Motivation Explained

Motivation is defined as ‘a reason or reasons for behaving in a particular way’. However, this is too simplistic. Motivation is comprised of social, cognitive, biological and emotional elements, which combine to activate behavior. Importantly, though, motivation isn’t just about ‘why’ an action is done but it also refers to the factors that influence and maintain the goals of a person behaving in a certain way.

What drives a person and continues to shape him over a period of time is not something easily identifiable. For this reason, it has interested many a great minds into trying to understand and explain it. Many theories have thus been proposed. There are those who suggest that motivation is purely a matter of instinct. Thus, they imply that what motivates a person is something innate to them and cannot be shaped otherwise. Then there are the proponents of the arousal theory of motivation, which claims that what motivates a person depends on what their optimum level of arousal is. Those with low arousal needs will find relaxing activities a source of motivation and those with high arousal needs will find exciting, high-adrenaline activities more motivating.

However, regardless of the theories, motivation can be divided into two groups: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is comes from within the individual, driving the person to behave in a certain way whereas extrinsic motivation is factors external to the individual, such as awards or monetary benefits, that guide a person’s behavior. Intrinsic motivation tends to be more compelling and the achievements resulting from it are more fulfilling.

Identifying the driving power of motivation on human behavior, extensive amount of research has been done in the industrial world as well to understand it. Once businesses recognized the value of a motivated workforce, they invested heavily into understanding what motivated people so they could use that knowledge to provide the corporate culture aimed at maximizing employee motivation. Various theories of motivation were proposed such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Herzberg’s theory of hygiene and motivation. While businesses may use those older theories as guides, they have had to follow the lead of their workforce. With the labor market becoming increasingly concentrated with generation Y workforce, the dynamics have changed. What motivates this new generation of workforce is far different from what motivated their predecessors. The current workforce looks for innovation, challenge, growth and work-life balance and has managed to shift the balance of power in their favor. This has had businesses finding themselves having to work increasingly hard, developing corporate cultures, policies and work practices designed to motivate their employees and get the best out of them. Some decades ago, human resources was just a section of business hiring the workforce. Now, it is responsible for hiring, training, investing in, supporting and motivating the workforce and turning it into the most productive aspect of a business. This is why now HR is considered a specialized department, key to a company attaining competitive edge and success in its market.

However, the discussion above feels too clinical an approach to really understand motivation, its pervasiveness in our lives and its transformative powers. To understand motivation, it is important we comprehend not just where it comes from but what it empowers a person to do. Motivation is what drives us to be who we are in every facet of our lives, constantly shaping and defining our personalities, relationships, professional achievements and future goals., It is relevant to every person, no matter who they are, where they are. When a person sets goals for himself, shaped by his motivation, his drive to achieve them, his commitment to the cause is incomparable. He enters into a positive cycle of life where his motivation helps him achieve goals and the successful attainment of goals motivates him to keep setting more targets to realize for himself.

Confucius once said, “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your potential…these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” A motivated person is one who will have the will, the desire and the urge to achieve any objective he sets for himself. In short, he will be a force to be reckoned with.

However, motivation can be positive and negative. Positive motivation is where one associates positive outcomes with the action while negative motivation focuses on the negative reaction of not achieving the goal. While they both can be effective in different circumstances, it is always more pleasant to be driven by a positive outlook than a negative one.

At a personal level though, how does one get motivated? The truth is, motivation can come in any shape or form to get us going, It could be an inspirational quote, a life-changing event, finding religion or spirituality or a nudge in the right direction from a well-wisher. However, an individual can choose to motivate himself too. The first step would be to set goals for himself, those that are of interest to him. He can then share his goals with his friends so they can keep him on track. Additionally, he can keep record his progress so he can feel a sense of achievement at every step. Importantly, breaking up goals into smaller, easier tasks so they are more attainable would be a good idea and as they will help maintain motivation.

When one is motivated, they are keen to learn, to grow, to persist and to be the most productive version of themselves. Motivation fills an individual’s life with purpose and direction and that is why a motivated person is more likely to be positive, happy, focused and resilient in the face of adversity. Lack of motivation in life can lead to loss of purpose, loss of will to achieve and perhaps even a loss of sense of identity.

The metamorphic power of motivation is difficult to describe, impossible to quantify. The vast number of inspirational quotes you will find, dedicated to motivation, the extensive research focused on understanding it and the variety of approaches used to attempting to manipulate motivation to get desired results, all point to the fact that, while motivation still remains elusive to the human mind in its origins, capacities and components, it is universally recognized as a powerful tool that has the ability to transform any aspect of life it touches; personal, educational, professional and social.