Motivating yourself and others

What is motivation?

Motivation has the same root as the word motive. As such, it is best described as the various phenomena that give us a motive to do something. A motivation to eat, therefore, might be feeling hungry. Psychologists try to explain how people behave largely by what motivates them. In theories of leadership, for instance, motivation is often used to give people a reason to do something, such as offering a reward for success. For many people, however, being motivated is something that comes from within, a sort of self-drive, if you will. As such, there are both conscious and unconscious forms of motivation.

 What psychological theories behind motivation are there?

 In short, many different psychological theories try to explain what motivates us and how motivation can be applied. One is called intrinsic motivation which states that people work out what it is that gives them the most inner reward regardless of external factors. Extrinsic explanations, on the other hand, tend to focus on rewards, such as being paid. Incentive theory includes the principles of extrinsic motivation but does not just look at tangible rewards but intangible ones, too, such as social acceptance and reward through habit. Some sociological theories of motivational behaviour are similar, emphasising the importance of positive feedback from others when working towards a goal.

Which incentives are good for motivation?

This depends on the individual you are trying to motivate and the task at hand. Money may be something that motivate one person more than another, for example. However, a very long and arduous task is unlikely to be undertaken if the monetary reward for it does not match its nature. Many people will reward themselves in some way once they achieve their goal. Some leaders and managers, therefore, simply ask the person they want to motivate what will work in their case. Usually, a mixture of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation leads to the best outcomes.

How are motivation and emotion linked?

When properly motivated to do something, we can feel more zip in our stride and a greater urgency to perform. This is an emotive reaction to the task at hand that is often outside of our conscious thought. When you are motivated not to do something, such as giving up smoking, emotions are also at play. Guilt, for example, when you don't stick to your task can motivate you to try again with greater effort.

When motivation is low, what can you do?

If you find yourself lethargic and unable to motivate yourself, then try breaking your goal down into achievable tasks that work towards an endpoint. Don't indulge yourself or wallow in your situation. Do something else, such as going for a brisk walk, and settle to your task later. Low motivation can sometimes be linked to conditions like depression, especially if you have other symptoms like poor self-image. Seek professional help if that applies to you and don't suffer in silence.

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  • The second questionnaire in our "Happiness at Work" series is all about motivation and Self-determination Theory. (The first questionnaire was about "Stress at Work") Take the "Motivation at Work ...
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