Motivation – Understanding What It Is & How to Harness It

Motivation is the name given to the driving force behind our actions. The reason why we initiate, sustain or cease any particular activity or behavior can be explained by motivation.

Understanding what it is and how to harness it can be of great value. So let’s examine the basis of motivation and what we can do to get and stay motivated in our daily lives.

What is Motivation?

When we want to do something, we say that we are “motivated” to do it. When we don’t want to do something, we say that we lack motivation.

Motivation is a word that we all hear and use regularly, but do we understand what it means?


Motivation is the word used to describe the driving force behind our actions. It explains why we do what we do.

You only need to break down the word to get to its true meaning. Motivation = motive. It is what’s behind the desire to engage in a behavior or complete a task.

Biological, social, emotional, and cognitive forces activate behavior that inspires motivation.

Impact on Behavior

Motivation is the underlying force that initiates, guides, and maintains our behavior. It is what causes us to act. And it regulates our behavior in all situations, from the urgent to the mundane.

Gaining a better understanding of motivation will help us to encourage better behavior in ourselves, our children, students, or employees. It also helps us understand why we engage in the behavior that we do.

Types of Motivation

While many theories have been put forth to explain motivation, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the fact remains that motivating factors differ from one individual to another. Many forces are at play.

In a nutshell, Maslow believed that we are born with a set of innate needs. These needs must be met to achieve self-actualization.

His theory, along with others, highlights the fact that we do the things we do to meet certain innate needs. The best way to explain this though is with the two types of motivation: internal (intrinsic) and external (extrinsic). They meet our needs in different ways, so let’s take a look at what these two terms mean.


Intrinsic motivation is driven by internal reward. When you take part in a behavior because you find it personally rewarding, that is intrinsic motivation at work.


Extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards. The external reward can be something positive that is gained or something negative that is avoided.

This form of motivation can be highly effective. But, excessive external rewards for behavior that should be internally rewarding can reduce intrinsically motivated behavior.

This results in the phenomenon known as the overjustification effect.

How to Get Motivated

Do not expect to feel motivated all the time. A lack of motivation is common and is something that can be worked on.

Don’t rely on feeling motivated to get the job done or your task completed. This is where extrinsic motivation can be of particular benefit. The promise of rewards can motivate you to start a project that you do not feel particularly inspired by.

But do not rely solely on external rewards for your motivation. You were not born expecting outside rewards for effort. You were conditioned to behave that way.

Find “Inspiration”

This is where extrinsic motivation can be of particular benefit.

It encourages the completion of a task that you feel is unpleasant or boring. It can also induce interest and motivation in a new situation, which could lead to intrinsic motivation for that behavior in the future.

Follow Your Drive & Passion

Have you noticed how much easier it is to perform a task related to your interests or passions? This is the nature of intrinsic motivation; doing something because you enjoy it or find it interesting.

And it is this type of motivation that is the most beneficial because it is the easiest to sustain.

How to Stay Motivated

It is easier to stay unmotivated and look for excuses not to do something than to stay motivated. So, how do we keep ourselves motivated?

Maintain Focus

A positive attitude, especially when met with challenges, goes a long way to maintaining motivation. It helps to break down your goals into short-term goals and long-term goals.

Doing so gives you smaller targets to focus on, and each time you meet one target, you will be more motivated to achieve the next.

Aim For Slow and Steady Progress

The thing about motivation is this: once you engage in a behavior, even if the initial motivation was extrinsic, you will be encouraged to continue by the progress you see.

Therefore, behavior that was extrinsically motivated at first can take on intrinsic motivation in subsequent performance.

Set Realistic, Attainable Goals / Milestones

Motivation requires an endgame, a target. The key to staying motivated is to have realistic, attainable goals.

Unrealistic goals will only lead to disappointment, which in turn reduces the motivation to continue. Rather set yourself attainable goals. If you fail to meet them, try to see this as a challenge rather than a failure.

How to Increase Motivation

Do you want to increase your motivation? Perhaps you are working towards a career goal or are studying towards a degree. Whatever your situation, you may feel that you need to increase your motivation.

Each time you meet a target, or successfully complete a task, your motivation increases. Every time you get good grades, you feel more motivated. Each time you meet those sales targets at work, the rewards spur you on to do better.

To put it simply, once you get motivated, your success will help you to stay motivated. And this, in turn, will lead to an increase in motivation. But you have to take that first step, and it’s a step in the mind.

Hard work, perseverance, and talent will get you where you need to go. Don’t just think it or feel it; believe it. Know it. This will develop a winning attitude and an increase in motivation.

Track Results

If you are into health and fitness, you may have seen or may own a fitness tracker. These devices count your total steps in a day, etc., and can be very useful in sustaining and increasing your motivation to exercise. But why is it so helpful?

When you can see the fruits of your labor, you see how important it is to keep that momentum going. Develop a mental fitness tracker. Keep track of your accomplishments, successes, talents, and abilities. Reflect on these regularly. Be inspired to be the best version of yourself that you can be.

Abide By The Law of Attraction

We all know about the Law Of Attraction or have heard about it. People all over the world are using this powerful natural law of the universe to change their lives for the better.

But do you need motivation for the Law Of Attraction to work? Does the success that you attain through the Law Of Attraction increase your motivation? Would that motivation be intrinsic or extrinsic?

The Law Of Attraction governs the ability to attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on. To harness this law, you need to know what you want, believe it is already yours, and trust that you’ll attain your goal. This belief does the magic.

Your motivation may be extrinsic or intrinsic, but it's the firm belief in the outcome that puts you on the right track to achieve your goal. And your motivation to succeed will be amplified once you start to see results.

Get Clarity on Benefits for Life and Business

Does it matter what motivates you? Extrinsic motivation may be beneficial in getting a project started but can be detrimental down the line if it is the only motivation you respond to.

Extrinsic, or reward-centered motivation, is outcomes-based. “If I do this, I’ll get that.” This type of thinking, though useful as a catalyst for change, ultimately leads to a decline in altruism.

As a child, were you promised rewards if you behaved well and threatened with punishment if you did not? This punishment and reward system, so prevalent in our homes and educational system, is archaic and needs to be kept in check.

In your career, extrinsic motivation is at play daily. Making sales, closing deals, completing projects. The goal is usually to achieve financial success. But once you have attained the higher salary, the dedicated parking space, or the big office, what then?

Extrinsic motivational reinforcement is useful but is not always the answer. One look at the crime rate and overpopulated prisons in any country will prove that it doesn’t always work.

Look at the people who are known for altruistic behavior. They do good deeds to help others. Why? Because it’s the “right thing to do.” It makes them feel good to help others. This is intrinsic.

It is no coincidence that in societies where intrinsic motivation is the norm, crime is far lower, and the quality of life is far higher.

Closing Thoughts

Consider those who help others for a living, with very low or no financial compensation. Volunteer workers, and people who work at non-profit organizations, are a few examples. It is their habit of intrinsic motivation that continues to inspire and drive them.

Love what you do, do what you love. That is the best motivation of all.


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