Motivation is a word in psychology that can describe a range of behaviors, feelings, beliefs, and emotions. At its core, motivation is the driving force behind goal-directed behavior—or, in other words, why we act the way we do.

When motivated, we’re more likely to work hard, take on challenges, and strive for success. But what does motivated mean, exactly?

And more importantly, what are the different types of motivation that drive us to behave in these ways?

In this post, we’ll explore these questions and more, delving into the different theories of motivation and its crucial role in our lives.

Defining motivation

Let’s start by defining what the word motivation is.

In its most basic sense, motivation refers to the internal and external factors that influence and drive us to act in specific ways. It makes us get out of bed in the morning, pursue our goals, and tackle the many challenges that life throws our way.

But there are many different approaches to understanding what motivates us and a wide range of theories that seek to explain the different aspects of motivation. Some theories define motivation and focus on the internal factors and motives that drive us to act, while others emphasize the importance of external rewards, feedback, and reinforcement.

A person embracing life

Intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic motivation

Two of the most well-known types of motivation are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation from within—when a person or we are motivated to engage in an activity because we find it personally meaningful or fulfilling. This could, for a person, mean taking on a challenging task simply because we enjoy it or working hard to achieve a goal that we’re genuinely passionate about.

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from external factors such as rewards, recognition, or punishment. When we engage in behavior because external rewards or consequences occur to incentivize us, we act based on extrinsic motivation.

While both types of motivation can be effective in driving behavior, research suggests that intrinsically motivated individuals are more likely to experience higher levels of satisfaction, engagement, and commitment to their goals.

The basic psychological needs that motivate us

Another vital aspect of motivation is the idea of basic psychological needs.

According to self-determination theory, a widely-accepted theory of motivation, three fundamental psychological needs underpin our motivation: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Autonomy refers to our innate tendency and desire to control our lives—to have a sense of agency and choice over our experiences. Competence is the belief in our abilities and the sense that we’re capable of mastering challenges and achieving our goals. Relatedness, finally, is the need and desire to connect with others and establish meaningful relationships.

When these basic psychological and physiological needs are met, we’re more likely to be intrinsically motivated and engage in behaviors aligned with our values and interests.

How to define motivation in action

So what does motivation look like in the form of words and actions? Let’s explore a few examples of how motivation can play out in words and different contexts.

Motivation at work

One of the most common areas where we see motivation playing out is in the workplace.

When workers are motivated, they’re more likely to be engaged, efficient, and productive. Whether it be motivated workers, the drive to achieve a promotion, the desire to make a meaningful contribution to the team, or simply a passion for their work, motivated workers are essential to the success of any organization.

At the same time, external rewards such as bonuses, promotions, or recognition for the team can also be effective motivators for many employees. By providing these incentives, organizations can encourage employees to work harder, be more innovative, and achieve higher job and team satisfaction.


In sports, highly motivated athletes may push themselves to train harder and longer, set ambitious goals, and maintain a positive attitude despite setbacks or difficult challenges. They may also seek new teammates or coaches who challenge them to improve.

Creative pursuits

In creative pursuits, motivated individuals may set aside time daily to work on their craft, seek feedback from a team or others, and pursue educational opportunities to develop their skills. They may also be motivated to seek new sources of inspiration and collaborate with a team or others to create something new and innovative.

In education

A motivated student may consistently attend classes and complete assignments on time, seek out extra learning opportunities outside the classroom, and actively participate in class discussions. Students motivated may also seek academic support, such as tutoring or mentorship, to help them achieve their goals.

In relationships

A motivated partner may actively work to improve communication and build a stronger connection with their significant other. They may prioritize time together, show appreciation and gratitude, and work to overcome obstacles or conflicts.

In activism

A politically motivated or politically motivated individual may participate in marches, protests, or other demonstrations to raise awareness of issues they are passionate about. They may also organize events or fundraisers to support causes they believe in. A politically motivated person may use their online platforms to share their politically motivated news and information with others and encourage others to get involved.

Losing weight

Motivation can also play a crucial role in health and wellness, such as motivation to lose weight. Whether it’s a desire to fit into a certain dress size, feel more confident in one’s skin, or improve one’s overall health and well-being, motivational reasons for losing weight can be powerful drivers of behavior change.

In health and fitness

Motivated individuals to lose weight may set fitness goals to lose weight, create a workout routine, and track their progress. They may also prioritize healthy eating habits, get enough sleep, and seek support from friends, family, or a personal trainer to help them reach their goals and lose weight.

In volunteer work

A motivated individual may seek opportunities to give back to their community, donate their time and resources to help those in need and work to impact the world positively. They may also seek out leadership opportunities within the organizations they support to help them make an even greater impact.

In personal finances

Motivated individuals may set a budget, track their spending and savings, and look for ways to make money, reduce expenses, and increase income. They may also educate themselves about investing and other financial strategies to help them build wealth over time.

Theories of motivation

As mentioned earlier, there are many different theories of motivation, each offering a unique perspective on the brain and what drives our behavior. In this section, we’ll explore some more examples of the most widely-accepted theories of motivation and how they help us understand the complexities of the brain and human motivation.

A self determined woman

Self-determination theory

Self-determination theory (SDT by definition) is one of the most influential theories of motivation in the psychological literature. According to SDT, three basic psychological needs and desires are essential for intrinsic motivation: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Autonomy refers to the need to feel in control of our lives and make decisions that align with our values, desires, and interests. When we have a sense of agency and choice, we’re more likely to be intrinsically motivated and to engage in personally meaningful behaviors.

Competence, in psychology, meanwhile, is the belief in our abilities and the sense that we’re capable of mastering challenges and achieving our goals. When we feel competent, we’re more likely to take on complex tasks and persist in facing obstacles.

