Intrinsic Motivation - Part Two

In part one of this series, we explored what exactly intrinsic motivation is and what harms it. (If you missed part one, you can read it here)

Today, we will use that knowledge to explore 9 ways that you can cultivate your own intrinsic motivation when you need it most!


Who wouldn't want to be excited about what they do?

Well guess what? The science behind human motivation points towards one essential truth:

Intrinsically motivated learners learn better, learn faster, and are more creative, engaged students overall!

So how do you cultivate it within yourself? Read on to find out!

9 Ways to increase your intrinsic motivation


1. The growth mindset

If you've never heard of the growth mindset, it is well worth learning more about. For a quick overview, there are two kinds of mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Whereas the fixed mindset is the belief that you have a specific amount of abilities and intelligence that cannot be changed, the growth mindset is quite the opposite.

The growth mindset, as explained by education psychologist Carol Dweck, is "based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others" (Dweck 2006: 6). The growth mindset promotes risk-taking and discovery - a requirement of intrinsic motivation - while the fixed mindset promotes an avoidance of challenge - a block to intrinsic motivation.

As you can see, re-framing your mindset to that of growth can help encourage your curiosity and creativity! Easier said than done, I know. Therefore, I have one quick tip for you:

Think about yourself from ten years ago. Did you know all that you do now? Think about all the challenges you faced up until now. What did you learn from them? I'm betting that your behavior and your understandings about something have changed in the last ten years. Recognizing that growth is one step towards cultivating the growth mindset! Another suggestion is to start a progress journal - document your journey in whatever you are doing. That way, you can have a physical representation of the progress you've made that you can look back at. (Ostroff 2016: 39-40)

If this is something you want more information about, read this book - "Mindset: the New Psychology of Success" by Carol Dweck. You can buy it on Amazon here:

And here is Dweck's amazing Ted Talk on the subject:

Also, if progress journals intrigue you, check out Bullet Journals:

2. Listen to your questions

Do you ever just have a burning question about something? Maybe it is related to an assignment you're currently working on. However, it won't exactly help you complete the assignment. You may be tempted to dismiss the question. BUT - I'm here to tell you that you should follow your line of questioning. You might learn something that you wouldn't have otherwise. In return, you'll become more invested and interested in the assignment at hand, because you allowed your curiosity (a precursor to intrinsic motivation) to flow.

So, what are you interested in? What sparks your curiosity? Follow it!

3. Novelty

We've all been there - you're playing the same piece, the same way, in the same place, for what seems like the millionth time. Of course, you're bored! Who wouldn't be?

I have one word for you: novelty. If you want to become interested in what you're doing again, you need to come up with ways to change up what you've been doing. Think outside the box! If this is a new muscle for you, here are some suggestions:

  • play your piece with an accompaniment you find on YouTube. The YouTube channel Color is the Piano is a great first place to look:

  • Create an etude for yourself based on a technical passage or one of your favorite melodies from it

  • play your piece backwards - yes, try it :D

  • Change up the style - play all the eighth notes swung

  • create a story for the piece - maybe it is about a cat that wants to befriend a mouse! And yes, I do this for my own repertoire all the time.

  • Play for family and friends! Or better yet, play your piece with a friend - create a duet with the piece.

  • Inspire yourself by watching live performances on YouTube, or better yet, go to a live concert!

You see? There are so many ways to create novelty for yourself! The key is to have fun with it. So enjoy!

4. Follow your enthusiasm

What initially interested you about the task? If you're struggling to motivate yourself to play an etude, think waaaaaaay back to when you first picked up your instrument. What did you do just for the fun of it? Why did you do it? Find that enthusiasm and remember what it felt like. Then, see if you can infuse that same enthusiasm into the task at hand. I think you'll find that it is a lot easier to complete a task when you're doing it for the enthusiasm you feel, rather than because you have to do it. Even though it's still a task for you to complete, it changes the game by re-framing the way you view it! :D

5. Infuse purpose into everything

There is a reason or purpose for everything! If you don't know what the purpose is, then make one for yourself. Without purpose, there is no meaning - and that is an obstacle to your intrinsic motivation. Creating personal, meaningful connections to what you do will enhance your motivation, because suddenly you have a reason for doing it. Not to mention - you learn faster too! (Ostroff 2016: 147) A great example of this is relating that technical etude you're working on to a piece of music you want to play. However, the piece is currently out of your reach technique-wise. Therefore, your reason for working on the technical etude is to hone your skills so that you can be one step closer to playing the music you desire! Doesn't that sound much more enticing that simply playing the etude just to play it?

6. Praise what you do rather than yourself

Like I discussed in part one, praise is an enemy of intrinsic motivation. However, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't ever praise yourself - it just means that it needs to be used carefully.

