How to Use the Theories of Motivation to Keep Yourself Uplifted

Have you ever wondered why you are motivated in some instances and not in others? More importantly, have you considered what effect this has on your life in general? The theories of motivation can help explain all of this.

Research has revealed numerous theories of motivation and motivating factors. They all have their merits and can work especially well as a mix. But what is motivation really, and what effect does this have on the reality we create for ourselves?

What Is Motivation?

Motivation generally includes an experience of desire or aversion. This means we either desire something we want, or we have the desire to avoid something. This motivates people in certain directions.

This explains why we might find it easy to take action on some things and procrastinate on others. As you likely know, procrastination can really cause us to get in our own way.

Take a look at this TED Talk, where Dan Pink explains how motivation affects us all.

The good news is that with more knowledge, we can gain insights on what motivates us personally. It’s just a matter of understanding the theories that relate to us and then consciously utilizing them.

3 Theories of Motivation

Here are three of the most useful theories of motivation to help you stay motivated with anything you set your mind to.

1. Locke’s Goal Setting Theory

In 1968 Edward E. Locke published his groundbreaking Goal Setting Theory.

It has been some 50 years since the first goal-setting experiments were conducted and 28 years since the first statement of the theory.

Certainly, in my own personal experience and working with clients, goal setting has been a powerful motivator. When we have a goal that we desire, it motivates us to move towards it. This makes us more focused and less inclined to procrastinate.

Here’s the thing though: goal-setting only works effectively when certain criteria are met, so it’s essential to know what those criteria are.

Here are the important elements of Locke’s theory:

Goals Must Be Challenging and Attainable

If a goal is too easy or perceived as too difficult, we will lack motivation. This means goals must be both realistic and stretch us a little.

Goals Must Be Specific and Measurable

This gives us a much clearer direction and helps us measure progress as we reach milestones.

Commitment to the Goal

A firm decision must be made to commit to the goal. If there is no commitment, it will be easy to avoid putting in the effort.

Strategies

His suggested strategies to achieve this could include participation in the goal-setting process, the use of extrinsic rewards (bonuses), and encouraging intrinsic motivation through providing feedback about goal attainment.

Support Elements

Support elements need to be provided. For example, encouragement, needed materials and resources, and moral support can be included.

Quantifiability

Goals need to be quantifiable, and there needs to be feedback.

These criteria are mainly designed for the workplace and are effective as a member of a team. But what about working alone?

Using Locke’s Theory When You Work Alone

The SMART model contains important criteria, which relate to Locke’s theory. This model will help you write a good goal statement.

SMART is an acronym and means making goals specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed-bound.

Commitment can also be a challenge when working on goals alone. Because of this, it’s important to find some way to hold yourself accountable when using the theories of motivation.

A good way to do this is to confide your goal in a trusted friend and ask for accountability. If you are feeling very brave, you could even announce it on social media or to coworkers in your work environment.

If you have a high need for achievement, setting up your own reward system can act as an external motivator. However, a reward you will receive in 12 months time may not be enough to drive you.

A reward system works best when your goals are broken down into shorter-term goals and you need extrinsic motivation. Giving yourself a reward at each milestone will give you a sense of achievement earlier, and this creates more desire.

If you need help coming up with some useful rewards and punishments to achieve your goals, this article may be able to help.

Essential Resources

One of the elements of a well-formed goal is that you must have the required resources or a way of obtaining them. If you set a goal without these essential elements, you can often find motivation is lacking.

Resources can include physical materials, information, and people.

If you have confided your goal with a trusted friend, also ask that friend for support and encouragement. Identify where you may need training, and seek out a course or the support of a mentor or coach. Do your own research to make sure these vital resources are available to you before setting your goal.

Feedback is another essential element that could be a problem when working alone because feedback is often received from others.

If our results disappoint us, then we receive essential feedback that we need to change something.

Regular reflection is an effective way to receive feedback and look at what needs to change. When this process is utilized in a positive way, it has the potential to positively impact the first of these three theories of motivation.

2. McClelland’s Achievement and Required Needs Theory

David McClelland wrote about his theory of motivation in his book The Achieving Society in 1961. It explains why certain individuals are more motivated to achieve than others.

