When it comes to drive, sustained efforts, consistency, and maximizing potential, finding the right kind of motivation is essential. Motivation can be broken into two primary categories: internal and external (sometimes labeled intrinsic and extrinsic).
Internal motivation comes from your passion and desire to engage. With this, little incentive is needed — the opportunity to perform is enough for you to willingly participate. If there is a specific activity that you thoroughly enjoy and someone were to invite you to engage in it, if you would take that opportunity without question, then that is something you have internal motivation for.
External motivation, on the other hand, is an activity that you will engage in but only if something you want is provided or something you don’t want is removed. The most common example for this would likely be being paid to work. Even if you enjoy your job, if you were no longer compensated for it, would you continue to go to work? Other examples of external motivation may be: guilt (if I don’t workout/exercise, I will feel guilty for not going, therefore I will go); others’ expectations (my parents really want me to do this, so I guess I will do it for them); directive (coach says I have to do this if I want to start or play in the game); requirements (active duty service members are required to sustain a certain level of fitness, they may not enjoy or desire to remain fit, but it is required); a means to an end (I don’t like this particular class and find it dull, but I will be able to graduate or take a class after this one that is more desirable, therefore, I will pass this class).
Utilizing Motivation (both kinds)
Obviously, internal motivation is a much stronger category/form and shows higher levels of intensity, duration, and frequency in terms of participation in an activity. Similarly, other mental skills are likely more fluid and require less effort to implement with internal motivation: focus/attention; goal setting; awareness; self-talk; imagery; confidence; team cohesion; etc. It is, therefore, more likely that you will experience peak performance (flow) when engaging in an activity that falls into the internal motivation category.
External motivation can result in all of the same rewards and optimal performance levels as internal motivation, but it usually required more effort to get you started. Once you are engaged, the external motivation may turn into internal motivation — especially if enjoyment increases with time. External motivation can also be beneficial when an activity that usually falls under the internal motivation category needs a boost from an external motivator. Most athletes face a time in their career when they will rely on external motivators to help them move past a difficult transition, injury, or burnout.
Additionally, sometimes activities that require an external motivator can be transformed into an activity that is internally motivating if you can just adjust your mindset. An example might be exercise to improve fitness level. This is a basic requirement for most athletes (which may make it less internally motivating) and rote exercise may become mundane, monotonous, and boring. Changing your mindset to think of the exercise as fun (e.g., training for a zombie apocalypse, Jedi Knight training, or a different game/sport) can result in much better participation and internal motivation. Similarly, there are hundreds of different options for exercise and changing them (the behavior) to reflect this mindset (the thought) can also fuel the desire.
Recommendations for Increasing Internal Motivation
- Awareness: know what you like
- Enjoyment: remind yourself why you participate in what you do
- External Motivation has it’s part: sometimes it can boost you over the hump of decreased motivation
- Mindset: finding ways to make practice/training more interesting and inspiring