Is your motivation internal or external?
Can you recall feeling like you couldn’t wait to jump out of bed? Was it yesterday, last month, several years ago? For me, it had been awhile. Most winter mornings I motivated myself with the thought of fresh coffee. Those days, I didn’t get up because I felt an internal desire to. Coffee was my extrinsic motivation. Something outside myself drove me to the behavior. I did it for that hot cuppa.
When we choose a behavior because it satisfies us, our motivation is intrinsic. It feels natural.
That’s the feeling I rediscovered when I joined a cycling challenge this Spring. There was no promise of prizes or applause. I wanted to ride for the freedom I feel moving through the world by the power of my own two legs. Although I continued drinking coffee, it wasn’t my reason for rising anymore. I could hardly wait to get on my bike. Feeling powerful and independent motivated me to go farther, crank harder. I wasn’t competing or training for an event. Riding for sheer joy was everything.
When I biked to work or social events I was in integrity with my values. Choosing sustainable transportation felt right. And then there was snow. In April. Did I mention this is Minnesota? On those frigid days I wanted to stay in bed. Coffee wasn’t enticing enough. The taste of those first fair weather Spring days was fresh in my mind. Biking through snow was not appealing. Thankfully, I found motivation in an unexpected place. Social media.
The 30 Days of Biking challenge began in Minneapolis and spread around the world. Through hashtags and online groups, I connected with dedicated cyclists sharing experiences. Some were getting back on bikes after recovering from accidents. Others never before believed they could ride everyday. One couple had been cycling for over a thousand consecutive days. Their stories inspired me and I was motivated by people who said they were inspired by me.The longer my consecutive days of cycling streak became, the stronger my internal desire to keep going grew. Through rain and snow, I rode because I wanted to.
The challenge ended, but I’m still riding. Letting the power of pedaling move me toward new people and experiences feels natural. It’s who I am, a cyclist. It’s okay, even necessary, to depend on extrinsic motivation sometimes. Working for a paycheck lets us pay our bills. Rewarding ourselves with dessert can motivate us temporarily.
Ultimately though, intrinsic motivation defines who we are, what drives us from within.
When our actions light a fire inside, the reward is the act itself. Coffee, money, and cake become perks. Are you teaching for a paycheck, or are you a teacher? Do you cook to pay the rent, or are you a chef? The lines get blurry. Even when we’re doing what we love, there will be days when we do it for the coffee, and eat the cake too.