Components of Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation has two components to it – curiosity and courage.

Curiosity is intrinsic to being human and is evident as soon as a baby can reach out a hand or focus its eyes. Without anything to stifle it, curiosity will be a mainstay of intrinsic motivation. However, curiosity can be stifled, either intentionally or not.


Unintentionally, it can occur because curiosity leads to suffering. For example, a baby touches something hot and won’t touch anything that looks like that again. Intentionally, curiosity can be stifled by punishment or, less obviously, by the offer of a reward.

In general, extrinsic motivation (punishment or reward) will interfere with and reduce intrinsic motivation.

The second component of intrinsic motivation only emerges with the adult mind, this is courage. Courage is the ability to keep going when things get hard or ambiguous or boring. Courage means not letting the red zone trigger but staying at our best and moving forward despite obstacles.

Courage can neither be willed nor argued into existence, it grows and develops through the attention of adults around the child, adults practicing encounter, however poorly they may be doing it.

Extrinsic motivators stifle the emergence of courage by their conditional nature. Courage emerges through an unconditional regard, or acceptance or respect, for the emerging young adult.

With courage, a stifled curiosity can be re-lit, and the combination will be the foundation for long-term growth into successful adulthood.

Developing courage is a key role for any parent and is central to effective teaching for the 21st century.

John Corrigan is an expert in helping individuals to bring their whole of mind to their daily life and increase their effectiveness and the effectiveness of those around them. This expertise scales from the individual to the team to the organisation. At the core of this work is the practice of encounter.

John Corrigan