Motivation is our drive to meet basic and higher needs and pursue desires. It energizes us and directs our behavior. We need to be able to meet our more basic needs before we can expect to meet higher needs.
Basic and higher needs:
- Belonging – love, acceptance
- Survival – hunger, thirst, safety, shelter
- Esteem – achievement, competence, approval, recognition
- Self Actualization – personal growth, improvement
Motivation is a powerful force for change and growth. It can focus behavior on goals, increase effort, energy and persistence, improve thinking and performance, and enhance self-confidence and self-esteem.
Where Does Motivation Come From?
The source of motivation can be internal or external, positive or negative. Positive motivation involves obtaining desired or pleasant consequences (rewards) while negative motivation involves escaping or avoiding undesired, unpleasant consequences. Internal motivators are often more powerful and enduring than external ones.
Examples of internal motivators include:
Examples of external motivators include:
- Good grades
- Disapproval from others
Business consultants and life coaches will say there is no simple formula for motivation, but expectancy theory makes an attempt at one (based on Vroom, V. H. (1964). Work and motivation. New York: Wiley):
Motivation = Perceived likelihood of success x Belief that success will lead to reward x Value of reward
This formula indicates that the more you believe you can succeed, that your success will be rewarded, and that the rewards will be great, the higher your motivation will be. We are most motivated when we feel capable, responsible, self-directed, respected, and hopeful.
Blocks to Motivation
When motivation is external, it tends to wane when the source is absent. Most children rebel against their parents’ attempts to motivate them to keep their rooms clean. When we grow up and are living on our own, most of us are able to keep our living spaces relatively neat. This is because internal motivation eventually takes the place of our parents. We find our own important reasons for keeping our rooms clean.
Even internal motivation has its challenges. Many of us start out with high motivation, but we find it fading as time passes. This can be due to poor planning and limited short term rewards (see entry on goal setting). It can also be due to poor self-confidence or lack of resources to succeed. Or we may discover that the rewards we anticipated aren’t as powerful as the challenges we meet and sacrifices we make along the way.
Some common blocks to motivation include:
- Fear of failure
- Fear of success (success leads to greater expectations from others as well as increased independence and responsibilities which can be overwhelming)
- External locus of control – relying on luck, not taking responsibility, feeling that others will stand in your way
Since internal motivation is more enduring and we work hard for rewards, it makes sense that finding internal and positive reasons for doing what you are doing is essential to staying motivated. Ask yourself why you are doing something – then ask five more times to see if you can find an internal and positive motivation. For example, lets say you want to become more organized.
- Why do I want to be more organized? So that my house will be neater and cleaner.
- Why do I want my house to be cleaner? So that I can find things more easily.
- Why do I want to find things more easily? So that I can be more efficient.
- Why do I want to be more efficient? So that I can save time.
- Why do I want to save time? So that I can spend more time relaxing and enjoying my family.
From the motivation formula mentioned above, you can see that self-confidence is also an important factor in motivation. Believing in yourself increases your perception of likelihood for success and increases your confidence that you can manage that success once you get there. Know your strengths and weaknesses and capitalize on natural talents and interests to increase your chances for success. Choose a source of inspiration and surround yourself with successful people to remind you it can be done and what you stand to gain by succeeding.
Build in smaller, short-term rewards along the way. The further away you are from your ultimate goal, the more likely you are to lose steam as time passes. Breaking tasks into manageable pieces, each with their own rewards, will help you stay on task and remind you of what you are working so hard for. Incremental rewards will also help prevent you from being overly discouraged by setbacks.