How to Motivate Yourself and Theories of Motivation

© | alphaspirit

In this article, you will learn about 1) an introduction to motivation, 2) theories of motivation, and 3) how to motivate yourself.


What is Motivation?

Motivation is a behavioral progression that instigates an individual to move toward a goal and guides him in the process. Motivation can help you become independent and live the lifestyle that you so desire. It equips you with the leverage to explore your limits and survey your ideas.

Motivation can be split into two broad categories – extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is guided by external factors and rewards, such as money, fame and recognition, power and influence, or happiness in general.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual. This kind of motivation exists when the individual hopes to gain personal pleasure or gratification from a certain act. In other words, the rewards here are intrinsic.

Components of Motivation

You may have set several goals for yourself. But is it ever enough to just desire a favorable outcome? Absolutely not! Unless you have the drive to persist in your endeavour, overcoming all obstacles that come your way, your goal will become just wishful thinking. There are three components of motivation that ensure that goals are reached. They are:

  • Activation: Activation, also known as arousal, is the initial effort that you put in to instigate motivated action or behavior. It may be joining a class to lose weight or making a courtesy call to initiate dialogue with a prospective client.
  • Persistence: Persistence is the continued and stimulated effort that you put in to reach your goal, steering through various obstacles that come your way.
  • Intensity: Intensity is the magnitude of the drive and energy that you expend to reach your goal. Intensity varies from person to person and from goal to goal.

Motivation and Morale: How Is Motivation Different from Morale?

Motivation and morale are closely-knit. However, they are reasonably different things.

  • Motivation is personal – an internal psychological sentiment – while morale is group related.
  • While higher motivation also boosts group morale, the same may not be true vice versa.
  • Morale is an overall positive attitude that aims to improve every possible aspect of an employee’s performance. Motivation is much more centralized and outcome-specific.
  • Morale is generally boosted by creating a friendly, conducive work environment. Motivation is usually built up by offering rewards and perks, such as a lucrative paycheck or a bonus.

The Importance of Motivation

Motivation is one of the most vital elements that contribute to the success of any organization. Below, we describe some of the benefits that can be reaped by instilling motivation in your workforce.

  • Achieving goals: An organization has a certain set of objectives or goals that it aims to achieve. Motivation helps reach those goals by:
    1. Making it possible to effectively utilize all available resources.
    2. Creating a healthy environment conducive to employee cooperation, collaboration and teamwork.
    3. Instilling a sense of purpose in each member of the workforce and helping them become more target-focused.
  • Increasing efficiency: When you motivate an employee, you enable him to focus on his abilities and create a willingness to contribute in his full capacity. Motivation thus increases productivity and efficiency and results in a reduced cost of operation per employee.
  • Building a friendly atmosphere: You can bring about motivation in your employees by offering rewards in the form of monetary incentives or opportunities for promotion. This creates a friendly atmosphere that results in higher stability via employee cooperation, reduces or eliminates dissent and makes employees more adaptive to change.
  • Utilizing Human Resources: Motivation activates the human element of a company’s resources. It creates the willingness to work, thus making it possible for a company to optimally use its human resources.
  • Stabilizing workforce: Motivation stabilizes the workforce. It reduces employee turnover and gets rid of absenteeism and other negative traits in employees. A stable workforce creates a great company image and helps in the induction of more competent people into the company’s fold.


Instincts – Evolutionary Theory of Motivation

The evolutionary theory suggests that all living creatures, including humans, tend to display behaviors that assist in their genetic wellness. According to evolutionary psychology, genetic evolution manifests itself in the behavioral traits of humans and other beings. Since this theory champions the survival of the fittest, it postulates that all the genetic benefits are eventually passed on to the next generation. An important component of such genetic mutation is instincts. An instinct is a sub-conscious behaviour that enables an individual to automatically cope with changes in external stimuli. Since human behaviour is largely guided by instincts, it can be safely stated that behavioral progressions such as motivation have been an integral part of human evolution.

