Coaching Part II – Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation. What you Want vs What Someone Else Wants

You’re laying in your bed, your warm, snuggly, cosy bed, looking up at the ceiling. It’s dawn outside. It’s raining. You said you’d support your closest friend as she prepares for her upcoming half-marathon. But your bed….it’s warm, oh so warm, and it’s drawing you back in….your eyes begin to shut as you slowly return to where you were before that sodding alarm cut in… yawn….”She won’t mind…..”. “I’ll say the alarm didn’……..ZZZZZzzzzzZZZZzzzzZZZzzzZZzzZz”



You’re laying in your bed, your warm, snuggly, cosy bed, looking up at the ceiling. It’s dawn outside. It’s raining. You’ve been training for a half-marathon now for 6 months. Your first attempt at this distance. You’re doing it for charity to support your dear mum who’s recently had an operation. But this morning it’s raining. Hard. “But it might rain on the day!”, you say to yourself, “how will I cope on the day if I’ve not given it a go today?”. “Besides, I’ve got targets to hit this week, I can’t afford to miss them!” you scold yourself as you look longingly at the duvet. You pull your kit on, grab some water and head for the door.


Intrinsic Vs Extrinsic Motivation.

Intrinsic factors are those internal to yourself. They are your wants and desires, based on a combination of your values & standards, your beliefs, your sense of self-worth, curiosity, and even fun. If it is your idea, you are more likely to see it through, especially if it is novel, or new in some way to you. You are in control. If the goal you seek to achieve comes from your core values and beliefs, you are more likely not to want to let yourself down (although fear is never a good motivational factor, a little nudge from behind isn’t a bad start).

Extrinsic factors are those imposed on you from outside. Deadlines, money, awards, punishment. You might be given a task to complete with fear of reprisal should you not carry it out. What does this motivate you to do? It ensures you do ‘just enough’ not to get told off. You might be given the same task and told you’ll have an award for completing it on time. You do it and get the prize. Next time you are given a similar task, you’re going to want a slightly better prize! Or what if the offer of the prize is taken away during the course of the task…..will you keep trying as hard?

Of course, I’ve been quite binary here for the purpose of example. Yes, extrinsic factors do work and they work quite well for short term, time limited and simple endeavours. Goals that do not require any fundamental change, or those that are supporting other goals (such as those on your developmental path), or those as part of an ongoing area in your life (such as work), can respond to awards, punishments, etc. How would we achieve anything at work otherwise. But, for genuine life changing goals, or those that require planning and coordination over a long time, intrinsic factors are those more likely to see success.


There is a theory of motivational needs (McLelland) that presupposes everyone in to a combination of 3 categories. Those categories are: Affiliation, Power and Achievement. A Person is motivated by a combination of those but with a bias of one over another. For example, I am very much motivated within a team setting. I perform and try much harder when working as part of a team. If I work alone, I tend to coast or at least not give my all. Furthermore, I am motivated by achievements. Not awards, per se, but overcoming problems and goals. Power, or senior managerial roles, do not motivate me whatsoever. Indeed, I would find it hard to categorise anyone with a leaning towards both Power and Affiliation; certainly Power and Achievement.

When we combine McLelland’s Theory of Motivational Needs with Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivational factors, we are given an extremely powerful tool in our coaching / goal achieving arsenal. We will come back to McLelland next week when we set out a path to achieving those goals.


Goal Setting

Last week, we looked at identifying goals (here). One of the lessons at the end of the post was about Honesty. Being absolutely honest with yourself about what it is you want to achieve. Now, I would add, “Why”. Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want that new car? What drives you to behave the way you do on a daily basis? Honesty here, about why you want to achieve your goal and about the type of person you are is absolutely vital in achieving goals. Worthwhile goals are not easy, as we will see soon when setting out a developmental path. There will be micro and mini challenges along the way, attempting to pull you off course. You have to want to get past every single one of them. Here, extrinsic factors may be needed in order to quickly overcome some of them; just beware that the reward / threat you offer yourself in order to get over it will only work just enough to see you past it.

