Motivation is the driving force behind getting things done, whether that’s acts of self-improvement, finishing hard work, or accomplishing a life goal.
A person’s motivations shape their goals, their willingness to take action, and what actions they follow through on.
Motivation sits beneath the surface of a person’s desires and helps to push them toward accomplishing their goals.
Highly motivated people accomplish more because their mind is always coming back to the things they want to experience.
They cultivate thoughts and form habits that continue to fuel their fires.
Learning to tap into what motivates you will help you on any avenue of self-improvement and life building.
It helps to inform and guide your decision making process, set goals and rewards that will further motivate you, and take you to the next level.
In general, psychology is mostly concerned with the theories behind motivations as they work to figure out the intricacies of the human mind.
There are a lot of theories about what types of motivation exist and why they work the way they do.
This article is going to cover ten commonly acknowledged types of motivation that will be the most usable in terms of self-improvement and goal setting.
1. Intrinsic Motivation
People who are motivated by their own internal feelings and rewards are moving by intrinsic motivation.
An overweight person might decide to get themselves into shape because they want to be able to complete a marathon.
They are not motivated by the accolades of other people, winning an award, or setting a record.
Instead, they view the completion of a marathon as a personal test, something to say that, “Yes, I was able to put my mind to it, lose weight, train appropriately, and accomplish my goal.”
Intrinsic motivation does not necessarily mean the person is acting out of selfishness or without due regard for others, it can also be the force behind selfless actions.
People may also be driven by their own feelings to do something right or good in the world.
Many people go into charity or nonprofit work because they want to make a difference in the world for other people who are suffering.
It’s pretty much assumed that switching from the for-profit sector to non-profit sector is going to bring with it lower wages and less benefits, because money is much tighter and there are a lot of people out there in need.
Those people are often moved by their own internal motivations.
2. Extrinsic Motivation
Extrinsic motivation comes from the rewards that are given from other people or external factors.
Their influence is mostly coming from outside, whether it be the responsibilities of life or the desire to seek reward for their effort.
Perhaps that overweight person isn’t trying to run a marathon for the sake of self-satisfaction. Maybe they are more interested in getting fit so they are more attractive to romantic partners.
A person who decides to move from a lower paying non-profit job to a higher paying for-profit job may be motivated by better benefits or a higher wage.
These are extrinsic motivations.
Though extrinsic motivations may sound selfish and shallow, they aren’t necessarily.
Motivation isn’t so clean cut as to neatly fit everyone into a perfect little box of predictable behavior. Most people are doing things for multiple reasons.
Maybe the non-profit worker loves their job, loves the work they do, and would like nothing better than to keep doing it – but they aren’t making enough money to get ahead of their bills and have a decent quality of life.
They are being pushed by extrinsic motivations.
A person’s motivations are likely to come from both internal and external places.
The remaining 8 types of motivation are all either intrinsically or extrinsically based, though some have elements of both.
3. Social Motivation
People are inherently social creatures. They generally want to interact and engage with other people.
Many people thrive when they find a group of people that they fit in with.
Social motivation covers the common desire that people have to connect with other people, to feel accepted and belong to a group.
That group can be big or small.
On the larger level, it might be a desire to connect with humanity as a greater whole – the desire to travel, see the world, experience other cultures, and see how other people live their lives.
Maybe it’s the charity worker who wants to connect with people who are having a difficult time and help them find their way.
It can be much smaller and personal. A person’s social motivation may reach no further than finding quality friends and family members to create happy experiences and memories with.
That sense of social motivation is believed to come from the way humans have evolved to survive in tribes and societies.
Social motivation can be used in self-improvement through the use of support groups.
Joining a group of people who have similar goals they want to accomplish can help you stay motivated and moving forward.
It also gives you an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.
4. Competency Motivation
People who are motivated by competency or learning tend to be attracted to the processes of doing the thing.
This is valuable because not only does it provide fuel to get things accomplished, but they gain tangible knowledge and experience that they can use later.
This person is less interested in the finished product as a goal and more interested in the process of getting to the goal.
A serial entrepreneur is a good example of competency motivation.
These are individuals who start businesses from scratch, build the business up to a profitable point, and then sell the business off after they reach that point where the business can sustain itself.
They aren’t really interested in running a business, they just thrive on the challenge and excitement of building a business.
You can also see this type of motivation at work in people who go back to college multiple times.
People don’t always go to get the knowledge or credentials for a particular vocation. Some people go back to school to take a class here and there to learn new things in the classroom experience.
They may end up getting more degrees or they might not. They are more interested in the knowledge they gain than the outcome of that knowledge.
Falling in love with the process of improvement can fuel motivation.
A person who wants to eat healthier is going to want to cut out junk and heavily processed foods, which means they are going to need to learn to cook, which is an expansive field with so many possibilities.
That person could make it a goal to learn and try a new recipe every week as they work to change their eating habits.
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5. Expectancy Motivation
An expectancy motivation drives a person based on what they expect the outcome of their actions to be.
The choices they make are driven by whatever the end goal is for their actions. They are generally less concerned with the actions that are required to get to that end goal.
A person who is going to work may be motivated by the tangible outcome of that work – pay and benefits.
