Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Intrinsic / Extrinsic Motivation

Hi everyone,

After a long period of deep thought and analysis, I'd like to finally present a topic that has been of great interest to me. Whether it be in Japan or the US (or anywhere else around the world for that matter), everyone's motivations vary from being intrinsic or extrinsic. Allow me to explain.

In Japan, one might assume that a majority of Japanese people are more or less 'extrinsically motivated.' This is defined as one being motivated by rewards (such as money or grades) or following what they are told to do, rather than finding the inclination to take an action on their own. While the task itself may not provide a great deal of satisfaction, the rewards alone provide the drive. Indeed, a great deal of Japanese will work hard to satisfy a societal expectation created by family and peers, rather than seek the benefit for themselves. This is due in part to the Japanese being extremely pragmatic about long-term stability and sustained happiness... But what about those individuals that are intrinsically (or internally) motivated? What about their individual dreams or wants in life? Despite their desire to experience their own individuality in life, many are forced in by societal rules to work hard for the sake of others instead of themselves, thus creating what outsiders might see as a "robotic society."

One might also assume that people in the US are more 'intrinsically motivated.' This is defined as someone who finds motivation from deep inside themselves, rather than from external factors. The end goal is to find a task that provides enough enjoyment from start to finish, with the end result and satisfaction being the key motivator. Many Americans, do in fact, try hard to find enjoyment in whatever they do and try to fulfill each and every one of their own expectations. While people are often encouraged to freely seek out their dreams and find happiness, there is quite the opposite effect. Unfortunately, for many adults, the definition of success or happiness also becomes more associated with a person's pride in their money, status or power. The line between wants and needs become blurred, sometimes resulting in short-term satisfactions, idealistic thinking, and instability. While the freedom of choice exists, it gives rise to greed and selfishness, resulting in those individuals to apply their perceived standards of happiness over any circumstance. This begs the question: Are these intrinsic motivations truly so, or do they evolve into extrinsic motivations based on our survival?

At first glance, these issues might appear different as a result of the environment, but they originate from the same point. The difference in cultures result in people growing into adults with a different attitude.

From the time that one is born, everyone can be considered an extrinsically motivated person. We are told what to do, we follow the rules, and we achieve these set goals to appease others. Although every individual goes through a different set of life experiences, what we decide to do, where we decide to go, and how we choose our life path determines what 'doors' open up or close inside us. Does a person study hard to get into a top-level school for the status, or do they do it out of love of their subject? When they look at their career options, are they deciding this job for the money, or do they choose it for their own personal satisfaction? Do they seek a love that fulfills society's ideals of a desirable mate, or do they desire a love that sustains their long-term happiness? Do they choose to live their life for the sake of their family, or do they choose to live it for their own well-being? The answers to these questions change throughout our lifetime, based on what is necessary to stabilize our lives.

While an individual's extrinsic and intrinsic motivations will vary depending on the subject matter, the ability to recognize where our motivations lie may be an indicator of our growth and understanding as a human being. Being able to understand what we want in life and why may not only be a sign of maturity, but it defines our individuality as well. At what point do we bridge each gap in our lives between childhood and adulthood? What experience will finally flip the switch to realization, understanding, appreciation and growth?

I'd like to end this entry with a quote by Mark Twain:

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."