What Is Motivation?

Motivation is the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. It is what causes you to act, whether it is getting a glass of water to reduce thirst or reading a book to gain knowledge

Motivation involves the biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces that activate behavior. In everyday usage, the term “motivation” is frequently used to describe why a person does something. It is the driving force behind human actions.Motivation doesn’t just refer to the factors that activate behaviors; it also involves the factors that direct and maintain these goal-directed actions (though such motives are rarely directly observable). As a result, we often have to infer the reasons why people do the things that they do based on observable behaviors.1What exactly lies behind the motivations for why we act? Psychologists have proposed different theories of motivation, including drive theory, instinct theory, and humanistic theory (such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). The reality is that there are many different forces that guide and direct our motivations.

Types of Motivation:

Different types of motivation are frequently described as being either extrinsic or intrinsic:

Extrinsic motivations are those that arise from outside of the individual and often involve rewards such as trophies, money, social recognition, or praise.

Intrinsic motivations are those that arise from within the individual, such as doing a complicated crossword puzzle purely for the personal gratification of solving a problem.


There are many different uses for motivation. It serves as a guiding force for all human behavior, but understanding how it works and the factors that may impact it can be important in a number of ways.Understanding motivation can:

Help improve the efficiency of people as they work toward goals. Help people take action. Encourage people to engage in health-oriented behaviors. Help people avoid unhealthy or maladaptive behaviors such as risk-taking and addiction. Help people feel more in control of their lives.Improve overall well-being and happiness.


Anyone who has ever had a goal (like wanting to lose 20 pounds or run a marathon) probably immediately realizes that simply having the desire to accomplish something is not enough. Achieving such a goal requires the ability to persist through obstacles and endurance to keep going in spite of difficulties.There are three major components of motivation: activation, persistence, and intensity.

Activation involves the decision to initiate a behavior, such as enrolling in a psychology class.

Persistence is the continued effort toward a goal even though obstacles may exist. An example of persistence would be taking more psychology courses in order to earn a degree although it requires a significant investment of time, energy, and resources.

Intensity can be seen in the concentration and vigor that goes into pursuing a goal.4 For example, one student might coast by without much effort, while another student will study regularly, participate in discussions, and take advantage of research opportunities outside of class. The first student lacks intensity, while the second pursues their educational goals with greater intensity.

The degree of each of these components of motivation can impact whether or not you achieve your goal. Strong activation, for example, means that you are more likely to start pursuing a goal. Persistence and intensity will determine if you keep working toward that goal and how much effort you devote to reaching it.


All people experience fluctuations in their motivation and willpower. Sometimes you might feel fired up and highly driven to reach your goals, while at other times you might feel listless or unsure of what you want or how to achieve it.

Even if you’re feeling low on motivation, there are steps you can take that will keep you moving forward. Some things you can do include:Adjust your goals to focus on things that really matter to youIf you’re tackling something that is just too big or too overwhelming, break it up into smaller steps and try setting your sights on achieving that first step toward progress.Improve your confidence.Remind yourself about what you achieved in the past and what where your strengths lie.If there are things you feel insecure about, try working on making improvements in those areas so that you feel more skilled and capable.

History of Motivation:


The instinct theory of motivation suggests that behaviors are motivated by instincts, which are fixed and inborn patterns of behavior.5 Psychologists including William James, Sigmund Freud, and William McDougal have proposed a number of basic human drives that motivate behavior. Such instincts might include biological instincts that are important for an organism’s survival such as fear, cleanliness, and love.

Drives and Needs:

Many of your behaviors such as eating, drinking, and sleeping are motivated by biology. You have a biological need for food, water, and sleep. Therefore, you are motivated to eat, drink, and sleep. Drive theory suggests that people have basic biological drives and that behaviors are motivated by the need to fulfill these drives.

Arousal Levels:

The arousal theory of motivation suggests that people are motivated to engage in behaviors that help them maintain their optimal level of arousal.3 A person with low arousal needs might pursue relaxing activities such as reading a book, while those with high arousal needs might be motivated to engage in exciting, thrill-seeking behaviors, such as motorcycle racing.