To understand how to utilize flow psychology in your work and learning, one needs to understand the crucial difference between what psychologists call intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation means you are motivated by a system of rewards and punishments, usually set out by an authority figure like a teacher or a boss.

Most people are extrinsically motivated because that’s what our public school system and most traditional corporate jobs train us to be. The skills taught in these institutions, like carefully following instructions, obeying authority figures and following the status quo help one to survive in a competitive world but they won’t give your life meaning and purpose.

Intrinsic motivation means you are motivated by an internal desire for autonomy, mastery and purpose.

High performers in every discipline rise to the top because they develop their own self-directed systems of setting clear goals and structuring their time, holding themselves accountable by virtue of productivity tools, mentors, coaches etc.. Free to travel their own path, to follow their calling,  they feel less constrained and are hence more innovative than their peers.

To develop a dream career and a purpose-driven life that feels  like recreation more than work you need to be clear about what you value and what motivates you.

Let’s unpack what psychology research has found to be the three pillars of intrinsically motivated individuals:

1. Autonomy

Autonomy means being free to manage yourself. Succeeding at self management requires a disciplined process of holding yourself accountable to a defined plan for achieving your goals. What erodes this sense of autonomy and leaves you feeling stuck in a job is always being told what to do and finding yourself micro-managed by uninspiring bosses.

Generally, people that are the happiest in their careers are those that use their initiative and talents to successfully run their own job or business. There are few things more rewarding in life than having a vision of how things can be improved, working hard to make it a reality and waking up each day to see your progress in improving the lives of others.

Ask yourself these questions:

What is my idea of the perfect work day? Visualize it from start to end.

How can I hold myself accountable to my goals?

2. Mastery

Mastery is about doing something that allows you to use your natural gifts and talents. It’s not something you achieve necessarily, but a process where your challenge-skill ratio is constantly rising, which forces you to keep improving your knowledge and skills to meet new challenges.

Generally, the best way to achieve mastery in your work is to use your ideas and talents to do something meaningful that you truly enjoy doing. But to reach the highest levels of fulfillment and become a master of your craft you must make the leap from just having talent and good ideas to developing the focus and discipline to turn them into a successful business as a freelancer or entrepreneur or an outstanding employee.

Ask yourself these questions:

What kind of work do I find to be fully engaging and more like recreation than work?

What would I do with my creativity and talents if money was no object?

3. Purpose

Purpose is about doing something meaningful that makes a difference in the world. Even early in your career, you should work to develop a long-term vision of what you would like to be remembered for after you’re gone. If you’re working in a traditional job that lacks personal purpose, you need develop a side hustle, which is a purpose-driven business, organization or brand that you can run on the side.

The most successful and fulfilled people today are purpose-driven entrepreneurs who turn their talents and interests into something meaningful that satisfies a need. When you’re purpose-driven , work energizes and stimulates you. When you’re on a mission that you believe in deep in your heart, obstacles like lack of focus, procrastination and lack of direction fall away and you can achieve great things.

Ask yourself these important questions:

What would I like to change in the world?

What do I want to be remembered for after I’m gone?