Motivation

by Paul Matthews

What is motivation?

Motivation is having the desire and willingness to do something. It is some kind of force, stimulus or influence that moves a person, or indeed any organism, to act or respond.

Motivation is the call to action that impels us to initiate behaviours.

The output of motivation could be described as the initiation, direction, intensity and persistence of behaviour.

Motivation has to do with the why of behaviour, as contrasted with the how or the what of behaviour.

David McClelland, Human Motivation

So much for a glib statement that is really about the effects of motivation, but what is it?

It is important to get some sense of what motivation actually is, since it seems to be a major factor in achieving success in anything you care to do. If we don’t know what it is, how can we influence or even manage it?

The best place to start looking for answers is inside ourselves.

What is motivation to you?

What people notice is that there are some things that they simply want to do – and that sense ‘wanting’ is effortless. They don’t even think of it as motivation; it just seems obvious and natural to expend energy doing that thing. Others may describe this behaviour as ‘motivated’, but that is their label for what they are observing.

Have you noticed that when you use the word motivation about yourself, as in ‘I am really motivated to do this’, it is often concerned with an attempt to psyche yourself up to actually do the task? This means that that effortless intrinsic wanting is not there.

Exercise

Just stop and think for a few minutes on what motivation is to you.

Remember a time when you really wanted to do something. It might have been something simple, such as going for a walk or reading a book. It may have been something bigger, like remodelling the bathroom.

  • What was it like?
  • How did you feel?
  • What would people have noticed about you?
  • Did you think of yourself as being ‘motivated’?
  • How easy was it to do the activity?
  • Did you want to do the activity, or want the results of the activity, or both?
  • Where was the encouragement to do the activity coming from: inside or outside you?
  • What led you to a point where you really wanted to do the activity?
  • Could quantify your motivation; say, rate it on a scale of 1 to 10?

Simple and complicated

Understanding motivation is really very simple: it is simple because someone is motivated when they are doing something they want to do.

The questions then become

  • What do they want to do?
  • Why do they want to do it?
  • Can we, or they, add things to what they want to do?
  • Can we, or they, subtract things from what they want to do?

This is where it gets complicated.

We want to do things because in some way they are important to us. What is important to us is governed by our values (see Values and beliefs) and these differ from person to person.

This is further complicated by the fact that two people with the same value about something – for example, having fun – would almost certainly use differing strategies, and thus do different things, to get that value satisfied.

It’s further complicated by the fact that people’s values and strategies are context dependent, the context they use being the one they perceive. We all know that different people can perceive the same situation in different ways.

So this very simple thing called motivation becomes highly complex when we seek to understand it at a level that allows us to manage or influence it. As with anything complex, it is worth having some models to help us understand it; fortunately, there are many to choose from, such as Maslow, McClelland, Vroom, Herzberg and McGregor.

Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.

Raymond Chandler

So learning about motivation means learning some generalisations that apply to people; looking at some models that can guide your behaviour and interventions when you seek to motivate yourself or others to do something, and discovering a range of motivational tools, together with some guidance as to which tool to use with which type of person.