This theory is based on two psychological principles: the motive of an individual to achieve success, and the motive of an individual to avoid failure.

Some people have an intense desire to succeed and are more motivated to move towards what they want. This means they will take action, even if they are attempting something challenging.

Others are afraid of failure and so are more motivated to move away from what they don’t want. This means they will procrastinate on doing challenging things where there is a risk of failure. They are less inclined to set goals for the same reason.

How to Change Your Perception of Pain

When you know that you avoid pain, it gives you the power to work with it by using the theories of motivation. You can do this quite simply by turning your perception of pain around.

If you are resisting a step that will help you achieve something, explore why you are procrastinating. Ask yourself what you are afraid of.

Place yourself in the future and imagine what will happen if you don’t take the step. Notice how it will impact your goal negatively. Imagine how you will feel when you don’t achieve it and notice how painful that will be.

Now create pleasure around the thing you have been avoiding. Imagine how much closer that will bring you to achieving your goal, and notice how you will feel as you celebrate the achievement.

This change tool has been extremely effective with a number of my clients. As you use it, you will notice your procrastination morphing into motivation.

3. Hull’s Drive Reduction Theory

This theory was first proposed by American Psychologist Clark Hull in 1943. It centers round the premise that humans are motivated to take action where there are disturbances to homeostasis.

Homeostasis means to maintain stability and stay the same, referring to our overall health. This is a natural tendency, but we can use the theories of motivation to overcome the resistance it generates.

Many things in our external environment can affect our overall health. This includes our ability to put food on our table, a roof over our head, and money that enables us to provide those things. If our stability is threatened in any way, we are more inclined to take action.

This also means that if we feel our stability is threatened by taking action, we will do nothing.

I see this theory play out a lot with business owners. They avoid things they feel uncomfortable doing, like networking or follow-up calls — at least until their income levels drop. When this happens, they find the motivation they had been lacking and pull out all stops.

This motivational theory also resonates with the physiological level of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Hierarchy of Needs is related to theories of motivation

Here’s the thing: if we are motivated by this need alone, then we tend to do nothing new, and when faced with a situation that is uncertain, we can freeze.

Therefore, it’s important to find the motivation to move past this base need, even in the space of uncertainty and challenge.

Components to Handle Uncertainty

Dr. John Demartini, an international educator in human behavior specializing in the area of values, says that motivation is not external. True motivation is inspiration and found when we experience our values.

This means that if we set goals that are aligned with our values and focus on that, we can feel internally motivated. As we feel this, we are more inclined to take action on those goals, even when faced with something challenging.

If you’re not sure what your values are, you can learn how to identify them here.

Values are unconscious beliefs, which means many of us aren’t aware of what they are. When you bring your values into conscious awareness, it gives you the ability to use them as motivational tools.

When you set goals around your values, you will notice your motivation levels become much more consistent.

The Bottom Line

There are a multitude of different theories of motivation. Understanding what your motivators are is helpful, but the real power comes from working with them.

Finding strategies to work with and implementing them can morph procrastination into motivation or even help you avoid procrastination for good. This will create a positive impact on your life in general.

More Tips on Using the Theories of Motivation

Motivation is one of the main reasons we do things — take an action, go to work (and sometimes overwork ourselves), create goals, exercise our willpower. There are two main, universally agreed upon types of motivation — intrinsic motivation (also known as internal motivation) and extrinsic motivation (external motivation).

The intrinsic kind is, by inference, when you do something because it’s internally fulfilling, interesting or enjoyable — without an expectation of a reward or recognition from others. Extrinsic motivation is driven by exactly the opposite — externalities, such as the promise of more money, a good grade, positive feedback, or a promotion.

And of course, we all know about the big debate about money. It’s surely an external driver, but is it possible that it can sometimes make us enjoy what we do more? A meta-analysis that reviewed 120 years of research found a weak link between job satisfaction and money.

And what’s more — there is some evidence to suggest that more money can actually have an adverse effect on your intrinsic motivation.

Regardless of its type, motivation is still important to get you moving, to improve, excel, and put that extra effort when you feel like you don’t have a single drop of energy left to keep going.

