While doing some research today to understand the relationship between play and intrinsic motivation, I was dumbfounded to see the words “belonging” and even “recognition” within the description of intrinsic motivation. To me, this seemed absurd, since I always believed that intrinsic motivation was doing something for its own reward rather than for an external reward and doing something so that you can “belong” or get “recognition” from others seems to me like that’s an external social reward.
Digging a bit deeper, I discovered that intrinsic basically means “naturally” and it also relates to our psychological development. When I read that, it suddenly made me realize that “intrinsic motivations” are our basic psychological needs and values that we strive to meet as we grow and develop through our different stages of development.
So when we’re younger, play (which is intrinsically motivated) helps us to develop our social skills, including a sense of belonging with others. But as we get older, we “level up” and “play” within newer roles (i.e. job, career), seeking a sense of self-esteem and recognition in our work as well.
If this is accurate though, then intrinsic motivation goes beyond belonging and recognition and includes many more mature aspects of growth like freedom, autonomy, creativity, and meaning. In effect, we are naturally drawn to these newer needs and values as we mature and evolve, just as we are drawn to belonging and recognition in our younger years.
Most people have no concept of where their motivations come from, what stage of psychological development they are at, what stages they have passed through, or what stages they still need to master to find fulfilment in their lives. The only criteria they have for making choices are: what makes them feel happy in the moment, or what gives their life a sense of meaning and fulfilment.
Happiness, meaning and fulfilment are not synonymous. What makes us happy is the satisfaction of our ego’s needs, and what gives our life meaning and fulfilment is the satisfaction of our soul’s needs.Richard Barrett, Evolutionary Coaching