Learn more about motivation and how to motivate yourself.
The word motivation comes from the latin verb movere, which means “to move”. So, motivation is the word we use to describe what “makes us move”. In other words, why do we do the things we do?
When we think about motivation in the modern world, we often think of it as our ability to push ourselves to do things. We might wish we were more motivated to do things, especially things that need to be done or that will help us achieve our goals.
Overall, motivation is thought to involve:
The choice of taking a particular action
The persistence with the action
The effort expended on it (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013).
So motivation is responsible for why we do something, how long we do something, and how hard we try to do something. But it’s important to keep in mind that motivation is not a constant thing. It ebbs and flows over time as we work towards different goals (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013).
So what leads to motivation? Theories see motivation as both a cause of action and an effect of action. For example, we might not be motivated to study for a test >> so we don’t do well on the test >> this leads us to be even less motivated to study in the future. In this way, low motivation may actually result in even lower motivation.
On the flip side, maybe we feel motivated to play the guitar. Then we feel good about our guitar playing skills and we become even more motivated to play the guitar. As you can see, motivation seems to be something that builds on itself (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013).
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
Two types of motivation—extrinsic and intrinsic—can help explain why we do things the way we do. Let’s talk about each of these types of motivation in a bit more detail.
For intrinsic motivation, there is no apparent reward for taking an action (Lindenberg, 2001). In fact, rewards (like money or good grades) often decrease intrinsic motivation while praise and positive feedback increase it. This has led some to question what intrinsic motivation actually is. They suggest that perhaps intrinsic motivation is simply enjoyment—we are more motivated to do something because we like it. And we don’t need to be rewarded for doing it because it’s fun (Lindenberg, 2001).
Extrinsic motivation is generated by giving someone a contingent reward. For example, I might be motivated to work because I get paid (and I will only get paid if I work). In the situation of work, research shows that extrinsic rewards can be motivating in the short term, but can also be alienating or dehumanizing. So, providing performance contingent rewards (a bonus for good work) can actually backfire (Benabou & Tirole, 2003).
How to Boost Motivation
1. Make a plan
Motivation involves a variety of processes such as planning, goal setting, intention formation, task generation, taking action, and outcome evaluation (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013). If you’re not sure what to do, what steps come first, and how the actions you’re taking will lead to the goal you seek, it can be helpful to make a solid plan for whatever it is that you’re hoping to achieve.
2. Set implementation intentions
Implementation intentions are strategies you set up ahead of time to help ensure you reach your goal (Gollwitzer, 1999). Basically, you just set an intention that IF X happens, THEN you’ll do Y.
This helps you stay more motivated regardless of the situation. For example, you might decide ahead of time that if you’re feeling really unmotivated to do one task, you’ll do another task. Or, you can set implementation intentions for when life gets in the way of completing a task.
3. Make tasks clear
The clearer you can get on the tasks you need to accomplish, the easier it will be to accomplish them. So consider creating a list of tasks and breaking them down into smaller chunks. For example, completing your homework could involve reading the textbook, making note cards, then reviewing the note cards.
Benabou, R., & Tirole, J. (2003). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The review of economic studies, 70(3), 489-520.
Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2013). Teaching and researching: Motivation. Routledge.
Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: strong effects of simple plans. American psychologist, 54(7), 493.
Lindenberg, S. (2001). Intrinsic motivation in a new light. Kyklos, 54(2‐3), 317-342.