When you wake up each morning and prepare for the day ahead, what motivates you?
What internal or external forces push you forward to live and work and even play for the 16 to 18 hours each day that you are awake?
Is it the want to see and spend time with your loved ones?
The desire to do a job and earn money and praise?
Or is it the simple, instinctive aspects of human nature, such as waking up because you don’t want to sleep all day?
Do you even really know?
Regardless of the triggers for our actions, understanding what stimulates us, as well as those around us, can have a profoundly positive effect on our day to day lives.
Let’s explore motivation - how it moves us, why it's essential, and if we’re lacking, what we can do to gain back our inspiration.
What is Motivation?
The textbook definition of motivation is reasonably simple - it's our basic reasoning for, and the need, want, and willingness to do something.
However, identifying motivation on a more granular level is not as simple.
Because, as humans, our desires and goals are all different, both in where those desires originate and in how they evolve.
The reasoning or justification for moving (or not moving at all) from point A to point B varies from person to person.
Consider an office environment where two co-workers of equal education and talent, apply themselves to a project for entirely different purposes.
The first one works hard to complete the task because it means a Friday off from work. The other does it for a promised bonus.
So how are we to recognise motivation in ourselves to achieve the goals we set?
How do we connect with others and help discover what will move them to reach their potential?
To help inform our understanding of motivation, we need to know what exactly motivates us. And why what drives one person, may not even be a consideration to another.
What Motivates Us?
Many theories have arisen over the past 100 years attempting to explain what moves us to ?act towards a particular goal?. The most popular ideas often fall into one of the following three categories:
The thought that individuals are driven to act to maintain a specific state of euphoric feeling. For example, someone who requires high-arousal will seek out activities that push the edge such as skydiving or riding roller coasters.
A person with a lower arousal threshold may look for more low key fulfillment, like cooking or watching a movie.
Here, an individual’s behavior is propelled by the instinctual necessity to serve their own fundamental needs or the needs of their loved ones. For instance, a parent may be motivated by fear to protect their child or by love to provide for their well-being.
Finally, this level of motivation stems from behavior that is driven by a biological desire to fulfill a requirement. You eat because you must to survive. You work because you require financial rewards or want to feel part of a team.
The Maslow Hierarchy of Needs
The consideration of needs has shown the most traction for the actual basis of motivation. One of the most famous reviews on the subject dates back to 1943 and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Conceived by American psychologist Abraham Maslow, the groundbreaking work he produced was his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation.”
With a focus on what makes a person happy and what individuals did to achieve those objectives (instead of the standard approach at the time to look at what was wrong with a person), he devised five levels of need:
The most basic needs and requirements to sustain our survival. Food, sleep, water, and air.
The need for security whether it's by way of physical security (such as a roof over our heads), financial stability (savings or retirement funds) or general health and well-being.
Love and Belonging
Also known as social needs, this includes a sense of community in a family or social network or being loved by others.
Include the desire to be recognised or to achieve prominence and stature. These needs are common in professional settings but are also huge factors in a social environment.
The highest and most complex level on the Maslow hierarchy, this involves the fulfillment of potential - where an individual looks to their personal growth and reaching their highest capabilities.
Most often cast as a pyramid, the foundation of the hierarchy consists of the basic requirements for survival. As we meet primal needs, we yearn for more significant growth and achievement.
Maslow’s theory does have detractors - mainly those who claim that our ambitions do not easily align along a one, two, three step process.
Yes, that may be true, but when looking at where motivation comes from, the hierarchy helps define what sparks an individual's specific drive.
Let’s look at our earlier example of the two co-workers, of equal talent, skill, and knowledge, with one driven by time, the other by money.
With the hierarchy as a general guide, one might surmise that the employee-driven by the extra free time grew up in a household that revolved around family. Their upbringing was such that greater value came from spending time with loved ones.
The employee aiming for the bonus may have grown up poor, or conversely in a family with financial security. Either way, their value of money, no matter the reason, help define their motivations.
This tells us two things.
First, once specific needs are met, or if we find it unnecessary to fill particular requirements, our motivation moves toward unrealised pursuits.
Second, the things that motivate may also be a learned behavior. In the case of the employee growing up with financial security, their environment taught them the value of having that safety, and they resolved to never go without.
Why is Motivation So Important?
So why does knowing your motivations matter?
For one, knowing what moves you leads to seeking out conditions and experiences that result in higher overall well-being.
Failing to grasp what drives you may result in dissatisfaction, or unhappiness with the way things are instead of you creating the life you want for yourself and your loved ones.
Second, with the knowledge of specific motivation, you can help spur others to realise their goals.
Do you have people that directly report to you? Much like our scenario, you can identify what drives them to better performance and results.
If you’re a parent, you can identify what triggers your child will best respond to help them reach their potential.
To inform that identification, two levels of motivation further define where a person’s incentivisation may stem.
This originates from an individual’s inner desires and fulfillment for their personal satisfaction. For instance, a person who pens poetry for their own enjoyment and not for publication does so for intrinsic reasons.
From a professional standpoint, you find intrinsic motivation in someone who enjoys their work for the knowledge gained or the satisfaction they receive versus any monetary rewards it provides.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, extrinsic, as the name suggests, comes from outside aspirations. In both a personal or professional setting, this involves tangible rewards or recognition - anything from trophies to monetary prizes to general praise or acknowledgment.
Whether intrinsic or extrinsic, knowing which is more important to you (and others) will ensure you gain more from your pursuits - personally and professionally.
How Do You Improve Your Motivation?
The reasons we lose motivation are legion.
A bad grade in school.
Poor feedback from a supervisor at work.
A recently ended relationship.
Those, of course, represent the extreme scenarios, but they do prove the point that challenges in life exist, and if not careful, they can easily derail us.
How then do we keep our heads high and motivation up?
Here are a few points to help push your forward:
Don’t Aim for the Result, Instead Appreciate the Journey
This may seem to run counter to conventional wisdom, but in only looking ahead to the finish line, we fail to see the road the race is run on. Without a clear focus, we often stumble.
Instead, break it down, focus on how you will get from point A to point B to point C, and anticipate and prepare for any challenges you might face. That way you know your way around the course and can more easily take on adversity as it appears.
Control What You Can, Don’t Worry About What You Can’t
Many times when we aim for a specific goal, a lot of “what ifs” start to creep into our heads.
Heading to a job interview - “What if they don’t like me?”
Giving a presentation - “What if they don’t listen?”
Even asking someone out on a date - “What if they say no?”
The world is full of variables that we don’t control - from personal relationships to professional tasks and beyond - and never will. Being hung up on those outside forces is a disservice to the time and effort you put into achieving what you set out to do.
Zero in on what you need to be successful and let go of any fear of the unknown. The more focused on what you need to do, the more motivated you’ll be to succeed.
Seek Out Positive Reinforcement, and Be Positive Yourself
If you surround yourself with negative information and negative people, you’re bound to find yourself brought down to a similar level. If you quest for positivity, the opposite will be true.
Sure, you can’t always dictate who or what you’ll be around (an unhappy co-worker, for instance). You can though infuse uplifting stimulus through music, books or other media.
Ultimately, you might be unable to eliminate your exposure to negative elements totally, but you can expose yourself to factors that help boost your positivity and in turn your motivation.
Motivation is often a concept that doesn’t always receive the attention it should. Typically, we go about our lives paying little notice to how to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
To truly be fulfilled though, we must seek out what will make us better. Not just for our well-being but those around us.
Take time to understand and appreciate what motivates you, and seek out ways to feed your aspirations. Not only will you fully understand why you get out of bed each morning, you’ll also look forward to it.