Management might decide to tie bonuses to performance, leveraging their employees’ expectation of outcome to encourage them to work harder.
A violation of that expectation can be massively demotivating and break trust between the involved parties.
If the boss doesn’t make good on meeting the expectations of their employees, the employees will be demoralized and may look elsewhere for a job that does meet their expectations.
Exercise and weight loss is another good example of expectancy motivation.
The expectation is that eating right and exercise will help a person get in shape, look better, and feel healthier.
However, if those expectations are not met or do not appear soon enough, the person can become discouraged.
6. Attitude Motivation
The ability to influence the way other people feel or how they see the world falls under the umbrella of attitude motivation.
Though it may seem similar to social motivation, it differs in that the person may not be looking to be a part of or fit into the group.
They are just driven by the notion that they can influence how other people may think or feel.
There are people out there who, regardless of what they are going through at the time, put on a smile when they go out into the world and try to offer positivity to others. They may not like to see people sad or discouraged.
Their motivation for practicing that type of kindness in the world is to improve the attitudes and emotions of the people they come into contact with, which might be the public at large, friends and family, or just someone they think is having a rough day.
An attitude motivation can be leveraged for self-improvement by understanding the way one’s interactions impact the people around them.
A happier, healthier you is not only good for you, but is good for the people around you.
You may wind up inspiring other people around you to take action or help spread happiness to people that need it.
7. Arousal Motivation
The arousal theory of motivation claims that every person has a state of ideal physiological arousal.
When that person is out of balance, they will then be motivated to take action to bring themselves back to their optimal state of physiological arousal.
That isn’t necessarily a good thing, as it can cause the person to engage in risky behavior.
Basically, when we get too bored, we seek out excitement, and when we get too excited, we seek out calming activities.
Arousal as motivation ties into another idea, the Yerkes-Dodson Law, about how our performance is tied to our arousal state.
The Law states that improved performance is tied to heightened states of arousal to a certain point, but diminishes drastically in excess.
A basketball player might excel on the court in competition with the other team, but routinely choke on making high-pressure shots because of the anxiety and stress.
The same would be true for a student who can do homework, knows their material, but can’t take exams well because of the pressure associated with testing.
A person’s arousal state is unique, so to use this information one must figure out where their own limits are.
What is too much? What is too little?
And that ideal state can differ depending on what you’re actually doing.
The basketball player who needs to make a high stakes shot in a high energy environment is going to have a different level than the student who is in a quiet, low energy environment.
This also points to the idea of “being in the zone,” where a person is at their peak efficiency and just killing whatever activity they are engaged in.
If you can identify where your zone is, you can work to put yourself there and get much more accomplished.
8. Fear Motivation
Everyone has experienced fear as a motivator in their life, though it may not have been a positive experience.
Fear will cause a person to take a direct action to either avoid or confront the source of their fear.
That can be a tough choice to make.
On the one hand, people generally want to avoid discomfort. On the other, discomfort is normal for personal growth and creating positive changes in your life.
The person who can learn to embrace their fear and choose that path of resistance is generally going to grow and change more effectively than the person who shuns it.
Fear as motivation is a great tool for the self, but less so when it comes to intimidating other people.
Yes, it might get some things done, but it creates unnecessary enemies that are likely to find ways to strike back later.
The best way to use fear as a motivator is to confront and overcome the things that you fear.
Every fear you overcome is strengthening your ability to handle difficult situations, overcome, and lessen the impact of future fears.
Once you dissect the thing you’re afraid of and work your way through it, you’ll start to see that most fears can be overcome with the right strategy and work.
9. Achievement Motivation
The theory of achievement motivation describes the desire to accomplish goals for the sake of reaching a peak of excellence, like becoming a world renowned surgeon or world class athlete.
The dark side of achievement motivation is a stark fear of failure. These two types of motivation tend to go hand-in-hand, with the desire to win close behind.
An achievement oriented person is looking to be the best of the best at whatever it is they do.
This plays a role in the process of climbing toward that excellence.
It’s the type of motivation people draw on when they are studying to earn certification and credentials or acquire new skills through training.
Chasing achievement can take dark turns. People may be looking for a shortcut, choose to cheat, or engage in otherwise unethical behavior to attain that excellence.
That choice generally won’t end well, because those people tend to get found out sooner or later.
Chasing excellence in whatever it is you choose to do can apply to any facet of self-improvement.
10. Incentive Motivation
Who doesn’t want some kind of reward for a job well done?
Incentive motivation is all about the pursuit of tangible reward and the fulfillment it provides.
There are several areas of life where you can see this at work, such as pursuing a career that pays well or a cheat meal for sticking to a diet.
Incentives are a popular way to establish habits and make personal changes by rewarding oneself for reaching the goal.
This differs from an achievement motivation in that it is solely about attaining the reward, rather than the process of getting to the reward.
Motivation for accomplishment.
Understanding what motivates you will give you a powerful tool in finding or developing a strategy for reaching the goals that matter to you.
What causes you to do what you do?
Why are you trying to accomplish what you want to accomplish?
By aligning your goals with your motivations, you can more easily attain them because you are swimming with your strengths instead of against them.