Skip to content

Conditional vs. Intrinsic Motivation

Finding a student’s intrinsic motivation is central to helping students be proactive and excited about their accomplishments in life. The challenge is that school, by necessity to some degree, has taken what was once intrinsically motivating, the idea of learning new things about the world, and has turned it into a conditional and mechanical process of completing homework and receiving grades. The problem with this conditional method is that the material needs to be intrinsically motivating–the students need to be inspired to perform at a higher level. The trouble is that if the grades are coming easily, the student falls flat and mindlessly completes the homework without taking the time to fully learn a given subject. It can be frustrating, especially because it’s difficult for a child to understand the work they do in high school really does set them up for the rest of their life. It can be difficult to fall flat in high school and spend years after catching up to speed.

The key of the Academic Life Coaching program is to take something that was an apparent conditional motivation, like getting good grades and doing well on a test, and replacing it within the context of something they find intrinsically motivating (especially in a classroom setting), and help find ways to keep their motivation high throughout the academic year.

The primary issue with teenage culture is that, as adults, we’re not asking students to solve real-world problems. The problems that are facing the world today are extremely complex and require building a large foundation in order to learn this type of material. However, if students can take the time and learn about themselves and the intricacies of their motivation, then they can target when they’re using conditional motivation. They can alter their perspective by using intrinsic motivation, which will, in turn, become more sustainable.

When students can hone in on that self-awareness and, based on the experience of hundreds of other students with the Academic Life Coaching program, they can accomplish something precious for the future.

How You Can Best Support Your Child

Just simply by understanding the difference between being intrinsically and conditionally motivated is huge. As a parent, if there’s anything that you can do to help your child become more intrinsically motivated, like taking them on a field trip to look at how paper is made, or going to the Nike factory and looking at the shoemaking process, it would greatly help them find their niche.

From the Academic Life Coaching Workbook

Conditional motivation is being motivated to do something for the sake of an external benefit. It’s when people think, “If I do this, then I get this reward.” Or it could be “If I don’t do this, this won’t happen.” Anytime someone uses a conditional sentence – a pair of if-then clauses – he or she is using conditional motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is being motivated to do something because the action itself is the reward. It’s when someone thinks, “I want to do this because it’s fun.” Or it could be, “I enjoy the challenge.” Or even, “I want to see what happens when I follow through with…” Intrinsic motivation is about enjoying the process as much as the result.

While conditional motivation works well in the short-term, to be successful in school without much of the stress, it’s important to find a way to be intrinsically motivated. In other words, you must find a way to balance doing your homework for the sake of the grade with doing your homework because learning and doing the work is enjoyable.

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of being on top of your work and doing an assignment and actually enjoying it. It’s natural, the brain wants to learn. When learning, finding that place again is fun and allows you to control your motivation more. You can switch between conditional (for short bursts of energy) and intrinsic motivation (to be your main engine) at will.

The biggest key in shifting to a more intrinsic form of motivation, which will benefit you over the long run, is simply being aware of which motivation style you are using. Your awareness goes a long way to determining which style you use. Once you find the joy of tapping into an intrinsic motivation style, it quickly becomes a positive habit.


Schedule a Call