What Is Motivation?

Components of Motivation
 

What Is Motivation?

Motivation is the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. It is what causes you to act, whether it is getting a glass of water to reduce thirst or reading a book to gain knowledge.

 

Motivation doesn’t just refer to the factors that activate behaviors; it also involves the factors that direct and maintain these goal-directed actions (though such motives are rarely directly observable). As a result, we often have to infer the reasons why people do the things that they do based on observable behaviors.1

What exactly lies behind the motivations for why we act? Psychologists have proposed different theories of motivation, including drive theoryinstinct theory, and humanistic theory (such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). The reality is that there are many different forces that guide and direct our motivations.

 

Types of Motivation

Different types of motivation are frequently described as being either extrinsic or intrinsic:

  • Extrinsic motivations are those that arise from outside of the individual and often involve rewards such as trophies, money, social recognition, or praise.
  • Intrinsic motivations are those that arise from within the individual, such as doing a complicated crossword puzzle purely for the personal gratification of solving a problem.2

Uses

There are many different uses for motivation. It serves as a guiding force for all human behavior, but understanding how it works and the factors that may impact it can be important in a number of ways.

Understanding motivation can:

  • Help improve the efficiency of people as they work toward goals
  • Help people take action
  • Encourage people to engage in health-oriented behaviors
  • Help people avoid unhealthy or maladaptive behaviors such as risk-taking and addiction
  • Help people feel more in control of their lives
  • Improve overall well-being and happiness

Impact

Anyone who has ever had a goal (like wanting to lose 20 pounds or run a marathon) probably immediately realizes that simply having the desire to accomplish something is not enough. Achieving such a goal requires the ability to persist through obstacles and endurance to keep going in spite of difficulties.

 

There are three major components of motivation: activation, persistence, and intensity.3

 
  • Activation involves the decision to initiate a behavior, such as enrolling in a psychology class.
  • Persistence is the continued effort toward a goal even though obstacles may exist. An example of persistence would be taking more psychology courses in order to earn a degree although it requires a significant investment of time, energy, and resources.
  • Intensity can be seen in the concentration and vigor that goes into pursuing a goal.4 For example, one student might coast by without much effort, while another student will study regularly, participate in discussions, and take advantage of research opportunities outside of class. The first student lacks intensity, while the second pursues their educational goals with greater intensity.
 

The degree of each of these components of motivation can impact whether or not you achieve your goal. Strong activation, for example, means that you are more likely to start pursuing a goal. Persistence and intensity will determine if you keep working toward that goal and how much effort you devote to reaching it.

Tips

All people experience fluctuations in their motivation and willpower. Sometimes you might feel fired up and highly driven to reach your goals, while at other times you might feel listless or unsure of what you want or how to achieve it.

 

Even if you’re feeling low on motivation, there are steps you can take that will keep you moving forward. Some things you can do include:

 
  • Adjust your goals to focus on things that really matter to you
  • If you’re tackling something that is just too big or too overwhelming, break it up into smaller steps and try setting your sights on achieving that first step toward progress
  • Improve your confidence
  • Remind yourself about what you achieved in the past and what where your strengths lie
  • If there are things you feel insecure about, try working on making improvements in those areas so that you feel more skilled and capable.

 

Potential Pitfalls

There are a few things you should watch for that might hurt your motivation. These include:

 
  • Quick fixes or all-or-nothing thinking. It’s easy to feel unmotivated if you can’t fix something immediately or if you can’t have it all at once. Remind yourself that reaching your goals takes time.
  • Thinking that one size fits all. Just because an approach or method worked for someone else does not mean that it will work for you. If something isn’t helping you reach your goals or is making you feel unmotivated, look for things that will work better for you.
 

Talk to your doctor if you are feeling symptoms of apathy and low mood that last longer than two weeks. Sometimes a persistent lack of motivation might be tied to a mental health condition such as depression.

 

History of Motivation

What are the things that actually motivate us to act? Throughout history, psychologists have proposed different theories to explain what motivates human behavior. The following are some of the major theories of motivation.

Instincts

The instinct theory of motivation suggests that behaviors are motivated by instincts, which are fixed and inborn patterns of behavior.5 Psychologists including William James, Sigmund Freud, and William McDougal have proposed a number of basic human drives that motivate behavior. Such instincts might include biological instincts that are important for an organism’s survival such as fear, cleanliness, and love.

 

Drives and Needs

Many of your behaviors such as eating, drinking, and sleeping are motivated by biology. You have a biological need for food, water, and sleep. Therefore, you are motivated to eat, drink, and sleep. Drive theory suggests that people have basic biological drives and that behaviors are motivated by the need to fulfill these drives.6

 

Arousal Levels

The arousal theory of motivation suggests that people are motivated to engage in behaviors that help them maintain their optimal level of arousal.3 A person with low arousal needs might pursue relaxing activities such as reading a book, while those with high arousal needs might be motivated to engage in exciting, thrill-seeking behaviors, such as motorcycle racing.

A Word From Verywell

Understanding motivation is important in many areas of life, from parenting to the workplace. You may want to set the best goals and establish the right reward systems to motivate others as well as to increase your own motivation.

 

Knowledge of motivating factors and manipulating them is used in marketing and other aspects of industrial psychology. It’s an area where there are many myths and everyone can benefit from knowing what works and what doesn’t.

Author:
Mental Health and Other Resources / Resources for Local Health Providers

BY:

Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author, educational consultant, and speaker focused on helping students learn about psychology
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