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Theories of Motivation: The Power Behind Your Drive

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New Year’s resolutions: 80% of people who make them break them by February. What sets apart those who keep theirs from those who don’t?  One answer to this is motivation. A person’s motivation level dictates their success and achievements. Thus, highly motivated people tend to go further in life. Whether you’re a highly motivated person or not, you might be interested in learning about the theories of motivation. After all, learning these might help you diagnose the hindrances you face. This guide explains the top theories of motivation and can help you learn what drives people to do things and succeed in the things they set out to do.

The Definition of Motivation

Before you delve into the theories of motivation, it might be helpful to learn the definition of motivation. Here are several characteristics or descriptions of what motivation means:

  • The desire to do something
  • The force behind doing something
  • The willingness to do something

Motivation refers to the force, stimulus, incentive, or drive to achieve a particular goal, duty, or task. Therefore, motivation is the force that causes you to do the things you do. It’s what drives you to cross tasks off your list. High levels of motivation might cause people to work harder and achieve more. In comparison, people with low levels might procrastinate. In a sense, procrastination is the opposite of motivation.

Procrastination causes you to put tasks off until later. It impedes you from completing tasks and thwarts your ability to succeed. On the other hand, motivation drives you to do just the opposite.

The Correlation Between Motivation and Success

As you can imagine, there is a correlation between motivation and success. The goal is to learn what motivates you, which is the key to improving your motivation. Likewise, if you’re trying to encourage others, you must know what motivates them. Consider some of the following groups of people with the importance of motivation and success:

Children

Children are a unique group of people that require motivation to complete tasks. For example, if you tell your child to pick up their toys, what causes them to listen?

In some cases, kids listen out of fear of punishment. In other cases, kids might listen to earn a reward. For example, if you tell your kids that listening to you earns prizes, they might do it to earn the prizes. When children aren’t motivated to do what they’re told, they’re more likely not to do it. 

Employees 

Another group of people to look at is employees. If you manage or own a company, you might wonder how to motivate your employees. According to one source, 70% of employees feel disengaged at work. Disengaged employees don’t work as hard, which means your company could suffer. The goal is to determine what motivates them to work harder and supply them with that. Motivated employees equal higher productivity and profits. 

Students 

Motivated students tend to excel in school, but what causes them to feel motivated? When students have a high level of motivation, they might get better grades and experience fewer disciplinary problems. 

Relationships

Maintaining relationships also requires motivation, whether in friendships, marriage, or dating. So what causes some relationships to last and others to end? Motivation is one element that affects relationships, as two people must have a certain level of motivation to keep it going. For example, a successful marriage has two partners who feel motivated to work at it. 

Working Adults 

If you’re a working adult that wants to succeed in your job and life, you might need more motivation. Highly motivated working adults tend to make more money and succeed in their jobs than unmotivated people. As you can see, a person’s motivation plays a critical role in their success, no matter what age or group you examine.

The Theories of Motivation: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic 

Intrinsic motivation and Extrinsic motivation table showing the positive and negative outlook for each example

So, what is a motivation theory? You can describe them as explanations of what motivates people, and there are many. Examining the two main categories of motivation is an excellent place to start when looking at theories. Here are the two main classifications:

Intrinsic Motivation 

Intrinsic motivation is the driving force people have to accomplish tasks that are rewarding. Activities feel rewarding when doing something enjoyable. For example, many people plant and maintain gardens from intrinsic motivation. Planting and maintaining a garden requires a lot of work, but it’s also enjoyable. 

Another example is learning an instrument. Learning a new instrument isn’t easy; it takes work. However, if you enjoy practicing, this enjoyment might be the force that causes you to excel with the instrument. The bottom line is that intrinsic motivation doesn’t require outside sources to encourage you to do a task. Instead, the force comes from within you. 

Extrinsic Motivation 

The second category is extrinsic motivation. The driving force behind this theory is the punishment you encounter by not following through with a task. For example, teenagers might clean their room only because they can’t hang out with their friends on the weekend if they don’t. Therefore, they clean their room to avoid punishment. Extrinsic motivation also happens to receive a prize, reward, or benefit. It says, “if you do a specific thing, you get a specific reward.” 

For example, most people go to work each day due to extrinsic motivation. They go to earn a paycheck. A person who gardens might also work hard on their garden not because they enjoy it, but rather to have food to eat. The bottom line with extrinsic motivation is that it requires outside sources or a reward to motivate a person. Therefore, the force comes from something else. 