Drive-Reduction Theory of Motivation

The drive-reduction theory is centered on homeostasis and how people cope with disturbances to it. Homeostasis is the ability of humans and other living beings to maintain equilibrium in their internal environments. A human has certain primary and secondary drives that he needs to satisfy. These drives inherently push an individual toward a certain goal. Primary needs can be hunger, thirst, and sexual desire, whereas secondary needs are the ones that assist in satisfying the primary needs – the best example is monetary needs. According to Clark Hull, the person behind drive-reduction theory, drive-reduction is a primary component of the learning process in humans. Since the satisfaction (or reduction) of a drive on a regular basis conditions human behavior, drives are the foremost change-agents when it comes to impacting human behavior and learning. Also, the presence of simultaneous multiple drives will lead to more comprehensive learning than a single drive.

Temporal Motivation Theory (TMT)

Temporal motivation theory studies the impact of time (especially deadlines) on our motivation levels. This theory suggests that the more a job is near its deadline, the more its perceived importance increases. In other words, time plays a crucial role in motivating people to do certain jobs. Other important elements of this theory are procrastination and goal-setting. TMT was developed by Piers Steel and Cornelius J. König. A mathematical representation of the theory is as follows:

Motivation = (Expectancy x Value) / (1 + Impulsiveness x Delay)

Here, motivation is the desire for a favorable outcome, expectancy is the probability of success, value is the expected reward, impulsiveness is the individual’s reaction to delay, and delay is the time taken for realization of the goal.

Arousal Theory of Motivation

The arousal theory is an extension of the drive-reduction theory of motivation. This theory champions the motivational effect of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the human psyche. According to the arousal theory, the human psyche is reward-sensitive, and an individual gets motivated to carry out any activity that optimizes their level of arousal. In other words, humans are inclined to participate in activities that satisfy or relieve their arousal. An individual with a lower arousal requirement will typically partake in activities that induce relaxation while one with a higher arousal requirement will go for something that delivers more thrill and excitement. And this psychological phenomenon is not restricted to humans alone. An experiment conducted by Peter Milner and James Olds in the mid-1900s consisted of electrodes placed on a lab rat’s brain that could stimulate it on command. The rat was placed inside a box that had two levers – one, when pressed rewarded the rat with food and water, while the other lever, when pressed, stimulated the reward center of the rat’s brain. Although initially the rat stepped on both the levers by accident, it soon learned what they were there for. Pretty soon, the rat was pressing the reward stimulus lever voluntarily and repeatedly. The scientists inferred that the rat was stimulating itself electrically. They went on to proclaim that all creatures, including humans, display a strong motivation to engage in behaviors that stimulate the reward center of their brains.

Incentive Theory of Motivation and Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

The incentive theory of motivation states that certain intrinsic and extrinsic factors work as incentives to motivate human behavior. Intrinsically motivated behaviors are performed because they result in personal satisfaction, whereas extrinsically motivated behaviors are performed in anticipation of rewards or to avoid negative outcomes. However, it is primarily extrinsic factors like monetary rewards, power or influence that strongly motivate human behavior. However, it has been observed that once extrinsic motivation is used on a regular basis to motivate a person to do things that he finds intrinsically motivating, over time he loses personal satisfaction in doing such things.

Drives and Needs – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

As humans, we experience drives and have certain needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs postulates that we are motivated by hierarchically ranked needs. An individual needs to satisfy a chain of needs for long-term survival and self-development. First in the hierarchy are very basic needs – food, shelter, a job and so forth. Once these needs are satisfied, they no longer serve as motivational factors, and the individual turns to higher things in the hierarchy to serve as his motivation – a car, bank balance, social status, etc. Maslow’s pyramid classifies human needs in terms of their hierarchy – needs that are psychological, based on safety and security, love and belonging and self-actualization.

  • Psychological needs form the base of the pyramid and include very basic human needs like breathing, water, food, sleep and excretion.
  • Safety needs include security of the body, abundance of resources, good health, property, etc.
  • Love and belonging needs include friendship, family life, sexual satisfaction, etc.
  • Esteem requirements revolve around an individual’s self-esteem, respectability and social standing, confidence, achievement, etc.
  • Self-actualization needs stem from an individual’s endeavor to cultivate morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving capabilities and a practical outlook.


Motivation is a comprehensive process: it involves anticipation, fear, and intense desire to achieve your goal. But most importantly, science has an inherent role to play in motivation.

