When it comes to school, work, our hobbies, or even just cleaning the house, what is our motivation? What drives us to get the job done and to do it well?

The answers for these things may vary — we might want good grades, we might want to get a promotion (or at the very least, keep our jobs), or maybe we want to impress our guests with our neat and tidy home. There are so many reasons why we do something or are driven to greater success, but what every reason boils down to is motivation.

Motivation is unique in that there are two types: extrinsic and intrinsic. As a parent, helping your child develop their sense of motivation is an incredible (and, honestly, fascinating) process, and it’s one that they’ll carry with them throughout their entire life.

At Liberty Leadership, an Acton Academy in Bel Air, we embody the principles of intrinsic motivation in everything we do. With an independent and self-paced instruction model, being intrinsically motivated is rooted in our private school’s foundation. Learn more about motivation, and schedule a school tour or contact Liberty Leadership to learn more about our Acton Academy!

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

As we mentioned, motivation can be broken down into two parts. Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are what compel us to do something. What’s interesting is that these are not secular forms of motivation — they can be overlapping, and oftentimes, we might feel extrinsically motivated for certain tasks and intrinsically motivated for others. Here’s a general breakdown of the two types of motivation:

Extrinsic Motivation

This is when our motivation, or, the driving reason why we’re doing something, is for external reasons. In other words, extrinsic motivation is when we’re motivated to do something because we might receive a reward or we’ll avoid punishment.


  • Playing your hardest in a baseball tournament to get a trophy.
  • Mowing the lawn so a spouse/parent/loved one doesn’t get mad.
  • Finishing up a project by the deadline at work so that you don’t get in trouble.
  • Learning how to make jewelry so you can sell it for a profit.

Extrinsic motivation is often given a bad rap. It’s sometimes described in a way to make it seem like it’s done for selfish reasons, or being motivated solely for the reward. But the truth is we are all extrinsically motivated in some way or another. Extrinsic motivation is not a bad thing, but it also can’t be the only thing.

You’ve probably heard plenty of parents (and you’ve probably done it yourself — we understand! Parenting is hard) say things like “If you put your shoes on, I’ll give you a treat.” or “If you don’t make a fuss at the store, you can pick out a toy.” If you’re reading this and grimacing slightly out of how familiar this sounds, it’s not the end of the world! Like we said, parenting is hard, and there’s no such thing as a perfect parent.

The thing about extrinsic motivation is we don’t want to teach our kids to expect something positive every time they put effort forth. This is harmful for two main reasons: 1) when they don’t receive a reward, they’ll be (understandably) hurt and upset, and likely not want to try again and 2) when kids realize there’s no reward involved with a certain task, they’re likely not going to put effort forth. And as a bonus reason, for most things in life, there isn’t an immediate reward! Extrinsic motivation can have its benefits, but we need to balance it out and make sure it’s not the only driving force. Our kids will be happier and even healthier when they’re doing something for intrinsic reasons.

Intrinsic Motivation

Whereas extrinsic motivation focuses on external factors, intrinsic motivation is the opposite in that it’s inspired by internal motivators. When we’re intrinsically motivated to do something, we do it because it’s something that we care about.


  • Working later hours on a project because we enjoy it.
  • Reading a book because we find it interesting.
  • Taking up jogging because we want to improve our health.
  • Studying about plants because you’re fascinated.
  • Trying a different baking recipe because you like the challenge of doing something new.

Intrinsic motivation is often considered to be the better of the two motivational types, but as we’ve said, it’s nearly impossible to not have both (or to not feel both). However, studies have shown that if you only present extrinsic motivators to children for things that should be internally driven, it can have a negative outcome. As one article stated, “Some studies have demonstrated that offering excessive external rewards for an already internally rewarding behavior can lead to a reduction in intrinsic motivation, a phenomenon known as the overjustification effect.”

There are so many behaviors that we engage in throughout the day. To think that we might only do them if we’re going to get something tangible out of it kind of sucks the joy out of living. Feeling passionate, inspired, creative, and curious are all what make life so amazing. Intrinsic motivation is acknowledging that we might not have a desirable result every time we partake in an activity, but still pursuing it because we want to.

How Liberty Leadership Guides Intrinsic Motivation

At our private elementary and middle school, we go on field trips, invite guest presenters, don’t have homework or frequent testing, host in-depth Socratic seminars, take on learning Quests, and we are ultimately a learner-driven community. This is at the core of being an Acton Academy. Students set the tone and pace for their learning, and they take on things that they are passionate about. We want students to become lifelong learners who know how to manage their time and dive into their interests. Students aren’t performing their learning activities for grades, test scores, or for completion awards. Instead, their progress is tracked with badges that emphasize core academic skills, as well as character growth.

Teaching These Skills at Home

When the home and school environment are sending cohesive messages to a child, they can truly soar. That being said, we understand that teaching intrinsic motivation is tough — especially if your child has been reliant on rewards and external motivating factors. Liberty Leadership in Bel Air is here to help! In our next blog, we’re going to spend some time discussing how you as a parent can continue teaching these ideals to your child at home.

Regardless of age, we all have things that we can work on, and all of us can grow in our intrinsic motivation. Stay tuned for our next blog, and learn more about how Liberty Leadership works in the meantime!