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Motivation is:

  • A process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors (behaviors which are designed to reach a particular goal).
  • What causes us to act, whether it is getting some food to reduce hunger, or reading a newspaper to gain knowledge.
  • A term that is frequently used to describe why a person does something. For example, you might say that a person is motivated to improve her health and fitness, so she spends some time exercising each day.
  • A combination of internal and external factors that create in us the wanting and the energy to strive towards a goal or to maintain interest in a task. Examples:
    • Internal motivation: being motivated to give up free time to volunteer, because community service is something that we believe in; being motivated to attend even stressful family gatherings because we value family – these are our values, things that we believe in – they are internal factors.
    • External motivation: being motivated to arrive at work on time, because we want to keep our jobs; being motivated to feed the parking meter because we don’t want a ticket – these are something external to ourselves, outside of our own brain.

Motivation results from both conscious and unconscious factors:

  • Conscious – those that we are aware of: these may include how much we want or need something, how valuable we perceive the goal to be, our expectations of ourselves, and others’ expectations of us.
  • Unconscious – those that we are not aware of: these may include the desire to re-experience or to avoid re-experiencing something we experienced in early childhood – a forgotten memory which is driving our behavior now.

Motivation involves biological, emotional, social and cognitive factors that initiate behavior. Examples:

  • Biological – may include hormones, processes in the brain and basic biological needs. Example: when we are hungry we are motivated to eat.
  • Emotional – our emotions drive us to perform or to avoid performing certain behaviors. Example: when we feel afraid we are motivated to avoid the source of the fear.
  • Social – is based on social, community and cultural norms, and group affiliation. We are influenced to make behavioral choices based on the norms (spoken or unspoken rules or beliefs) of the social environment with which we identify or affiliate. Example: if our family has a tradition of birthday/holiday gift-giving, then that is likely to be our practice.
  • Cognitive – behavior is directed as a result of the active processing and interpretation of the information which is available to us at the time. Example: if we learn that a food product has been recalled for health or safety reasons, we are likely to throw away any that we may have in our home.

There are three major components to motivation: activation, persistence and intensity:

  • Activation involves the decision to initiate a behavior, such as joining a gym.
  • Persistence is the continued effort toward a goal even though obstacles may exist, such as being determined to exercise despite having to give up some free time to do so.
  • Intensity can be seen in the concentration and vigor that goes into pursuing a goal. For example, one person might exercise with enthusiasm, setting ongoing goals for themselves, whereas another may simply be putting in the time.

There are many different types of motivation, and I will discuss some of these in my next blog entry.