TheoriesBehavioral Psychology What Is Motivation? ByKendra CherryKendra CherryFacebookTwitterKendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.Learn about our editorial processUpdated on May 23, 2022Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Amy Morin, LCSWMedically reviewed byAmy Morin, LCSWFacebookLinkedInTwitterAmy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.Learn about our Medical Review BoardVerywell / Emily Roberts Table of Contents View All Table of ContentsWhat Is Motivation?TypesUses of MotivationImpact of MotivationTips for Finding MotivationPotential Pitfalls of MotivationHistory of Motivation What Is Motivation? Motivation is the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. It is what causes you to act, whether it is getting a glass of water to reduce thirst or reading a book to gain knowledge. Motivation involves the biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces that activate behavior. In everyday usage, the term "motivation" is frequently used to describe why a person does something. It is the driving force behind human actions. 1:29 Click Play to Learn More About MotivationThis video has been medically reviewed by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE. Motivation doesn't just refer to the factors that activate behaviors; it also involves the factors that direct and maintain these goal-directed actions (though such motives are rarely directly observable). As a result, we often have to infer the reasons why people do the things that they do based on observable behaviors. What exactly lies behind the motivations for why we act? Psychologists have proposed different theories of motivation, including drive theory, instinct theory, and humanistic theory (such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs). The reality is that there are many different forces that guide and direct our motivations. Press Play for Advice on MotivationHosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares an exercise you can use to help you perform your best. Click below to listen now.Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts Types of Motivation Different types of motivation are frequently described as being either extrinsic or intrinsic: Extrinsic motivations are those that arise from outside of the individual and often involve rewards such as trophies, money, social recognition, or praise.Intrinsic motivations are those that arise from within the individual, such as doing a complicated crossword puzzle purely for the personal gratification of solving a problem. 1:17 Is It Extrinsic or Intrinsic Motivation?‘Doing What You Love’: The Battle of Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation Uses of Motivation There are many different uses for motivation. It serves as a guiding force for all human behavior, but understanding how it works and the factors that may impact it can be important in a number of ways. Understanding motivation can: Help improve the efficiency of people as they work toward goalsHelp people take actionEncourage people to engage in health-oriented behaviorsHelp people avoid unhealthy or maladaptive behaviors such as risk-taking and addictionHelp people feel more in control of their livesImprove overall well-being and happiness Mental Health in the Workplace WebinarOn May 19, 2022, Verywell Mind hosted a virtual Mental Health in the Workplace webinar, hosted by Editor-in-Chief Amy Morin, LCSW. If you missed it, check out this recap to learn ways to foster supportive work environments and helpful strategies to improve your well-being on the job. Impact of Motivation Anyone who has ever had a goal (like wanting to lose 20 pounds or run a marathon) probably immediately realizes that simply having the desire to accomplish something is not enough. Achieving such a goal requires the ability to persist through obstacles and endurance to keep going in spite of difficulties. There are three major components of motivation: activation, persistence, and intensity. Activation involves the decision to initiate a behavior, such as enrolling in a psychology class.Persistence is the continued effort toward a goal even though obstacles may exist. An example of persistence would be taking more psychology courses in order to earn a degree although it requires a significant investment of time, energy, and resources.Intensity can be seen in the concentration and vigor that goes into pursuing a goal. For example, one student might coast by without much effort, while another student will study regularly, participate in discussions, and take advantage of research opportunities outside of class. The first student lacks intensity, while the second pursues their educational goals with greater intensity.The degree of each of these components of motivation can impact whether or not you achieve your goal. Strong activation, for example, means that you are more likely to start pursuing a goal. Persistence and intensity will determine if you keep working toward that goal and how much effort you devote to reaching it. Tips for Finding Motivation All people experience fluctuations in their motivation and willpower. Sometimes you might feel fired up and highly driven to reach your goals, while at other times you might feel listless or unsure of what you want or how to achieve it. Even if you're feeling low on motivation, there are steps you can take that will keep you moving forward. Some things you can do include: Adjust your goals to focus on things that really matter to youIf you're tackling something that is just too big or too overwhelming, break it up into smaller steps and try setting your sights on achieving that first step toward progressImprove your confidenceRemind yourself about what you achieved in the past and what where your strengths lieIf there are things you feel insecure about, try working on making improvements in those areas so that you feel more skilled and capable.What to Do When You Have No Motivation Potential Pitfalls of Motivation There are a few things you should watch for that might hurt your motivation. These include: Quick fixes or all-or-nothing thinking. It's easy to feel unmotivated if you can't fix something immediately or if you can't have it all at once. Remind yourself that reaching your goals takes time.Thinking that one size fits all. Just because an approach or method worked for someone else does not mean that it will work for you. If something isn't helping you reach your goals or is making you feel unmotivated, look for things that will work better for you.Talk to your doctor if you are feeling symptoms of apathy and low mood that last longer than two weeks. Sometimes a persistent lack of motivation might be tied to a mental health condition such as depression. History of Motivation What are the things that actually motivate us to act? Throughout history, psychologists have proposed different theories to explain what motivates human behavior. The following are some of the major theories of motivation. Instincts The instinct theory of motivation suggests that behaviors are motivated by instincts, which are fixed and inborn patterns of behavior. Psychologists including William James, Sigmund Freud, and William McDougal have proposed a number of basic human drives that motivate behavior. Such instincts might include biological instincts that are important for an organism's survival such as fear, cleanliness, and love. Drives and Needs Many of your behaviors such as eating, drinking, and sleeping are motivated by biology. You have a biological need for food, water, and sleep. Therefore, you are motivated to eat, drink, and sleep. Drive theory suggests that people have basic biological drives and that behaviors are motivated by the need to fulfill these drives. Arousal Levels The arousal theory of motivation suggests that people are motivated to engage in behaviors that help them maintain their optimal level of arousal. A person with low arousal needs might pursue relaxing activities such as reading a book, while those with high arousal needs might be motivated to engage in exciting, thrill-seeking behaviors, such as motorcycle racing. A Word From Verywell Understanding motivation is important in many areas of life, from parenting to the workplace. You may want to set the best goals and establish the right reward systems to motivate others as well as to increase your own motivation. Knowledge of motivating factors and manipulating them is used in marketing and other aspects of industrial psychology. It's an area where there are many myths and everyone can benefit from knowing what works and what doesn't. Was this page helpful?Thanks for your feedback!What are your concerns? Other Inaccurate Hard to Understand 6 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.Nevid JS. Psychology: Concepts and Applications. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning; 2013.Tranquillo J, Stecker M. Using intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in continuing professional education. Surg Neurol Int. 2016;7(Suppl 7):S197-9. doi:10.4103/2152-7806.179231Hockenbury DH, Hockenbury SE. Discovering Psychology. Macmillan; 2010.Zhou Y, Siu AF. Motivational intensity modulates the effects of positive emotions on set shifting after controlling physiological arousal. Scand J Psychol. 2015;56(6):613-21. doi:10.1111/sjop.12247Myers DG. Exploring Social Psychology. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education, 2015.Siegling AB, Petrides KV. Drive: Theory and construct validation. PLoS One. 2016;11(7):e0157295. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0157295 Additional ReadingNevid JS. Psychology: Concepts and Applications. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning; 2013.