The best way you can praise yourself in order to increase your motivation is to praise your effort, hard work, and practice. Doing so will help you to reinforce your belief in the growth mindset, because you are detaching your self-worth from what you do. If praise yourself for something you accomplished with praise such as "you're so smart!" or "you're awesome," it leads you to believe that your accomplishments/successes depend on the level of your intelligence or how great of a human being you are. And my friends, that's just simply untrue. Accomplishing anything requires effort, hard work, and practice - you should praise that within yourself, because you are already worthy.

7. Embrace mistakes

If you find yourself to be hyper critical of mistakes you make, I'm here to challenge you.

Why do you dislike making mistakes?

What benefit is there to never making a mistake?

Is it possible for you to do everything correctly the first time?

Before you read on, answer those questions for yourself. Write it down. Then look at what you wrote and ask yourself, "What can I learn from my mistakes?"

I ask this of you, because in in our learning environment, we've been programmed to think that mistakes are bad, that too many mistakes makes you a failure. I'm here to tell you that you should think the opposite: mistakes are awesome! Embrace your mistakes. Do you think that Albert Einstein never made a mistake his entire life? Do you think he created the equation E=MC2 out of thin air? I'm 110% positive he didn't. He probably failed hundreds, even thousands of times before he got to it. Einstein even actually said this of mistakes: "A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new."

So challenge yourself today to embrace all of your squeaks and wrong notes and misunderstandings. Allow yourself to be curious about why you made the mistake, and what you can do about it. I'm willing to bet that deep down, you are curious!

"Mistakes are just happy little accidents." - Bob Ross

If you ever need help overcoming this or an example of a healthy attitude towards mistakes, check out any of Bob Ross's painting videos. Here's my favorite:

8. Take care of your physiological needs

Think back to my discussion about A. H. Maslow's hierarchy of needs (in my last blog post). If you want to enhance your motivation (of any kind), you must take care of yourself! This one may seem self-explanatory, but it is often not discussed at all. I am an enormous culprit of skipping meals in order to do work. But, it always, always, backfires on me, because it will get to a point that I am so hungry that nothing else matters but my need to eat. Nothing kills motivation faster than an unfulfilled physiological need.

So, this is my inner cat mom speaking to you - eat all your meals - healthy meals, I should add - get enough sleep, drink water, and remember to take deep breaths sometimes. I think you'll find that once you prioritize your physical health, it will become much easier to harness intrinsic motivation. :)

9. Take care of your mental health

Okay, so this is another one related to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Since it is Mental Health Awareness month, I thought it necessary to include this, not only because your mental health is extremely important, but because this topic is highly neglected!

If you find yourself struggling with feelings of anxiety, depression, or other related mental symptoms, you are not alone in this. And of course, these things tend to kill intrinsic motivation - if your fight-or-flight response is fired up due to anxiety, then following curious pursuits is the last thing on your mind. To help this, I have one suggestion for you to try out. It's something you've probably heard a lot about, but have never tried: mindfulness.

Mindfulness practice allows you to slow down and check in with yourself. Through mindfulness, you become aware of your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, as well as everything that is happening around you. In the world we live in, we are constantly doing something, whether it be watching Netflix, browsing Facebook, reading the news, talking to friends and family, juggling responsibilities, etc. You may have found yourself increasingly unable to relax. Personally, I struggle with stopping to smell the roses. If you're anything like me, you often don't notice how stressed you actually are. And eventually, it wears you down...and goodbye motivation.

So, I encourage you to try it out. You'll find that there are hundreds of sights and apps dedicated to mindfulness available. Not all of them are great, but there are also many excellent resources. My favorite is Headspace, which you can check out here:

Even before that, you can try this exercise with me:

Hold out one hand, look at it, then very slowly trace the outline of your hand with a finger of your other hand. You'll go up and down each individual finger until you reach the other side. Do this as slowly as you can! And when you do this, try to notice all the sensations you feel. What does your hand feel like? What does it feel like to run your finger along your hand outline? What physical sensations arise from this exercise? What thoughts do you catch? The whole point of mindfulness is to simply become aware of what is happening in the present moment, so don't try to stop your thoughts or feel something in particular. Just let the sensations and thoughts come to you and simply notice it. And voila! You're first mindfulness practice!


I hope that these tips and suggestions will help you to increase your intrinsic motivation in any aspect of your life. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts, and the results! If you have other tips to share, that is also most welcome!

And be sure to check back next Thursday for my blog post about a little something called "interleaved practice." If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then you've come to the right place. So until next week, happy practicing!



(also found throughout the post)


Dweck, Carol D. 2016. “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” New York: Penguin Random House LLC. Kindle Edition.

Kohn, Alfie. 1993. “Punished by Rewards: Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes.” New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

Maslow, A.H. 1943. “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396.

Ostroff, Wendy L. 2016. “Cultivating Curiosity in K-12 Classrooms: How to Promote and Sustain Deep Learning.” Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.

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