So, let’s see some of the best things you can do to keep the fire going, even when you’d rather just indulge in pleasant idleness.

Why Intrinsic Motivation Tops Extrinsic Motivation

“To be motivated means to be moved to do something.”

Generally speaking, we all need motivation.

An avalanche of research, though, shows that when it comes to finding the lasting drive to “do something,” internal incentives are much more powerful than extrinsic rewards.

Why? It’s simple.

There is a great difference when you engage in something because “I want to,” as opposed to “I must.” Just think about the most obvious example there is: work.

If you go to work every day, dragging your feet and dreading the day ahead of you, how much enjoyment will you get from your job? What about productivity and results? Quality of work?

Yep, that’s right, you definitely won’t be topping the Employee of the Month list anytime soon.

The thing with external motivation is that it doesn’t last. It’s susceptible to something psychologists call Hedonic Adaptation. It’s a fancy way of saying that external rewards are not a sustainable source of happiness and satisfaction.

When you put in 100-hour weeks in order to get promoted, and you finally are, how long does your “high” last? The walking-on-a-cloud feelings wear off quickly, research tells us, making you want more. Therefore, you are stuck on a never-ending “hedonic treadmill,” i.e. you can progressively only become motivated by bigger and shinier things, just to find out that they don’t bring you the satisfaction you hoped for, when you finally get them.

Or, as the journalist and author Oliver Burkeman wonderfully puts it:

“Write every day” won’t work unless you want to write. And no exercise regime will last long if you don’t at least slightly enjoy what you’re doing.

If you want to find out more about the different types of motivation, take a look at this article: 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

If you are still unconvinced that doing things solely for kudos and brownie points is not going to keep you going forever, nor make you like what you do, here is some additional proof:

Studies tell us that intrinsic motivation is a generally stronger predictor of job performance over the long run than extrinsic motivation.

One reason is that when we are internally driven to do something, we do it simply for the enjoyment of the activity. So, we keep going, day in and out, because we feel inspired, driven, happy, and satisfied with ourselves.

Another reason has to do with the fact that increasing intrinsic motivation is intertwined with things such as higher purpose, contributing to a cause, or doing things for the sake of something bigger than ourselves or our own benefit. A famous study done by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant is case in point.

By showing university fundraisers how the money donated by alumni can help financially struggling students to graduate from college, their productivity increased by 400% a week! The callers also showed an average increase of 142% in time spent on the phone and 171% increase in money raised.

Internal motivation has been found to be very helpful when it comes to academia, too. Research confirms that the use of external motivators, such as praise, undermine students’ internal motivation, and, in the long-run, it results in “slower acquisition of skills and more errors in the learning process.”

In contrast, when children are internally driven, they are more involved in the task at hand, enjoy it more, and intentionally seek out challenges.

Therefore, all the research seems to allude to one major revelation: intrinsic motivation is a must-have if you want to save yourself the drudgery we all sometimes feel when contemplating the things we should do or must do.

6 Ways to Enhance Your Intrinsic Motivation

So, how does one get more of the good stuff — that is, how do you become internally motivated?

There are many things you can do to become more driven. Here are the ones that top the list.

1. Self-Efficacy

The theory of self-efficacy was developed by the American-Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura in 1982. Efficacy is our own belief in whether we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In other words, it’s whether we think we “got what it takes” to be successful at what we do.

Find intrinsic motivation with self-efficacy.

It’s not hard to see the link of self-efficacy to higher self-esteem, better performance, and, of course, enhanced motivation. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to put extra effort in what they do, to self-set more challenging goals, and be more driven to improve their skills.

Therefore, the belief that we can accomplish something serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy — it motivates us to try harder to prove to ourselves that we can do it.

You can learn more about self-efficacy in this article: What Is Self Efficacy and How to Improve Yours

2. Link Your Actions to a Greater Purpose

Finding your “why” in life is incredibly important. This means that you need to be clear with yourself on why you do what you do and what drives you. What is intrinsically rewarding for you? 

And no matter how mundane a task may be, it can always be linked to something bigger and better. Psychologists call this “reframing your narrative.”

Remember the famous story of John F. Kennedy visiting NASA in 1961? As it goes, he met a janitor there and asked him what he did at NASA. The answer was:

“I’m helping to put a man on the Moon.”

