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Motivation, Part 1

In my blog post last week, ‘But I Only…‘, I wrote briefly about how obsessed I am with studying human behavior and psychology. Arguably one of the biggest topics within the field is motivation – what is it, where does it come from, how does someone get more of it, and what impact does it really have on getting results?

Perhaps the best place to start is by answering those first two questions: What is it? Where does it come from?

What is Motivation?

Motivation, actually a derivative of the Latin word movere, meaning “to move,” is the psychological construct used to account for the why of behavior. It helps answer the question: “Why do people select certain options (like exercising) over others (like watching TV)?

Now onto the more interesting question:

Where does Motivation Come From?

To help you understand the myriad of places that motivation can arise, I’m going to include a photo of a continuum of motivation, ranging from no motivation at all (amotivation) to the other end where intrinsic motivation lives:

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Here we can see that there are two main sources of motivation, Extrinsic and Intrinsic, with each having their own sub-types. Let’s dig a bit deeper:

  • Extrinsic Motivation: you do something because you have to do it
    • External Regulation – you engage in a behavior to receive a reward or avoid punishment, like donating blood for the free t-shirt or running a 5k because they give out shiny medals. Also consider: the person who was told by their physician that continued inactivity could lead to immediate hospitalization.
    • Introjected Regulation – the incomplete internalization of a regulation that was previously solely external. To continue our prior example: person exercises to where they are no longer high risk, but they only continue because they should or must. This is also a place where the ego lives, when you are concerned about approval from others as well as avoiding shame for not doing something.
    • Identified Regulation – you freely choose to carry out an activity that is not considered enjoyable but is thought to be important to achieve a personal goal. Example: you donate blood because it’s helpful for the health of others.
  • Intrinsic Motivation: you do something because you want to do it, for its own sake or for the pleasure it provides.
    • Stimulation – you engage in a behavior to experience the pleasant sensations derived from the activity itself, like sweating, elevated heart rate, muscles responding to activity, etc. There is a whole lot to unpack here regarding the potential for unhealthy, addictive habits to form, but that’s a topic for another time. Just know that chasing ‘the post-workout sensation’ is not what this is referring to, and is a dangerous road to go down.
    • Accomplishment – setting a goal because of the process one must undertake to achieve it, not for the outcome itself. For instance, if you want to run a marathon, you do so not because you want to complete it but because of the process it takes to complete it. Running with the intention of completing the marathon (usually with a ‘no-matter-what’ mentality) would actually fall into the introjected regulation category of extrinsic motivation above.
    • Learning/Knowledge – the pleasure of engaging in an activity simply to learn something new about the activity itself, or because it is interesting and/or enjoyable. There is no further motivation about health/body improvements, personal improvement in the activity itself, etc. It is not a means to and end, but rather the activity is the end itself. Like how reading a good book is it’s own reward.

Another way to think of this continuum? The further toward intrinsic motivation you are, the more likely you will take consistent action as simply part of your life. You do it because you can and because it’s for you. Not because of outcomes (though they may play a role) and not because it’s the en vogue thing to do (and share).

How do you get to that point? We’ll dive into that in our next post!

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