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a rat in a maze looking at a mazey piece of cheese

What is Motive or Motivation in Psychology?

a rat in a maze looking at a mazey piece of cheese

A motive, or motivation, is the thing that makes us act and behave a certain way in order to achieve a goal. Its the reason why you do what you do, or the lack thereof for why you don’t do what you set out to do. My motivation in writing this article is to finish a giant list of topics I came up with, and in writing these exact words, am step closer to accomplishing that feat.

The original meaning in Latin is “moving”, which is kind of neat. There’s research out there that suggests our attitudes are often changed after an action or movement, and not the reverse, so maybe the Latins were onto something.

What is Motivation in Psychology?

Motivation is an internal process that drives us to desire a change, either in ourselves or our environment. It gives us the energy and direction needed to engage with the world in an adaptive, open-ended, and problem-solving way. When we are motivated, we are driven to move and take action toward our goals.

Our motivation is influenced by our needs for survival and well-being. Physiological needs such as food, water, and sex (yes, sex!) are necessary to maintain life and can provide satisfaction. Psychological needs such as autonomy, mastery, and belonging also direct our behavior. We also have needs for achievement, power, closure, meaning, and self-esteem that can become motives for us to take action.

Our environment and social context can also play a significant role in our motivation. We can be motivated by external factors such as goals, values, and desires to experience specific emotions associated with certain end-states. So let’s tap into our well of motivation and go after our goals!

Types of Motivation and Examples

Every person is different and so are their actions. But why do we do the things we do? Well, the short answer lies in the various types of motivations that make us do stuff like exercise. Here’s a bunch of examples.

  • Intrinsic motivation: A person enjoys dancing so much that they dance around their house for hours on end, even when no one is watching.
  • Flow: A guitarist is so engrossed in playing a solo that they don’t even realize an hour has gone by.
  • External regulation: A weightlifter begrudgingly follows a strict workout routine set by their coach to ensure they meet their competition goals.
  • Goal: A runner is determined to finish a marathon under four hours and trains rigorously to achieve this goal.
  • Value: A person goes for a daily walk because they know it helps reduce their risk of heart disease, and they want to stay healthy for their future.
  • Possible self: A person sees a fit and active elderly person and decides they want to be like them when they’re older, so they start exercising regularly.
  • Achievement strivings: A skier wants to beat their personal best time down the mountain and keeps training until they achieve their goal.
  • Competence: A weightlifter feels empowered and confident in their abilities as they see themselves getting stronger over time.
  • Opponent process: A jogger feels pain and exhaustion during a run but is determined to push through it to experience the euphoric runner’s high at the end.
  • Positive affect: A person takes a walk in the park and finds themselves in a much better mood afterward, enjoying the beauty of nature and the fresh air.
  • Introjection: A person feels guilty for indulging in junk food, so they force themselves to go to the gym to burn off the calories.
  • Personal control: A person has a stressful day at work but feels a sense of control and structure as they go to the gym and follow a familiar routine.
  • Relatedness: A group of friends goes for a hike together and enjoys each other’s company while getting some exercise in.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in behavior simply because it is inherently enjoyable or satisfying. It’s often driven by a person’s personal interest, enjoyment, or curiosity about a particular activity. Intrinsic motivation can lead to increased engagement, creativity, and perseverance in tasks, as individuals are motivated by their own internal desires and interests.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is driven by external factors such as rewards, recognition, or punishment. In extrinsic motivation, individuals engage in a behavior to achieve a specific outcome or goal, rather than for the inherent enjoyment of the activity. While extrinsic motivation can be effective in achieving short-term goals, it may not be as sustainable as intrinsic motivation.

It is important to note that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Many activities may have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. For example, a student may enjoy learning a subject (intrinsic motivation) but may also be motivated by the prospect of achieving a good grade (extrinsic motivation).

Understanding the different types of motivation is important in a variety of settings, including education, business, and personal development. By identifying the type of motivation that drives a behavior, individuals and organizations can create strategies to foster and enhance motivation, leading to greater success and satisfaction.

Primary and Secondary Motives

Motives can be categorized into primary and secondary motives. Primary motives, as K.B. Madsen states, are innate or biological in nature. They’re all about survival. Things like hunger, thirst, sleep, and sex are examples of primary motives that ensure our survival and the survival of our species. Fleeing from danger, finding protective shelter, and fighting to defend ourselves are also primary motives that we can’t do without.

On the other hand, secondary motives are acquired or social.

Unlike primary motives, they’re not necessary for survival, but they’re essential to our emotional development as human beings. These motives develop through our interactions with others, and they activate and direct our behavior. Examples of secondary motives include achievement, belonging, and power.

So, understanding the difference between primary and secondary motives is critical to understanding motivation. Primary motives are universal and essential to survival, while secondary motives are unique to us humans and essential to our emotional growth.

What About Motivations for Procrastination?

Let’s touch briefly on procrastination and avoidance. These behaviors can be influenced by a variety of factors, including our needs, cognitions, emotions, environments, and relationships.

Our physiological needs, such as hunger and thirst, can strongly influence our behavior. When our well-being is threatened, our bodies signal our brains, which can lead to avoidance or procrastination. Our psychological needs, like autonomy, competence, and relatedness, are also crucial drivers of motivation. The conflict between our chosen behavior and the need for satisfaction of psychological needs can create dissonance, which can lead to procrastination or avoidance.

Implicit needs, which are acquired from our environment through socioemotional development, can also motivate us toward the pursuit of specific social incentives. These needs occur without conscious awareness and are trait-like and enduring.

Our cognitions, like conflicting goals or beliefs, can also influence our tendency to avoid or procrastinate. Emotions, which can signal the importance of particular behaviors, can motivate or demotivate us.

Our environment can be either ideal and supportive or an obstacle to staying motivated and achieving our goals. And finally, our relationships can either support or demotivate us when it comes to making changes.

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