It’s 7 a.m. The first rays of the morning sun are just barely making their way through a crack in your blackout curtains. Your mattress is so cushy, your covers are so warm… to make it out of bed in the morning, you’re going to need some seriously powerful motivation. So what will it be?
Simply put, motivation is the fuel that ignites your behavior. It is a single factor, or a series of factors, that pushes you to either change or maintain the course of your life, depending on your goals. If you’re looking to lose weight, motivation can both inspire you to improve your eating and exercise habits and help you keep up your drive to go to the gym, so you can continue reaping the rewards of your efforts.
We wanted to explore the many different things that motivate people, from the desire to help others to pursuing material wealth. We also wanted to understand whether individuals who are intrinsically motivated are more satisfied than those who are driven by more extrinsic factors – or vice versa.
Up and At ‘Em
The most common motivator for our respondents was a rather wholesome one: 56% said being a good person was something that pushed them to achieve their personal goals. Self-improvement and health and well-being were tied for second place at 53%. Simply enjoying the ride was also a motivator for just over half of our respondents.
In fact, most of the things that pushed people to be better had to do with getting more out of life: learning new things, being comfortable, having a good time, and getting healthy. Of course, all of these big-picture goals start with a single step toward the creation of new, more positive habits.
Motivation is deeply personal; different people require a different carrot at the end of their stick to feel compelled to achieve their goals. For men, the top motivator was simply enjoying oneself (54%), followed closely by being a good person (52%).
However, men’s number one pick didn’t even make the women’s top five: Instead, female respondents were most driven by being a good person (60%). Married and employed individuals placed this same motivator at the top of their lists.
Single people were most motivated by being comfortable. As a demographic that is more likely to live on their own, they might have particular insight into the importance of being at peace with yourself and content in your own space. On the other hand, married respondents were driven by the goals of being a good person, self-improvement, and health and well-being – essential parts of maintaining a healthy relationship.
Finally, career success and enjoying oneself were tied for first place among students’ motivators – a healthy balance!
Leaving a legacy for future generations can be an impactful way to leave our world in an even better condition than when you found it. Carving out a legacy was one of the main goals that motivated men more than women, alongside other material-centric motivators like earning money, accruing belongings, and having a successful career. Female respondents were more focused on improving their well-being, taking care of others, and adhering to values.
Are you the kind of person most strongly motivated by a desire to achieve something that feels rewarding and inspiring to you? Or are you motivated by external factors that may be attached to a positive or negative outcome? If you associate with the former, you may be intrinsically motivated, and the latter, extrinsically motivated. If you’re like most people, you’re motivated by a balance of the two. For this study, we focused on people who were either highly intrinsic or highly extrinsic.
On the whole, 92% of respondents with highly intrinsic motivations felt satisfied with their lives, compared to 77% of those who were driven primarily by extrinsic factors. This same pattern emerged when we looked at which specific motivations yielded the highest – and lowest – levels of happiness: Inspiring others, adhering to values, and leaving a legacy all racked up a 90% satisfaction rate or higher, compared to material goods, attractiveness, and avoiding failure.
Interestingly enough, there was no overlap between the top three most satisfactory motivators for men and women. Male respondents felt best when they experienced career success, convenience, and financial prosperity, while women preferred to care for others, be a good person, and live according to a code of values.
Looking Forward, Looking Back
Seeking approval from others is a behavior that many believe is essentially hard-wired into our brains during childhood. Acceptance is something that can make you feel safe and secure, both in your environment and with yourself. It was also the most regretted motivation as reported by our respondents.
In a similar vein, attempting to achieve high social status and being attractive were also significant sources of regret. The pursuit of material goods and money fell into the same category – two extrinsic motivators that frequently lead us to desire more and more, instead of making us feel complete.
On the other hand, from the outside looking in, motivations such as learning new things and improving one’s health and well-being were most coveted among those who didn’t already feel driven by them.
Working It Out
When it came to feeling content at work, focusing on intrinsic motivations was the key to our respondents’ success: Those who were motivated by these internally rewarding factors were universally more interested in their work. They were also far more likely to believe their job was meaningful, important, fulfilling, and desirable.
From overall career satisfaction to relationships with co-workers, our intrinsically motivated respondents reported higher levels of happiness across the board compared to people who focused on external rewards and gratification.
