External Motivation: The Power From Without

External motivation, a driving force within human behavior, compels us to act based on influences originating outside ourselves. Distinct from the inherent satisfaction gained from an activity itself (intrinsic motivation), external motivators push us towards goals through the promise of external rewards or the threat of punishment. While often overshadowed by the allure of intrinsic drive, external motivation plays a crucial role in shaping our actions and achieving goals, particularly in areas where inherent enjoyment might be lacking.


External Motivation Subtypes


External motivation can be further categorized based on the degree of autonomy it fosters. Here’s a breakdown of the two main subtypes.


1. Controlled Extrinsic Motivation


This form of external motivation exerts the strongest external pressure. Individuals are driven by a desire to avoid punishment or attain external rewards, with little to no choice involved. Examples include studying for a test solely to avoid failing or working diligently to impress a supervisor for a promotion.


2. Autonomous Extrinsic Motivation


This subtype offers a greater sense of control. Individuals are still driven by external rewards or punishments, but they have internalized the value of the activity being pursued. For instance, working hard to earn a good grade because it aligns with a personal goal of getting into a prestigious university.

Understanding these subtypes is crucial, as controlled extrinsic motivation can be short-lived and diminish once the external pressure is removed. Conversely, autonomous extrinsic motivation can pave the way for the development of intrinsic motivation over time.


Examples of External Motivation in Action


External motivation permeates various aspects of our lives. Here are some illustrative examples:

  • Academic Achievement: The desire for good grades, praise from teachers, or acceptance into a competitive college can be powerful external motivators for students.
  • Workplace Performance: The prospect of promotions, bonuses, or recognition from employers can significantly influence employee engagement and productivity.
  • Health and Fitness: External motivators such as weight-loss goals, the desire to fit into a specific clothing size, or participation in group fitness challenges can jumpstart and sustain healthy habits.
  • Social Interaction: The fear of social rejection or the desire for social approval can influence our behavior in social settings.

It’s important to acknowledge that the effectiveness of external motivation can vary depending on the individual and the context. What motivates one person might not hold the same power for another.


Harnessing the Power of External Motivation


While some may view external motivation as a lesser force compared to intrinsic motivation, it remains a valuable tool for initiating and maintaining goal-oriented behavior. Here are some strategies to leverage external motivation effectively.


Setting SMART Goals


Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals provide a clear roadmap and a sense of accomplishment when achieved, serving as external motivators.


Reward Systems


Implementing a well-designed reward system, with rewards tailored to individual preferences, can reinforce desired behaviors and keep you on track.


Accountability Partners


Enlisting a friend, colleague, or online community for support and accountability can provide external pressure and encouragement.




The ultimate aim is to transition from external motivation to intrinsic motivation whenever possible. By gradually aligning external motivators with personal values and interests, you can cultivate a more sustainable and fulfilling drive towards your goals.

External motivation serves as a potent force shaping our actions. By understanding its various forms and utilizing it strategically, we can harness its power to initiate and maintain goal-oriented behavior, ultimately paving the way for the development of intrinsic motivation and a more fulfilling journey towards achieving our aspirations.