What Is Motivation Psychology And How Does It Help You

By Stephanie Kirby

Updated January 02, 2019

Reviewer Deborah Horton

Motivation is what has made the world around you. It's the reason why you're looking at this article right now. Someone was motivated to use electricity to give us a more comfortable life. Someone was motivated to create the computer, and then the Internet to bring the world together.

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In most cases, you're probably not motivated to make the next PC, but you want the motivation to do accomplish something in your life, be it lose weight, get a new job, finish that novel you're writing or anything else you may want. However, you don't have the motivation to do it. You may get a spark of interest, but rather than plunging into the pool, you dip your toes in there, wince, and then leave the pool.

It's hard to find the motivation we need to succeed, but by knowing why some are motivated and others aren't, it can help you figure out what you can do to stay motivated.

The Psychology Of Motivation

Psychologists have been fascinated by how some people are motivated no matter what, and how some people struggle to have motivation. There are plenty of reasons for this phenomenon, and we'll discuss these below.

The Fear Of Failure And Rejection

This is a big reason why we aren't motivated to try new things or try improving our lives. The truth is that you're going to fail and be rejected. If you're looking for a better job, there are going to be plenty of employers who reject your application before you find the one who will say yes. To succeed, you're going to have to endure the sting of rejection and failure.

Sometimes, the fear of failure is legitimate. If we quit our day jobs to start our own business, there's a chance your business will fail, and you'll be in debt. While running a business does have its ups and downs, the fear of total failure makes some not want to start.

But then there are cases where the worst thing that will happen is someone says no, or you don't hear back. And yet, some people are scared of this.

When you experience rejection, the parts of your brain that are associated with pain feel it. Rejection is a pain. Some people have a high pain tolerance, while others may not have the same luxury. Some people have to learn to swim through the pain.

There is an evolutionary reason for this. When we were cavemen living in tribes, rejection from the tribe could mean death. You'd be out on your own with no backup, so being rejection was bad. This carries on in modern times.

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How do you get over your fears? It's different for everyone. Sometimes, you have to keep being rejected until you become desensitized to the pain. Other times, you may need therapy to help you.

The Science Behind Procrastination

Procrastination is another annoying obstacle when it comes to wanting to accomplish our goals. We look at our goal, feel intimidated, and put off for another day. When that day comes, we push it back.

For time-sensitive goals, such as completing an essay, we may push it back until the last second and then panic. The essay delivered turns out rushed. If we had started work on the essay earlier, there would be no panic, and your final product would have been better produced as a result.

For non-time sensitive goals, we may keep pushing them back until we are too old to be able to accomplish them and then regret strikes.

So why do we do it? The most obvious reason is that the activity we want to do is too unpleasant or intimidating. Would you rather spend a weekend with friends, or a weekend working on that essay? You think to yourself, "I still got a few weeks," and then put it off to have fun. This becomes a habit, and soon, it's crunch time.

Other times, it may have been learned thanks to your upbringing. Your family may be procrastinators, for examples/

Finally, you may not feel confident enough to do something, and you feel like another day, you may have more confidence.

Motivation Theories

Those who want to be more motivated may wonder what it is that makes us motivated. There have been studies and theories that have tried to give the reason, and here are three of them.

Instinctual Theory

This theory says that motivations are instincts. As you probably know, instincts are behaviors that are automatic and that we're born with. We think of animals when we think of instincts, but humans are animals too, and although we can be self-aware and try to fight our instincts, some of us cannot.

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The instincts that make up motivation include:

  • Survival. You're motivated to get a great job so you can have financial security and be able to be in great health.
  • Fear. You fear not being successful, and so you are motivated.
  • Love. You want to be successful so you can find or keep love.

Some people may be more instinctual than others. Humans are complex beings, with some of them on autopilot and others being able to pilot manually.

Drive Theory

This is quite similar to instinctual theory but instead involves you trying to meet your needs. Some people have more needs and desires than others, and that drive to meet those needs helps you to find the motivation you so desire.

Arousal Theory

This theory says that people are motivated because they seek pleasure. When it comes to pleasure, people experience it in all sorts of levels. Some people feel pleasure living a simple life and watching TV every night.

Other people get pleasure by taking high risks and receiving a reward. Some of the most powerful figures may have arousal that is high-maintenance.

So, which theory is correct? Honestly, there appears to be true in all three of them. It will depend on the person. Some people are instinctually driven to want to be motivated, while others may not have the same instincts, but may be motivated because they seek pleasure.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation involves validation or rewards from an outside party. You're motivated to go to work because someone will hand you a paycheck. You want to be a famous YouTuber because you want recognition from an audience. You want to succeed so your parents praise you.

Extrinsic motivation also comes in the form of punishment from an outside party. You want to keep your grades up in school, so you don't have to repeat a class and waste time and tuition. A child wants to please their parents, so they don't ground them from what they enjoy.

These are just a few examples of how the outside world makes you want to stay motivated.

Intrinsic Motivation

This is the motivation that comes from a reward from within. For example, you may want to beat a video game on the hardest difficulty because you want that satisfaction in accomplishing something challenging. There is no outside reward for it unless you share it online, but it makes you feel good.

The Three Steps For Motivation

Motivation requires three steps

  1. Activation. This is where you decide to start your goal. If the goal is to find a new job, the activation is to start filling out applications. If the goal is to find love, you may create a dating profile or head to a singles' meetup.
  2. Persistence. There may be activation, but if you give up when you trip up, you're going to fail. Persistence in finding a job would be to continue filling out applications despite rejection. For dating, this would mean licking your wounds and trying to date again if your previous date did not go so well.

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  1. Intensity. This involves how much effort you make. For a job seeker, they may fill out applications every once in a while, or at every chance they get. For someone looking for love, a high-intensity dater will bounce from a bad date and find another one quickly, while a low-intensity dater may lie low for a bit after rejection. Odds are, the higher intensity person is going to meet their goal faster.

How Counseling Can Help You

If you can't find the motivation to accomplish your goals, there is no shame in seeking a counselor to help you. They can teach you ways you can keep yourself motivated. If there is a reason why you're not motivated, such as an event in the past, they can help you cope and teach you how to live in the present.

Everyone deserves to accomplish their goals, but only those who are motivated will have the highest chances of making it. With help from other people, it may inspire you. But ultimately, you must be the one who makes the first step.


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