Finally, relatedness is the need to connect with others and the desire to feel part of a larger community. We’re more likely to be motivated and engaged with strong relationships and a sense of social belonging.

Two woman determined to self improve

Goal-setting theory

Goal-setting theory is another widely-used theory of motivation. According to this theory of motivating, setting specific, challenging goals is a powerful motivator for behavior change and performance. Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART), meaning they should be clear, concrete, and achievable within a specific time frame.

When we set challenging but achievable goals, we’re more likely to be motivated to work hard and to persist in the task in the face of setbacks. Feedback, feedback, and reinforcement are crucial elements of the goal-setting process. They help us track our progress, adjust our approach and task when necessary, and stay motivated.

Motivation to travel the world

Expectancy theory

Expectancy theory is an example of a motivational theory that emphasizes the role of motivation in performance. According to the principles of psychology behind this incentive theory, individuals are motivated to behave in specific ways when believing their actions will lead to desired outcomes. In other words, motivation is closely linked to expectancy—the belief that our efforts will lead to desired outcomes—and valence—the value we place on those outcomes.

Expectancy theory suggests that when individuals have high expectations, motives, and valences for a done task or particular outcome, for example, they’re more likely to be motivated to work hard and to persist in the face of obstacles. For this reason, creating a sense of purpose and meaning in our work or activities can be a powerful motivator for behavior change and goal attainment.

Understanding the role of positive reinforcement in motivation

Positive reinforcement is an essential tool for motivating behavior. Positive reinforcement is any reward or recognition we receive after engaging in a particular behavior.

This could mean receiving verbal praise or a word of encouragement from a friend or colleague after completing a task, for example, getting a bonus for exceeding expectations or even being acknowledged for our efforts. By reinforcing positive behavior with rewards, we’re more likely to repeat that behavior in the future and to stay motivated throughout our journeys.

Studies have also shown that positive reinforcement is effective for both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation—by providing rewards along the way, we can continue striving towards our goals despite temporary setbacks and disappointments.

It’s no wonder many successful people credit their successes to using positive reinforcement!

Why is motivation important?

Motivation is important because it plays a critical role in determining our level of productivity and achievement. Without motivation, we may struggle to find the energy and focus necessary to accomplish our goals.

When we’re motivated, we can tap into our inner reserves of strength, discipline, and determination, which helps us persevere through adversity.

Motivation also helps us to define and pursue our personal or professional objectives. Whether striving to excel in our chosen careers, learn new skills, or achieve personal milestones, motivation helps us stay focused and committed to the process.

Additionally, motivation helps to improve our overall sense of well-being and quality of life. We’re more likely to feel energized, inspired, motivated, and engaged when motivated. This sense of purpose and fulfillment can lead to greater self-confidence, resilience, and enjoyment of life.

In short, motivation is crucial for success in achieving our goals, improving our productivity, and enhancing our overall sense of personal fulfillment, success, and well-being.

Motivation to write

Motivation and achievement

One of the most apparent ways motivation affects our lives is by driving achievement. Whether in the workplace, academics, or personal pursuits, the desire to achieve our goals is a powerful motivator that can help us overcome challenges and setbacks.

Highly motivated individuals are more likely to set ambitious goals and to work hard to achieve them. They’re also more likely to be resilient in the face of obstacles and setbacks and to persist in their efforts even when things get tough.

Motivation and satisfaction

Another vital aspect of motivation is its link to satisfaction and well-being. When motivated, we’re more likely to feel a sense of purpose and meaning and experience higher satisfaction with our accomplishments.

For this reason, finding activities or pursuits that we’re passionate about and align with our values and interests can be a key ingredient in a fulfilling and satisfying life. Whether through hobbies, work, or other avenues, staying motivated and engaged can help us feel more energized, productive, and content.

Motivation and health

Motivation is also closely linked to our physical health and well-being. Motivation can be powerful for behavior change and better health outcomes, whether pursuing an exercise regimen, making dietary changes, or seeking medical treatment.

When motivated to make positive changes, we’re more likely to stick to our goals and persist in facing obstacles. We’re also more likely to engage in behaviors that promote good health, such as getting enough sleep, managing stress, and practicing self-care.

Daily habits of highly motivated people

Highly motivated people tend to have daily habits that enable them to stay focused, productive, and energized throughout the day. Below are some of the daily habits of highly motivated people:

Waking up for an early morning run

  1. They wake up early: Most highly motivated people wake up early to take advantage of the quiet and peaceful morning hours. This is a great time to plan their day, meditate, exercise, and enjoy some alone time.
  2. They prioritize their tasks: Highly motivated people tend to have a clear understanding of their priorities for the day. They make a to-do list and prioritize their tasks according to their importance and urgency.
  3. They exercise regularly: Exercise is a great way to boost energy, reduce stress, and improve focus. Highly motivated people usually set aside time each day for physical activity.
  4. They take short breaks: Highly motivated people know the importance of taking short breaks throughout the day to recharge their batteries. This helps them to stay focused, refreshed, and energized.
  5. They read or learn something new: Highly motivated people are lifelong learners. They often set aside time each day to read or learn something new.
  6. They take care of themselves: Highly motivated people know the importance of self-care. They care for their physical, emotional, and mental well-being by eating well, getting enough sleep, and practicing mindfulness.
  7. They surround themselves with positive people: Highly motivated people tend to surround themselves with positive, like-minded individuals who share their goals and aspirations.

Incorporating these habits into your daily routine can improve your motivation, productivity, and overall well-being.


In conclusion, motivation is a complex and multifaceted concept that plays a crucial role in our behavior, emotions, and outcomes. Whether we’re striving for success at work, pursuing our passions in our personal lives, or working to improve our health and wellbeing

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