Motivation is the desire and drive to accomplish a task. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or learn a new skill, all of us struggle with our own levels of motivation at times. But it’s possible to increase your motivation and get the most out of your life by understanding what motivates you.
Psychologists study motivation in order to explain observed changes in behavior. For example, when a person’s hunger increases, they’re likely to open the refrigerator and look for food to satisfy their craving. Similarly, when an athlete or performer is “in the zone,” they’re often at their peak motivation and performance.
There are three main theories of motivation: the instinct theory, the drive and needs theory, and the arousal theory. Each explains why and how people change their behavior, but differs in how they describe what motivates them.
The instinct theory says that there are innate behavioral patterns that are fixed, and act as drives to fulfill our basic survival needs. For example, our fear of sharks is an instinctual drive that helps protect us from dangerous situations. The drive and needs theory states that certain behaviors occur because they fulfill our needs and desires. The need to be loved, for instance, drives some people to behave in a particular way. The desire to feel successful, on the other hand, can lead people to strive for excellence in their careers and lives.
Lastly, the arousal theory suggests that certain activities are more likely to trigger intrinsic motivation than others. Intrinsic motivation comes from an activity being seen as its own end, while extrinsic motivation is when it’s seen as a means to a separate end, such as earning a reward or avoiding punishment. For example, students may be more motivated to study when they see it as the goal itself and not just a way to pass exams and earn a good grade.
Finding a way to make an activity intrinsically motivating is one of the keys to maintaining long-term motivation. You can do this by ensuring that your to-do list contains only activities you’re really interested in and isn’t overwhelming. For example, you can reduce the number of tasks on your to-do list by scanning it regularly and removing any that you know aren’t important or necessary. Doing so will save you a lot of mental energy that can be used to fuel your motivation.
Another way to keep yourself motivated is to recognize and celebrate your progress. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of progress; even small amounts of progress can be motivational, as long as they keep coming. Creating a simple system for tracking your progress, like milestones and checklists, can help you see and acknowledge these small wins, giving you small boosts of motivation.
Finally, remember why you’re pursuing your goals in the first place. This will help you stay motivated when the going gets tough, especially if you can articulate what’s most important to you in the future. For example, if you’re struggling to find the motivation to continue studying, think about why you took up this type of study in the first place and how it will improve your life once you finish. Motivation