individuals engage in activities because they genuinely want to, not because they are compelled to do so by external factors.
People intrinsically motivated to do something find the activity inherently interesting and enjoyable. They derive satisfaction from the process itself, regardless of external outcomes.
Intrinsic motivation is often associated with a desire for learning and personal growth. Individuals may engage in activities because they are curious, want to acquire new knowledge or skills, or seek challenges and mastery.
Intrinsic motivation can lead to a state of “flow,” where individuals are fully immersed in an activity, lose track of time, and experience a deep sense of engagement and fulfilment.
Intrinsic motivation is closely tied to the satisfaction of basic psychological needs, as proposed by Maslow’s Theory of Self-Actualisation and Dweck’s Growth Mindset.
These needs include:
Intrinsic motivation is often contrasted with extrinsic motivation, where individuals are driven by external rewards or pressures, such as money, praise, grades, or social approval. While extrinsic motivation can be effective in certain situations, intrinsic motivation is considered to be more sustainable and conducive to long-term engagement and well-being.