Extrinsic VS Intrinsic Goals

We all have goals in life. Aspirations. Dreams. Desires. Wants. Needs. There are many names for it I suppose. If there is one thing in life I’ve learned through out the years that has helped a lot in giving my life a better purpose, and making me a happier person, it’s understanding the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic goals and values.

An extrinsic goal or value would be something like trying to make more money, or making X amount of dollars a year. It could also be something like becoming famous, or hitting a million subscribers on YouTube. These goals aren’t inherently bad, but they exist almost entirely on things we don’t directly control – goals that are external to what makes us human.

An intrinsic goal or value would be something that is more internal, purpose driven. It could be something like volunteering, or trying to make your community a better place. It isn’t attached to a number, or an object necessarily. When the goal is attained, it also isn’t as easily tangible in most cases.

For the cut throat world of business, extrinsic goals would make more sense in the grand scheme of things. Or so you would think. As Pete Drucker has said, that which gets measured usually gets done. And it’s hard to measure how somebody feels about a project, or if their job gives them an idea of purpose. It’s easier to measure if profits went down or up, and then to figure out why.

Whilst pursuing a career, many people, especially men, will fall into the extrinsic goals category. I used to be there too, but it didn’t work well for me and ultimately just made me anxious, unhappy, and stressed out.

After reading the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink, I learned of a study they did at the University of Rochester. They followed students after they graduated and went into the real world. Before this though they figured out which students were more extrinsically or intrinsically motivated during there time at the school.

The people with intrinsic goals, after a while in “the real world” who felt they were attaining these goals, had higher levels of satisfaction and overall well-being. They also felt less depression and less anxiety in comparison to when they were in college. This is obviously no surprise, I think we’d all feel this way to some degree.

People with extrinsic goals were more complicated though. From the group who was actually meeting their goals, whether it was money, wealth, acclaim, were equally as happy as they were when they were in college, so no increase there. But despite the completion of their goals, they also felt depressed more often, and suffered from anxiety a lot more.

This goes to show that having a real purpose in life in a huge importance. It’ not always easy finding that purpose, but times change and so do we, so our over all purpose changes with that.

In another study from the same book, they studied three groups from a fund raising call center. One group read about the effects the funds had on peoples lives. The second group listened to a recording of the people in the call center making calls to try and raise funds. Almost in a “how to” fashion. The third (control) group did not listen to anything and just did what they usually do.

The conclusion? The people who read about the power their fund raiding efforts had on people managed to raise over twice as much money. Just a brief reminder of the purpose of the work you do can clearly create huge benefits. Personally I feel there is a little more to this than meets the eye, but I suppose it’s semantics at best.

Everything great that has ever been made lied on the shoulders of a person, or persons who had purpose, who had the intrinsic goal in mind. An extrinsic goal may have been there too, they are not mutually exclusive. It’s important we always check ourselves to make sure our goals are in line with what truly matters deeply to us. Having a nice car is great and all, but trying to create a better life for you, your family, or the world, is always more important, and will always win in the end.

Remain forever a student to life…

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