At all times, you should link your goal to YOU. What is it inside you that makes you want to achieve it. I raise the example above that fear of failure or fear of loss (of a physical item or even a relationship) might just only be enough for you to do just enough to keep hold of the thing. An external threat is not enough for you to put everything you have in to achieving something. In order to succeed, you have to want to attain something more or something new. There has to be a yearning based from your inner self. What have you always wanted to do and what inspired you to even think of it? Be sure to know what type of person you are and align accordingly. Do you want that promotion because you’ll be able to manage / command those around you because you believe you are the best person for the job and noone could do it as well as you? GOOD! Go for it! That is not a bad thing if you are truly a Power-motivated person. We are all different but you have to be honest. Do you want to get that deadline cracked because you know the team will get a day off at the end, and the team will all give you a pat on the back? GOOD! Go For It! You are motivated by Affiliation and team success. Do you want to smash your first marathon because you’ve never done one before and wouldn’t it be nice to be known as a marathoner? GOOD! Go For It! You are motivated by achievement and can work long periods on your own to get what you want.


By way of example, here’s my story:

rain-07 (What my eyes feel like most mornings!)

I get up most mornings, in to the cold, to trudge over to the gym. I train in the mornings and I then train in the evenings most days. I eat pretty damned cleanly these days and very rarely drink more than a pint or two (per week!). I could get by on maybe 2 or 3 training sessions a week and pass my fitness test though. So why the extra effort? I never used to be like this. I used to do just enough to pass my annual service fitness test (threat). I would drink in the bar with colleagues, eat pizzas relentlessly and stare at myself in the mirror complaining that my genetics were faulty. I got married and assumed that as long as I never got any worse (threat) then I’d still seem attractive (physically at least) to Mrs Nomad. That status quo could easily have been maintained.

And then we had kids. With my children, especially as they are girls, I immediately surged with a sense of protection towards them. The same sense of protective spirit that pushed me in to the Armed Forces Careers office now resurged towards my daughters. I want the absolute best for them, no matter what. I want them to experience the very best in life and I will be there to support and protect them, no matter what. However, in order to do that, I have to teach, coach and mentor them to navigate this exceptionally crazy world of peer pressure, social media and influences that we can’t see or be on hand for – it’s the fundamental reason I qualified as a coach, to be a better daddy. I need to provide for them in ways that schools don’t, to ensure they grow up with a sense of self-respect, self-worth and pride in their inner selves, something schools do not, and cannot, cater for. Therefore, I need to set an example, first and foremost. I could not preach about self-respect, good nutrition, good judgement, if I were a fat slob, drinking heavily and stuffing my face with crap while disrespecting other people in the process. My girls are young and they experience everything with their eyes and ears first. What they see Mrs Nomad and I doing, they will do without thinking about it.

So I am motivated by being a strong father. Of course, there is balance to be had, I get that. Pizza is not bad and time playing on a tablet is not bad. There is balance. But when it comes to setting an example, I don’t just want them to see their father do just enough in front of others. I want them to be proud of their mother and father and to want to walk in their shoes. As part of being a father, I recently had to watch my father die from cancer. The whole 4 year experience was defining in many ways. I learned a lot from my father, a lot more than I’d expected to given that I am 37 and think I know everything. I also vowed to do everything I could to ensure I avoided a similar fate. You might argue that this is fear motivating me and you’d be right. “But what about…just enough?”. Ordinarily, you’d be right there too. However, with this, I directly linked fear of decrepitude or untimely demise with a positive yearning to be out on the park with my granddaughters when I am in my +50s. I ache to be the grandfather showing off in the fathers’ race at school sports days. I desire my daughters to want to take our Team (and I refer to our family as a team every day, we are an affiliation) values and apply them daily. It gets me out of bed in the morning and it gets me in front of a keyboard writing this although noone will read it (perhaps I should work on increasing my readership as a goal!)


  1.  Understand yourself from an achievement, affiliation or power point of view. What motivates you inside? Do you play well with others?
  2. Be honest with yourself about your goals. Are they your goals, for your own heart’s desires, or are they to satisfy an external threat or award.
  3. Learn to tie them together. Understand yourself so that when you have to undertake a challenge that isn’t from within yourself, you can link it to something that it.




  1. I also want to be able to play with my grandchildren, that is a huge motivation for me!
    In your opinion, is it necessary to have both, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in order to effectively pursue a goal? Or is intrinsic motivation enough by itself?


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