Other Theories of Motivation 

You can categorize most theories for motivation into the intrinsic or extrinsic category, but here are several common theories that explain more about motivation: 

Maslow’s Theory (Humanistic Theory)

Pyramid of the Maslow's theory showing the different needs of humans to develop motivation, (Physiological, safety, love, esteem and self actualization)One of the most prominent theories of motivation is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. This theory states that people develop motivation to do things based on five categories of needs:

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Love 
  • Esteem
  • Self-actualization

The principle behind this is that people focus on one need at a time, based on a specific order beginning with physiological needs. Physiological needs represent basic things people need for survival, such as air, water, food, and sleep. People do what they need to do to get these things to survive.

Once they meet the needs in this category, they move on to the next one: safety. When a person has the things in one category, they no longer have the motivation to get these things, so they focus on other things.

Each category represents a unique set of needs and desires, with self-actualization at the end. Self-actualization focuses on the drive to succeed and enjoy life. Therefore, this theory bases motivation on a series of needs and a specific order of those needs. 

Incentive Theory 

The incentive theory is an example of an extrinsic motivation approach. The primary concept is that people do things for the reward. Here are some examples:

  • Going to work for the paycheck
  • Planting a garden for the food 
  • Getting good grades to get a scholarship
  • Doing chores to earn privileges
  • Listening to your parents to get a prize
  • Working harder to earn a bonus

Finding the motivation to do things to earn something is a common form of inspiration. However, this theory can also fall into the intrinsic motivation category. For example, if you enjoy your job, you might find the inspiration to go each day for the joy it brings you. 

The Hawthorne Effect

The next theory is the Hawthorne Effect. The basis behind this principle is that people find more motivation when they know that someone is watching and measuring them. 

For example, if your employees know that you have video cameras in the workplace, they might work harder because they know you might be watching. The cameras motivate them to avoid wasting time at work. You can relate this theory to other parts of life, too. For example, if you have children in sports, they might play harder at the games you attend, knowing that you’re there watching. 

Arousal Theory

The arousal theory explains motivation by a person’s level of arousal. It dictates what a person does on how they feel. People motivated by this theory base their actions on an optimal level of arousal.

Every person has a different optimal level of arousal, which controls what they do. When a person’s arousal level drops, they might seek something to do to increase it. On the other hand, when their arousal level spikes, they seek something that decreases it. 

Drive Theory 

The drive theory is the notion that people do things to meet unmet needs. The best example of this theory is drinking water when thirsty. When a person feels a sense of thirst, they feel motivated to drink water. 

The drive theory also explains why some people only go to work when they run out of money. While they have money to use for their needs, they don’t have the drive to go to work. However, they feel this drive when they run out of cash. 

How to Find Motivation 

As you learn about the theories of motivation, you might start to see the factors that impact you. If you’re struggling with motivation, you can learn how to find the inspiration you’re lacking. Here are some tips to increase your drive, focus, and motivation:

Consider What Motivates You

First, did a specific theory resonate with you as you read through them? If so, you might want to consider implementing that strategy into your lifestyle to find more motivation. You might also realize that developing better habits might help you increase your drive in life. In addition, good habits lead to success, better time-management skills, and improved health. 

For example, if you don’t have an effective routine to follow each day, you could create one. Focusing on the discipline of following a good pattern might motivate you to work out more, eat healthier, or do other things. 

Set Goals

Setting goals is a great way to boost your motivation. The key takeaway from this is that you should start with small goals that aren’t difficult to meet. As you meet these goals, it might encourage you to continue working hard to meet other goals. 

Celebrate Milestones 

Next, take the time to celebrate your milestones. For example, if you start focusing on losing weight, celebrate when you lose five pounds. Then, celebrate again when you reach the 10-pound mark. Reaching goals is a driving force for some people, and celebrating these milestones is another form of inspiration. 

Develop the Right Mindset 

Finally, you can increase your motivation by developing the right mindset. A fixed mindset traps you in believing that you can’t change, excel, or succeed. On the other hand, a growth mindset says you can. Developing a growth mindset might give you the determination and inspiration to accomplish more. 

The Benefits of Finding Motivation 

Motivated people achieve more, excel at what they do, and accomplish more goals. Therefore, the benefit of finding more motivation is that it might take you further in life. You might reach goals you didn’t think you could reach.

Your level of motivation might drive you to:

  • Earn a promotion at work
  • Stop a bad habit
  • Learn a new language
  • Develop deeper relationships

So, if you decide to do something in your life, your motivation level controls whether you accomplish that goal or not.  

Motivational image of a silhouetted person with spread arms in sunset

The Importance of Learning the Theories of Motivation to Increase Yours

Motivation plays a massive role in your life, yet it doesn’t come easy for everyone. Learning the various theories of motivation might be a good place for you to start if you want to become more motivated. Learning what makes you tick and what drives you to do more is the key to becoming more motivated. 

Motivation isn’t something people think about often, yet learning about it is the best way to increase your motivation level. Drop a comment below to let us know the best ways you find motivation.

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