Intrinsic or Extrinsic motivations

Can you pursue the wrong goal?

We’ve started the new training cycle here at FITISM and you’ve hopefully been setting some goals and thinking about your motivations for keeping up the exercise/nutrition routine. But are your motivations the right motivation and more to the point, is there such a thing as “good” and “bad” goals? 

Now before you let out an exasperated sigh…”great another thing to get wrong and beat yourself up about”… absolutely not and hear me out. 

Theres no bad goals and theres nothing that you should or shouldn’t strive for, no matter how big or how small. Phew! 

However when it comes  to thinking about what motivates the goals you set and your likelihood to be consistent in the actions needed to achieve it we can often fall into two camps. 

These camps are known as being either intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. You may have heard these terms before but if you haven’t here’s what they mean. 

Intrinsic motivation is defined as doing something simply for the satisfaction and enjoyment of doing it, rather than being focused on an outcome or being externally rewarded.

Example: playing recreational sport because you enjoy it, exercising for mental health improvements, losing weight for health & to be more active with children 

Extrinsic motivation comes from eternal factors. It stems from a desire to achieve praise, approval or status from others. It’s more about receiving rewards or tangible gifts as an outcome of completing a task or goal. 

Example: Receiving a bonus for hitting targets at work, running a race to receive a medal, exercising so you can post a video on social media or changing your physique to impress other people. 

My Masters dissertation was all about this topic and I’ve done a tonne of research as well as collecting real life data about what motivates women in particular to pursue lifestyle change and specifically weight loss.*

Heres a few things I found in my project and an insight into what I think the “best” form of motivation is. 

• When pursuing weight loss younger women (<40) are more likely to pursue more extrinsic goals such as attracting potential partners and looking good on social media. 

• Older women are more intrinsically motivated and often embark on weight loss attempts to improve health and longevity or after a health scare. 

• Those who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to chose more sustainable and less extreme methods of weight loss 

• Those who have intrinsic motivation are more likely to obtain longer term weight loss results and sustain their actions for a longer period of time 

So what’s my option on setting good goals and having the “right” type of motivation. 

Well I believe that there’s a place for both. Extrinsic motivations get you started,  they set the wheels in motion and often help you feel pretty fired up for a short period of time. You then need the second layer of intrinsic motivation to keep you fighting for the goal when the initial novelty wears off. 

So very long story short. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to goals being set of reasons for doing something. However the chances are if you want long term success, especially in weight loss it’s important to have a deeper more intrinsic goal, this is what will keep you going on the days that you want to give in.

If you’re unsure about what you striving for or how to set challenging yet achievable goals then don’t hesitate to get in touch and perhaps consider some coaching ahead of the summer. For more information head to

* this was a very small study and results I found shouldn’t be generalised.


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