The Source of Your Motivation Matters: Why Intrinsic Motivation Beats Out Extrinsic Motivation Every Time

Skyler Simpkins ’23

Opinion Editor

I think all of us can agree that working out is generally a good thing. Taking the opportunity to improve yourself is almost universally the right choice. Inspiration to hit the gym can manifest itself in several different ways: a better appearance, a healthier physique, or just to give your mind some much-needed alone time. Most of the reasons for working out are adequate and good for both the mind and body, but it is the vicious cycle one enters themselves into once getting entrenched in the rush.

After working out, the rush of endorphins makes most of us feel good. When working out for prolonged periods of time, we will become dependent upon this feeling, pushing us to work out every day. Exercising consistently is a good thing, but dependence upon a feeling emoted by working out is quite the contrary. Intrinsic motivation should be the motivator for putting on the cardio YouTube video and following it five days a week, rather than endogenous opioids. While this cycle is dangerous, I believe the much worse cycle related to athleticism is the one extrinsic motivation begs.

Above I described a multitude of different inspirations to begin your journey to a better physique, and they are all valid in the sense that they begin you on that journey; but when you are extrinsically motivated by what others think of you or how you feel looking in the mirror, you run the risk of joining a cyclical mechanism of guilt. You work out, look in the mirror, and feel good about your progress, then one day you skip the workout or eat that extra cookie. When you look in the mirror after that singular cheat day, you will see new imperfections, more fat, less tone, and that guilt will practically eat you alive. This is incredibly dangerous and where the paradox of athleticism plays its ace. Your happiness becomes based on the image in the mirror the next day instead of purely being healthier. As anyone could imagine, this is not ideal and should be avoided at all costs – but how do you do this? I believe the answer lies within your motivations; if you center your emotions on what is intrinsically beneficially instead of extrinsically rewarded, you can avoid the guilt cycle.

Intrinsic motivations have continually been proven to be more beneficial overall to goals set for all age groups. If you are extrinsically motivated and fail, you will be much more likely to quit. If you are encapsulated within the guilt cycle, you will continually fail every day which will corrupt and destroy any semblance of mental health you once cherished. To avoid all of this negativity, you must be intrinsically motivated when you begin something, especially working out. Instead of being motivated by what others want you to be, think instead about what is the healthiest version of you that still makes you happy. Whoever that person is is perfect and always remember that. Your opinion is the only one that matters when it comes to your appearance, and if you follow your opinion instead of societal archetypes, you are the brave one.


Brendan W. Clark '21 is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Trinity Tripod, Trinity College's student newspaper.

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