What Truly Drives Success: The Psychology of Motivation

“You can either suffer the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. You have a choice.”

The difference between the two is motivation. It is the reason for doing something, anything. It is what keeps life going.

Let’s look at what psychology says, what are its main features, and what is the process of motivation.

Discover The 4 Most Effective Ways To Stay In The Game.

Definition of Motivation

Motivation can be defined as the psychological drive and process that compels people to act toward a desired outcome. It drives people to pursue their goals and aspirations while remaining fully aware that they may have to face and overcome obstacles on their way.

According to B.F. Skinner, “Motivation … involves arousing, persisting, sustaining and directing desirable behavior.”

The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines motivation as “the impetus that gives purpose or direction to behavior and operates in humans at a conscious or unconscious level.”

It is an internal state that initiates, directs, and sustains goal-directed behavior.

The main purpose of motivation is to allow us to feel happy at the end of successful goal-directed behavior.

definition process psychology of motivation

Motivation is the force that drives people to dream and then act to realize those.

Types of Motivation In Psychology

The model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation broadly classifies it into two types:

  1. Intrinsic motivation is doing something for its own sake, just because it is enjoyable or satisfying.
  2. Extrinsic motivation is when a person is driven by external factors such as rewards or punishments.

Internal and external motivating forces can both encourage or discourage certain behaviors.

The APA Dictionary of Psychology divides motivation into:

  1. Physiological, primary, or organic motives, such as hunger, thirst, and need for sleep; and
  2. Personal, social, or secondary motives, such as affiliation, competition, and individual interests and goals.

Psychological Theories of Motivation

Why do people behave the way they do? What motivates their actions?

Motivation can be influenced by personal desires, external rewards, and innate drives.

The main theories of motivation in psychology are:

1. Instinct Theory

It holds that certain behaviors are inborn and instinctive, driven by survival needs. Fear, for example, makes humans react quickly to poisonous animals such as snakes and dangerous events such as earthquakes.

2. Arousal Theory

It suggests that people do things to maintain an optimal level of arousal. High-arousal people may take part in high-risk activities, like bungee jumping, while low-arousal individuals may prefer low-stimulation activities like watching a sunset.

3. Theory of Drives and Needs

It says that our behaviors are motivated by the need to fulfill our biological and psychological needs, like food, water, sleep, and social connections.

4. Maslow’s Theory Of Self-Actualization

Maslow’s Theory of Self-Actualization outlines the steps toward reaching one’s full potential:

  • Physiological Needs: The most basic needs, such as food, water, and shelter.
  • Safety Needs: The need for security and stability, such as a safe home and job security.
  • Love and Belonging Needs: The need for human connection and a sense of community.
  • Esteem Needs: The need for respect, both from oneself and others.
  • Self-Actualization: The drive to fulfill one’s potential and transcend to become the best version of oneself.

5. Self-Determination Theory (SDT)

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is a motivational theory that emphasizes the importance of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in driving human behavior.

According to SDT, you are more likely to be intrinsically motivated when you feel a sense of choice and control, are challenged by tasks that match your skills, and are connected to others in meaningful ways.

6. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

It suggests that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction are caused by two different sets of factors.

  • Hygiene factors, such as salary and working conditions, prevent dissatisfaction.
  • Motivators, such as recognition and achievement, promote job satisfaction.

The Motivational Process

To change your life, you must first be fed up with your present situation. That need is where the story of motivation begins.

The process of motivation involves at least five steps:

1. Need or Desire

Recognizing a need or desire is the first step of the motivation process. It could be a physiological need like hunger or a psychological need like success or recognition.

2. Goal Setting

Once the person has identified the need or desire, they set a goal to meet that need or desire. The goal will act as a center of focus for all their efforts.

Learn the 3 most effective ways of goal-setting.

3. Activation of Motivation

You must then activate your motivation by focusing your thoughts and emotions on the desired goal. It may need regular reminders of the motivational drive (like some inspiring quotes.)

4. Persistent Efforts

Once you have activated your motivation, start and persist in your efforts to take goal-directed action.

Your efforts may need re-planning and reallocating resources while taking daily steps toward the goal.

You need to remove distractions and maintain a high level of focus and dedication to your goal.

In the long term, you always hit what you aim for. If you keep showing up for enough number of times, you will eventually reach where you set out to be.

4. Feedback

Feedback at regular intervals is more important than waiting for the final results.

Regular feedback is a crucial element of the motivational process.

It helps you maintain your “flow”, lets you assess whether you are on track to achieve your goal, and make the necessary adjustments.

What gets measured gets done. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

5. Satisfaction or Dissatisfaction

When you reach your goal, you feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This then goes on to reinforce your future behavior and motivation.

But if you fail to achieve your goal, and feel dissatisfied, then this can point out what you should not be aiming at or how you should be going at it the next time.

Features of The Motivational Process

Motivation is our GAB power — it fuels our Goals, Attitudes, and Behavior.

The process of motivation has the following features:

1. Driving force: Motivation is the driving force that encourages people to set targets, make plans, take action, and achieve their goals.

2. Internal state: Motivation is a psychological and physiological state that is within the individual, influenced by their needs, desires, and goals.

3. Changeable: Motivation levels can change over time, influenced by various internal factors like mental fatigue, and external factors like a market crash.

4. Affects behavior: Motivation can significantly impact one’s behavior and determine what actions a person would or should take to pursue their goals, and what goals to pursue.

5. Goal-directed: Motivation is always directed toward a specific goal, and the level of motivation is influenced by the perceived attainability of that goal.

How To Increase Motivation: Tips From Psychology

Here are some expert-suggested ways to find motivation and keep it up:

1. Set The SMART Goals

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Having smartly defined goals can give us a clear direction for motivation.

2. Build A Supportive Environment

A positive and supportive environment is a must for maintaining motivation.

Get rid of toxic people who criticize and demotivate you.

Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who increase your motivation.

3. Good Physical & Mental Health

Practicing self-care and maintaining good physical health: Taking care of one’s physical and mental health can increase energy to take action and sustain motivation.

4. Have A Meaningful Purpose In Life

Finding meaning and purpose in one’s actions: When tasks are tied to personal values and beliefs, motivation can increase.

5. Celebrate Wins Along The Way

Arrival fallacy is the misconception that when we achieve a particular goal, we will finally become—and remain—happy. Don’t wait to get all your happiness only when you reach your goal.

Celebrate small wins and progress: Recognizing and celebrating progress, no matter how small, can increase motivation by reinforcing positive behaviors.

6. Get Good Sleep Every Night

Getting enough sleep daily is a smart strategy to keep your motivation up.

Sleep lets the body and mind rest and recharge, boosting physical and mental stamina.

Whereas regularly getting less sleep may cause unexplained irritation, poor focus, low energy, and a decrease in overall motivation.

Final Words

Psychology of Motivation Takeaways:

  1. Motivation is a psychological drive that compels action toward a specific goal or desire.
  2. Activating motivation must be followed by persistence of effort and intermittent feedback.
  3. Extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards (approach goals) or punishments (avoidance goals).
  4. Intrinsic motivation drives you to do something for its own sake, and is considered more effective and long-lasting than extrinsic motivation.
  5. Motivation can help individuals and organizations increase productivity, job satisfaction, and overall well-being.

Motivation and mental health are closely connected. A lack of motivation to pursue meaningful life goals can be a sign of underlying depression.

If you are struggling with persistent low motivation, reach out to a psychological counselor.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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