Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation and the Coaching Process
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation and the Coaching Process

By: Candace L. Dorsey, MA, NCC, LPC

People who are intrinsically motivated work towards things they believe will lead to their personal fulfillment and are not likely to follow a career path or make choices based on what others want them to do.  Those who are extrinsically motivated try to achieve things valued by society in general or by others whom they deem to be successful.  Researchers at the University of Rochester noted that intrinsically motivated people tend to realize their goals because they possess the ability to stay focused and are able to continue making progress despite setbacks.

Similarly, individuals having an internal locus of control feel powerful and are hopeful that they can have a strong effect on their destiny.  Those who have an external locus of control feel more helpless and tend to see a predetermined fate as the determining factor regarding what happens to them in life.  While I believe either extreme can have a downside, those with an external locus of control will find it difficult to put much effort into their goals or to take a great deal of personal responsibility for the outcome of their actions and may blame others or, vaguely, “life” for whatever happens.  When more positive things occur in their lives, they may not believe it was their talent or efficacy that produced this outcome.

As coaches we may find people who have a mostly external locus of control are not likely to be good coaching clients.  Those who want us to join them in pursuing goals that are more congruent with the outside world may be able to achieve some of those goals with the structure and accountability afforded by coaching; but may still be unfulfilled or have difficulty giving much credit to themselves and/or the coaching process.

The most coachable individuals are likely to have an internal locus of control.  If someone were to have an overly extreme internal locus of control, it is possible that person may become more self castigating when external forces significantly impact progress.  Those who can accept that factors beyond their control sometimes come from the outside may be able to regroup and redirect with flexibility and resiliency in the face of overwhelming events such as a major economic downturn or the pervasive destruction from a significant weather event.  Those who believe everything that happens should be or is within their control may feel as if they have failed and are totally responsible for that failure. 

Powerful questions will allow both client and coach discover just how entrenched this view is and spur the client to identify the ways in which it is a blocking belief.  Cognitive behavioral techniques may also be of some use in helping persons who hold the belief that most things have an external locus of control.  If clients are able identify this belief as disempowering and to be able to modify it enough to feel more empowered, it may allow them to open up to the idea that it could be possible to transform their lives in some meaningful way.

Identifying various schemas involving lack of self-efficacy and restructuring them may also facilitate the coaching process.  Although I am not certain I would label the coaching technique “acting as if” as a cognitive behavioral technique, asking them to act “as if” they believed they could have more of an impact on outcome might be also be effective.

The use of visioning (not to be confused with imagery) might be best left until some sense of empowerment has been discovered.  If the vision is there, the client needs to be able to see the steps towards the vision.  Otherwise, hope rests entirely or fate or luck to intervene.  Without some sense of an internal locus of control, this would be most difficult.

Using relaxation exercises and/or meditation to help increase mindfulness and to learn to observe one’s own thoughts without attaching to them may be useful.  Increasing the ability to detach from outside input and observe internal output may be useful in transforming the tendency towards extrinsic motivation.  Once the chatter of the outside world is quieted, the internal chatter may be observed.  Once observed, the choice to detach from or attach to observed thoughts may become apparent.

“Whoever knows he is deep, strives for clarity; whoever would like to appear deep to the crowd, strives for security.  For the crowd considers anything deep if only it cannot see to the bottom:  the crowd is so timid and afraid of going into the water.”  Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Candace L. Dorsey, MA, NCC, LPC, BCC, became a Board Certified Coach (BCC) in May of 2012 and has been in solo practice as a Professional Counselor since 1995. She is on her own transformative journey from full time counselor to part-time life coach in semi-retirement. Candace thrives on helping her clients to become fully actualized individuals by identifying and clearing any impediments that block this process. She may be reached by email at [email protected].

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