Regardless of what keeps you motivated, getting enough sleep is also a recipe for success at work, leading to increased energy, resistance against burnout, sharper decision-making, and fewer mistakes on the job.
While our survey found that respondents who were more extrinsically focused were less satisfied with their lives overall, they did rack up a win in the financial department. Those who set goals with highly extrinsic motivations earned an average of just over $3,000 more than their intrinsically driven counterparts.
Leaving a legacy was tied to the highest relative income at $6,629 above the average. Facing and overcoming challenges and inspiring others were all significant money makers too.
On the flip side, motivators like avoiding failure, having material goods, and fulfilling curiosity resulted in much lower incomes overall. Particularly interesting was that those who prioritized having material goods reported the second-lowest income of all, earning $3,463 less than the average.
Good Financial Health
Earning more money is one thing, but using it wisely is just as important. Despite earning less income on average, respondents with highly intrinsic motivations had about $2,000 more in their savings accounts than extrinsically driven people: $14,381 compared to $12,509. The extrinsic group was also more likely to have little or nothing put aside for a rainy day (42% compared to 29%).
Who were the best savers overall? As counterintuitive as it seems, people who chose “enjoying themselves” as their primary motivation had the most robust savings accounts overall with nearly $17,500 saved. Enjoyment means different things to different people: Some people are happiest at a five-star restaurant, while others feel most content sitting on the couch at home surrounded by family and friends. If this statistic can teach us one thing, though, it’s that a satisfying lifestyle doesn’t necessarily need to bleed you dry – the best things in life are free after all.
While “caring for others” was among the primary motivations that led to the lowest savings accounts, having material goods and fulfilling curiosity were also associated with the two lowest savings figures in our survey. Do material goods seekers too often choose to swap savings for more stuff? Do those caring for others do so at their own expense? No matter the case, some motivators simply did not result in robust savings.
No matter what your paycheck or savings look like today, developing healthy financial habits can be the key to an even more prosperous tomorrow – that, and perhaps a bit more intrinsic motivation. Respondents who were driven by highly intrinsic things reported better financial hygiene in every category compared to their extrinsically motivated counterparts, often by very large margins.
Among those who were highly motivated by intrinsic factors, respondents were 28 percentage points more likely to pay their bills on time, 20 percentage points more likely to track their spending, and 35 percentage points more likely to review their bills for accuracy.
Perks of Intrinsic Motivation
“You reap what you sow” is something we’re taught from a very young age. In our respondents’ case, focusing on intrinsic rewards was a path to a satisfying life. Our survey revealed that people who got out of bed every morning with intrinsic motivation driving them forward were more likely to be satisfied with their lives overall, less likely to regret the motivations driving their actions, and more likely to feel inspired and interested at work. They were also better equipped financially, regarding both savings and habits.
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Methodology and Limitations
We surveyed 1,015 people using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service. To ensure that all respondents took the survey seriously, every respondent was required to identify and correctly answer a carefully disguised attention-check question. 517 respondents were men, 495 were women, and two did not identify as male or female. The average respondent was approximately 37, and respondents ranged in age from 18 to 74.
To measure specific motivations, respondents were presented with a “select all that apply” question regarding the factors that affected a majority of their decisions and behaviors. This question used a list of 32 motivating factors, which was written specifically for this study. The list was informed by numerous sources, including academic research, clinical research, and crowdsourcing. To determine primary motivations, respondents were later instructed to select three to five of their motivations that they considered “primary” motivations.
Respondents’ level of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation was gauged using a custom scale. Respondents were instructed to read through a list of 35 statements and select any statement they thought reflected their beliefs and actions. Using these responses, we calculated a score for each respondent’s overall level of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Respondents falling in the top 90th percentile of extrinsic motivation were listed as “highly extrinsic,” and respondents falling in the top 90th percentile of intrinsic motivation were listed as “highly intrinsic.”
These data are intended to be used for entertainment purposes only. Potential issues with self-reported data include but are not limited to: exaggeration, selective memory, and attribution errors on the part of respondents. In most cases, questions and responses have been rephrased for clarity or brevity. To help ensure statistical accuracy, outliers have been removed where appropriate. These data rely on self-reporting, and statistical testing has not been performed.
Fair Use Statement
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