Inspirational, isn’t it?

Re-phrasing how your actions can help others and leave a mark in the universe can be a powerful driver and a meaning-creator.

3. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to give back to the world. It can also help boost your internal motivation by making you feel important in supporting the less fortunate, learning new skills, feeling good about yourself, or linking to some of your inner values, such as kindness and humanitarianism.

When you remove any external reward expectations and do something for the pure joy and fulfilment of improving others’ lives, then you are truly intrinsically motivated.

4. Don’t Wait Until You “Feel Like It” to Do Something

A great piece in the Harvard Business Review points out that when we say things as “I can’t make myself go to the gym” or “I can’t get up early,” what we actually mean is that we don’t feel like it. There is nothing that psychically prevents us from doing those things, apart from our laziness.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to “feel like it” in order to take action.

Sometimes, it so happens that you may not want to do something in the beginning, but once you start, you get into the flow and find your intrinsic motivation.

For instance, you don’t feel like going to the gym after a long day at work. Rather than debating in your head for hours “for and against” it, just go. Tell yourself that you will think about it later. Once in the gym, surrounded by similar souls, you suddenly won’t fee that tired or uninspired.

Another way to overcome procrastination is to create routines and follow them. Once the habit sets in, suddenly getting up at 6 am for work or writing for an hour every day won’t be so dreadful.

5. Self-Determination, or the CAR Model (As I Call It)

The Self-Determination theory was created by two professors of psychology from the University of Rochester in the mid-80s—Richard Ryan and Edward Deci. The theory is one of the most popular ones in the field of motivation. It focuses on the different drivers behind our behavior—i.e. the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

There are three main needs, the theory further states, that can help us meet our need for growth. These are also the things which Profs. Deci and Ryan believed to be the main ways to enhance our intrinsic motivation—Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness (CAR).

If our jobs allow us to learn and grow, and if we have enough autonomy to do things our way and be creative, then we will be more driven to give our best, and our performance will soar. In addition, as humans are social beings, we also need to feel connected to others and respected.

All of these sources of intrinsic motivation, separately and in combination, can become powerful instigators to keep us thriving, even when we feel uninspired and unmotivated .

6. Tap Into a Deeper Reason

Some interesting research done in 2016 sought answers to how high-performing employees remain driven when their company can’t or won’t engage in ways to motivate them—intrinsically or extrinsically.

The study tracked workers in a Mexican factory, where they did exactly the same tasks every day, with virtually zero chances for learning new skills, developing professionally, or being promoted. Everyone was paid the same, regardless of performance. So there was no extrinsic motivation at all, other than keeping one’s job.

A third kind of motivation was then discovered, which scientists called “family motivation.” Workers who agreed more with statements such as “I care about supporting my family” or “It is important for me to do good for my family” were more energized and performed better, although they didn’t have any additional external or internal incentive to do so.

The great thing about this kind of driver is that it’s independent of the company one works for or the situation. It taps into something even deeper—if you don’t want to do something for your own sake, then do it for the people you care for.

And this is a powerful motive, as many can probably attest to this.

Final Thoughts

Frederick Herzberg, the American psychologist who developed what’s perhaps still today the most famous theory of motivation, in his renowned article from 1968 (which sold a modest 1.2 million reprints and it the most requested article from Harvard Business Review One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? wrote:

“If I kick my dog, he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”

Herzberg further explains that the so-called “hygiene factors” (salary, job security, benefits, vacation time, work conditions) don’t lead to fulfillment, nor motivation. What does, though, are the “motivators”—challenging work, opportunities for growth, achievement, greater responsibility, recognition, the work itself.

Herzberg realized it long ago…intrinsic motivation tips the scales when it comes to finding long-term happiness and satisfaction in everything we do, and to improving our overall well-being.

In the end, the next time when you need to give yourself a bit of a kick to get something done, remember to link it to a goal bigger than yourself, and preferably one that has non-material benefit.

And no, don’t say that you tried but it’s just impossible to find internal motivation. Remember the janitor at NASA?

Because once you find your internal generator, you will be truly unstoppable.

More Tips to Boost Motivation

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