How Do Psychologists Define Motivation?

Psychology Textbook Definition of Motivation

Motivation is defined by psychologists as the process by which activities are started, directed, and sustained so that certain needs are met, either psychological or physical. Most general psychology books also have that definition. The idea is that motivation is what guides us to accomplish a goal. It is our desire to do things that lead us to set and attain our goals.

Psychologists define motivation on a biological, emotional, social, and cognitive level. It is the all-encompassing "why" behind why we do something.


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Types of Motivation

There are two main types of motivation, namely, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual. When you are intrinsically motivated, you do something for the personal gratification. An example of intrinsic motivation is completing a puzzle because you find it challenging. (Find more examples here.)


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In contrast, extrinsic motivation is when you do something to get a reward or avoid a punishment. In this case, the motivation for your behavior comes from something outside of yourself, such as an award or a good grade.

Components of Motivation

There are three main components of motivation and those are activation, persistence, and intensity.

Activation is the decision to start doing a certain behavior.


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The next step, Persistence, is continuing to put in the effort to achieve a goal even when obstacles appear.

Lastly, Intensity is the concentration and energy that someone puts into accomplishing his or her goal.

Theories of Motivation

Psychologists have identified three main theories of motivation that seek to explain motivation, whether that motivation is biological, emotional, social, or cognitive.

The first theory of motivation is the Instinct Theory, which says that we are motivated to complete goals through our instincts. An instinct is a fixed, inborn pattern of behavior that acts as a drive. Therefore, Instinct Theory postulates that behaviors occur so that we can get the basic things we need to survive. An example of an instinctual drive is fear, which allows people to avoid dangerous situations and thus, live.


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Another theory of motivation is the Theory of Drives and Needs. We have biological needs for food, water, and shelter. This theory states that our behaviors are motivated by the fact that we have to meet these needs. Thus, we find food, we drink, and we rest.

The last theory of motivation is the Arousal Theory. This theory suggests that people engage in behaviors to keep their arousal level at one that is personally optimal. For example, a person with high arousal needs may engage in high-risk behaviors such as skydiving or rock climbing. A person with low arousal needs may be content with reading a book.

Getting the Help You Need

If you find yourself in need of professional mental health help, there are many resources available for you. Sometimes, you may find yourself lacking motivation and with that, you have to reach out and get help - YOU ARE NOT ALONE.


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As an example, BetterHelp is a company that offers online counseling and therapy.

This is a company that strives to provide mental health help for those who want to avoid the stigma associated with seeking assistance for illnesses that cannot be readily observed. It can also be a platform for you to talk to someone who understands whatever situation it is that you are in - you will never be judged. This company is also professional, truly affordable, and very convenient.



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