The Scientific Ways of Motivation

Define your “success”. Motivation is best pursued when success is predefined. The first step you need to take when defining success is to espouse a positive attitude. Define your success in positive terms. So, if your goal is money, your aim should be this: “I want to earn enough to buy a house, a car, and have a luxurious lifestyle”. It should never be: “I don’t want to be poor and homeless forever”. The second step is to plan on ways to achieve your target. So, if your newly-defined goal is to have a life of luxury, your follow-up step should be to find ways to increase your income – explore newer business territories, expand your existing business to cater to a wider customer base and adopt a practicable budget.

Start small. If you plan on success, you need to plan on things that are doable and small enough to be manageable. Your to-do list may be brimming with odd jobs and loose ends, but it is your best bet to tackle the tasks that you find the least daunting. More often than not, a seemingly off-putting task can be accomplished when it is broken down into simpler tasks. Once that is done, you will feel motivated to move on and take the next task by its horns. A job well-accomplished will intrinsically motivate you to accomplish another.

Build focus. Often, even your best efforts are frustrated by oncoming distractions. These distractions often force you to shift your focus from the task at hand to the sudden emergency. As a result, you are not able to accomplish either of the tasks, and many unnecessary loose ends are created. These loose ends only add to your frustration over time. The only solution to this is to build bullet-proof focus. You will also be required to put some ideas on absolute hold and concentrate on the task at hand. Once this is accomplished, you would be able to take care of your loose ends as well.

Eliminate fear and plan for failure. Never be fearful of challenges. When fear builds up in your mind, it manifests itself in your work as well. Fear eats into your motivation and brings negativity to your set goals. It drains all your positive energy and tires you out. Soon, bouts of intense worrying replace positive action. Worrying should be avoided at all costs. The best thing to do to stop worrying is to plan for failure. Remember, even the most successful people have faced big failures. Once you plan for failure and are willing to accept it, you will realize that success is actually achievable.

Harness the chameleon effect. It may not always be possible to be at your best level of motivation. However, it is quite probable that people around you are highly enthused. The environment around you gives you the opportunity to draw from it, copy the behaviors of people around you and motivate yourself. Just sitting next to a positively motivated individual can work wonders on your own motivation level. It is best to sit next to a person you do not know well. Unfamiliarity with your proximate environment tends to get you to give your best performance, just because it is human nature to try and impress people you do not know well.

Apply the power of positive thinking. Happiness increases productivity. A positive frame of mind enables an individual to be optimistic and makes him successful. Also, we procrastinate the most when we are in a negative frame of mind.

Control procrastination. Procrastination happens all of a sudden, without warning. The best device to control procrastination is pre-commitment. Pre-commitment creates healthy pressure for a task to get done. It helps to:

  • Set deadlines: Scheduling the task at hand helps to set achievable deadlines, thus resulting in an enhanced success rate. Scheduling a task means that you are able to set exact dates and times for its completion, thus enabling you to maintain focus on the task at hand.
  • Apply peer pressure: Peer pressure has more positive effects than negative ones. When you surround yourself with the people you want to be, you put yourself into a “work-in-progress” situation. Such peer pressure will get you to do things to achieve the desired end.
  • Partner with your vendor: Your vendor can be your most valued accountability partner if you play your cards well! Humans, by nature, are motivated to continually enhance their image to others. You are surrounded by vendors – employees, accountants, attorneys and the like, and it’s in your human nature to impress them. When you channel this strong motivation to impress others into things that you want to get done, you will have by your side the best accountability partners you will ever find!

Reward yourself. Treat yourself whenever you finish an important task on your list or close a loose end that would otherwise be giving you sleepless nights. It isn’t enough, however, to reward yourself only when a big goal is achieved. You would do well to break up the bigger goals into checkpoints and offer yourself rewards for reaching each checkpoint.

Allocate one-on-one time with yourself. You are your best friend, and nobody understands you better than you do. So it is best that you are in touch with yourself. Set aside time when you can think about your life, your business and your priorities. Spending time with yourself will allow your creative thoughts to take center stage and build focus.

Exercise your body, not just your mind. Like they say, a healthy mind can only reside in a healthy body. Allocate enough time to exercise your body. Exercise energizes you and helps you deal with otherwise difficult situations. Forget a workout, even a brisk 15-minute walk will work wonders in freeing up your clogged mind.

Incorporate the “fun” element in your work. A job is always well done when you are having fun doing it. When you enjoy doing a thing, you tend to keep doing it. This persistence results in expertise and over time, it will be a lot easier for you to draw a quick end result with perfection.

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