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Intrinsic Motivation: A Sustainable Fuel

Unicast writers Nazir Awad and Monika Balavakaite on how intrinsic motivation is the sustainable fuel for you in today’s world.

Most of us spent our time in school learning that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. But our experience taught us that every conscious action has a motive behind it. Motivation is what fuels our endeavours; it’s what gets immigrants to move overseas and uphaul their entire life for better education, job opportunities, or living conditions. Sources of motivation can be fundamentally categorised into extrinsic and intrinsic; the latter of the two is found within any average person in any institution, and th former is a gem that happens to be a prerequisite for the extraordinary.

Intrinsic motivation refers to the incentive to do something purely for personal satisfaction from the act, for instance reading about a topic you’re fascinated by or completing a logic puzzle for the fulfilling feeling of deciphering a problem. Conversely, extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards or punishments, such as earning a higher salary, improving your academic performance, or the consequences of a missed deadline. Both types of motivation are valuable; they drive you to act. Whether you’re motivated by an internal or external factor, a source of motivation is vital to accelerate your performance in any setting. However, sustaining this motivation can often be a challenge. It is more critical than ever following the inevitable disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There’s a consensus that fostering intrinsic motivation can provide a durable source of inspiration as you can continuously draw from an internal drive, as opposed to having to rely on a temporary extrinsic reward. Research has shown that intrinsically motivated students tend to perform better as they’re more likely to independently explore new topics and persevere through intellectual challenges. Additionally, greater intrinsic motivation is associated with a lower possibility of academic procrastination; you’re less likely to delay completing an assignment if you’re intrigued by the topic or have enough self-determination to persist through it. Although being driven by external factors can also be beneficial, it can impede your productivity in the long run. According to the “overjustification effect”, an abundance of extrinsic incentives can eventually decrease your intrinsic motivation. Hence, if you’re consistently relying on external rewards to motivate yourself, your internal gratification diminishes.

Displaying intrinsic motivation is also crucial in professional environments. In an interview with Unicast Entertainment, Chinedu Enewke, a partner at Aux 21 Capital, discussed the best entry-level CV he has seen and highlighted the significance of cultivating intrinsic motivation; stating that what he hopes to pick out from an application is “the intrinsic motivation of someone where you know that they are going to be the driving force to figure out any problem that you put in front of them.”

Intrinsic motivation is a powerful incentive to accomplish tasks, making the person harbouring that trait an asset to the institution that hires them. Immigrants are a class of individuals that seem to have said motivations in abundance. The value of immigrants to the workforce has been subject to a tedious and often inconclusive debate that we have no interest in indulging in. We’re more interested in diving into what makes immigrants so intrinsically motivated, and why it positively differentiates them and puts them on a path to being an integral part of an ever-developing globalized economy.

There are many reasons to immigrate, but the predominant reasons to seek a better standard of living, which explains why most immigrants come from third world countries. What’s interesting is that the decision to seek better living standards is an intrinsically motivated act in itself. The fact is that third world countries are third world countries because of the deep-lying financial, social, and economical issues that they face; meaning that the country tends to divert its focus from innovation and novelty in up-and-coming fields like technology and STEM-related topics. This causes a ripple effect, as schools demand less focus on such fields that aren’t in demand. Now how does all of this lead to immigrants being more intrinsically motivated? Well in all fairness, it’s the lack of choice. If a young Syrian had a passion for genetic engineering, they’d have to develop and gather said knowledge on their own merits, and if that student ever wanted to pursue that field, they’d have to leave the country and pursue it elsewhere. On the flip side, kids raised in developed countries learn those concepts under institutionalized supervision from a very young age; they don’t feel the need to self-learn anything as it’s already a part of their curriculum, which nurtures a link between those concepts taught in school, and external motivation fueled by a third party.

We’re not saying that the lack of high-level schooling makes a higher number of more capable and motivated individuals. What we are stating is that the lack of a self-sufficient education system makes it so that if any individual from that community hopes to learn more about quantum physics or renaissance art history, then they’d have to learn it on their own, and eventually pursue it in facilities that can teach it. Meaning that a higher percentage of such immigrants would tend to be more intrinsically motivated since they wouldn’t have relocated in the first place if they didn’t personally seek that move for self-interests. This phenomenon results in an interesting dynamic and provides a useful avenue for employers seeking individuals with tendencies of self-governance and initiative-taking.

The Covid-19 pandemic waged an all-out war on our collective will to do tasks; routines were disrupted, workflows damaged, and morale was compromised. Yet, it seems as the ones left standing are those who possess an inherent and self-sufficient motivational construct that’s able to sustain their will to achieve tasks. Intrinsic motivation isn’t a heritable trait that cannot be developed nonetheless, it’s a skill that can be nurtured and sharpened by finding small opportunities of passion and personal touch in the mundane tasks that we do at work and school. Extrinsic motivation gets the job done, but intrinsically motivated people, such as a certain class of immigrants, can change the world.

Monika Balavakaite
Nazir Awad

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