What is Motivation?

Motivation is the force that directs and regulates our behavior, driving us to initiate and complete an action. Motivation can come from internal or external forces. The process of motivation consists of three parts: the arousal of an action, the direction of an action, and the continued persistence of an action.
There are different types of motivation, such as achievement motivation, social motivations, self-esteem motivations, power motivation, competence motivation, need-fulfilling motivations, and there are a number of different psychological and sociological theories to explain the causes and processes of these motivations.

The two overarching types of motivation are intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivation stems from enjoyment of the behavior or action itself. People who are intrinsically motivated to complete a task will do it because they see value in the task. Intrinsically motivated people feel that their outcome of success or failure to complete a goal is in their own hands. People who have extrinsic motivation are driven to complete a task or action because of perceived forces from outside of themselves, which compel them to complete the task. The desire for rewards or the fear of punishment is an example of extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation often makes a person feel like his success or failure in relation to the goal at hand is determined by luck or fate, rather than to his own abilities or inabilities.

Studies have produced a number of theories to explain the process of motivation. Incentive theories of motivation, Drive-reduction theories of motivation, Need theories of motivation, goal-setting theories of motivation, and Unconscious theories of motivation are a few of the popular examples, with each of these broad categories possessing a number of theories within it.

Incentive theories of motivation suggest that individuals are driven to complete an action because they anticipate a tangible or intangible reward upon the completion of the task. In this case, a person will complete an action because he or she expects is to be profitable and foresees that successfully completing the task will increase his or her happiness.

Drive-reduction theories claim that all motivation has underlying biological forces that are driving the individual to complete the task at hand. This group of theories examines are our biological needs and urge to fulfill them if homeostasis is off balance. For example, if an individual is cold he will be compelled to engage in behaviors that will lead to the acquisition of things to make him warm. Once he is warmed, homeostasis will be achieved once again.

Need theories of motivation take the drive-reduction theories a bit further, including intellectual, emotional, and psychological needs into account when trying to detect the underlying causes of behavior. This group of theories suggests that there is a hierarchy involved in Need theories of motivation. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs puts forth a basic explanation of the different levels of needs that we strive to fulfill, starting with the most basic: Biological needs, Safety needs, belonging needs, Self-esteem needs, and Self actualization needs.

Goal-setting theories of motivation, which have emerged from the field of cognitive psychology, assert that individuals can be driven or motivated to complete an action because he or she has a goal or specific, clear end in mind. Achieving or reaching the pre-determined goal, which may be tangible or intangible, is the reward when examining motivation using a Goal-setting theory of motivation.

The psychoanalytic school of psychology has brought forth the theory of the Unconscious mind, and suggested that there is an Unconscious theory of motivation by which human beings can operate. According to this theory, we each of an unconscious level in our mind that houses the fears and anxieties we are not prepared to deal with on a conscious level. Unconscious theories of motivation suggest that these forces can motivate us to complete certain actions, even if we are not fully aware why we are driven to complete them.

Motivation is an essential part of any goal an individual wants or feels driven to achieve. Whether the motivation is intrinsic, extrinsic, positive, negative, real, imagined, tangible or intangible, there is always a driving force or call to action that pushes us to complete an action. This force is motivation.


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