Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation: Your Health

Let’s talk about a topic that is difficult for most of us. Our health. Whether we are male or female, older or younger, as parents, we can struggle with our health. Now, let’s get one thing clear right away. Being healthy is not a specific weight on a scale, not a specific size of pants, and certainly not a specific body build. Being healthy is being physically able to do fun, sometimes strenuous activities without feeling like you will die.


Four years ago, and my boys had just joined TrailLife and we were on our first big hike together as a family. It was a four-mile hike, up to a lake, along it and back down again. We were stopping at the lake for a break and lunch and everyone was excited. I was not the biggest I had ever been but I was certainly was notably unhealthy. One mile in I was struggling and the only person behind me was the one who was supposed to be bringing up the end of the pack. At the halfway mark I was so thankful for the break and I didn’t want to get back up to keep going. The second half was downhill but it was over large rocks and you had to pull yourself across gaps holding a tree sometimes. I was barely keeping moving much less breathing well. By the time we got back to the parking lot, all I could do was lay on the floor of our van with my inhaler while all the boys were running circles in the parking lot.

This was my wake up call

I had known that I needed to work on my health, but I had no time to do so.

I had known that increased regular activity can make exertional asthma pretty much non-existent, but I didn’t like how it felt to push myself.

I had known that my kids were getting bigger and would want to do more challenging things with their troops, but I figured I could keep up well enough.

I knew better, but I had excuses.

This is where intrinsic versus extrinsic comes in. Intrinsic motivation is when something from within us is our motivation. We have set our own goals. We have decided to work hard to do something. We know what needs to be done and we are self-starting and self-motivating. Extrinsic motivation is when something outside of ourselves provides motivation. There is a bonus at work if we meet a sales goal. If we clean something every day this week our mom will get us ice cream. If all the work is done our boss says we can leave work early Friday.

Prior to the hike, I was working with just intrinsic motivation and it wasn’t enough. I kept coming up with excuses and I kept letting myself down. After the hike, all I could think about was how many times the kids asked me to join them at the front of the line and I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop thinking about how happy and energetic they were, asking me to play with them, at the end of the hike and I was barely breathing. I couldn’t stop thinking about the other hikes I knew were already on the schedule and how I might let them down.

My kids became my extrinsic motivation

Ten minutes a day. That is all I started with. Every day (except Sunday) I would purposefully go walk for 10 minutes without stopping. If it was raining I used a treadmill. It was either a friend’s treadmill, an apartment complex’s treadmill, or eventually our own, but I used one on rainy days. I even walked circles inside the house to make sure I got my ten minutes in. That turned into 20 minutes a day. I would get up earlier and find the time to get a short walk done before I had to handle kiddos. There were also periods where walks in the morning didn’t work so I did them late at night. While I was working on this I used a fitness app to find out what my average active time and steps per day were. It was pitiful, to say the least. I was so focused on everyone else and checking all the boxes that I was not taking care of myself. I was not moving around enough during the day. The app gave me a starting point. My kids were my motivation. Slowly I started seeing results.

Remember me saying that healthy isn’t a number on the scale? My walks became easier, hikes with the kids became easier, I could play with them outside longer and without getting short of breath. I was obviously getting better and I even dropped a pant size but my weight stayed basically the same and I was ok with this. My kids were loving my attention and ability to play with them outside.

About a year ago, we had a family camp out with one of the troops. At the campout, I ended up helping with two two-mile hikes and a geocaching trek. By the time I fell into my sleeping back I had 20,000 steps. I was exhausted, my muscles were achy, but I could breath and I could keep walking if I needed to. I was doing worlds better than I had been and my kids were beyond happy. I was healthy. I had succeeded.

For some of us, our sedentary day is what is holding us back from being healthy. For others, it is a need for sodas or other such drinks. For some, it is a terrible sweet tooth. For others, it is a minor surgery we keep putting off because of the small downtime after. Whatever is holding you up, it is time to find the motivation to handle it. Whether it is intrinsic or extrinsic. Whether it is because you personally are motivating yourself or your kids are your motivation.

Just make a small, easy plan, and follow-through.


Greetings! My name is Joy and I am currently a stay at home mom who is homeschooling her three kids in South Carolina. I love learning and I love sharing the love of learning with others so getting to home school my kids and watch the “ah-ha” moments when they understand something is unbelievably rewarding. I have been homeschooling since my twins were preschool age so we are going on 8 years now. I am also a military spouse so we have the added joy of being a military family with some of the complications that come with it.  As a family, we stay busy with our scouting groups, American Heritage Girls and TrailLife, and we do many camping and hiking trips with them. When I have downtime, I am typically reading books I have sitting around the house, on YouTube/websites getting more information on different home school programs or working on plans for homeschool. I look forward to being able to share our experiences with everyone and help encourage all homeschooling families.