Motivation: How It Works and Why You Need It


Sometimes we feel like we’re willing to do anything to achieve our goals. And sometimes we are too lazy to even get out of bed. Probably our willingness to do something is affected by our motivation, which is in and out. Why does this happen, what depends on the level of motivation and how to learn to motivate yourself, no matter what? 

What Motivation Consists of

Motivation is our desire to do something. It consists of needs, motives and goals.

As the “pinnacle of evolution” we have many needs: material, spiritual, cognitive, social. They are divided into two groups:

  • Vital, that is, biological – this is the need for food, drink, safety, emotional connection with a significant relative.
  • Informational – additional knowledge that is needed to engage in professional, domestic or social activities.

Motive is what motivates one to start moving toward the fulfillment of one’s needs. Motives are endowed with breadth and flexibility. Latitude is the variety of a person’s impulses: from the desire to satisfy trivial hunger to the solution of complex issues while playing Flexibility of the motive is the possibility to satisfy the need in different ways: hunger can be satisfied by a light snack, such as an apple, or by cooking a complex multi-component dish. And one and the same problem can be solved in the mind, using a calculator or by finding out the answer from a competent comrade.

In this case, most often a person is not aware of what motivates him to activity. This is due to attraction or attitudes that work in us as “factory settings,” which were formed mainly in relationships with those who raised us.

Attraction is a mental state, a kind of drive, an instinctive desire that has an emotional coloring. For example, an athlete who has long since finished his career still trains because he enjoys the physical work of his body. He is also used to building his life around sports.

The attitudes are based on a person’s life experience and are often learned in childhood. For example, a student strives at all costs not to be expelled from an institute where she does not like to study, because in her parental family it was believed that higher education was the basis of happiness and success.

The goal is the result that a person wants to achieve in the end.

With adults, it’s complicated: Growing up, we lose some of our childhood mental energy and we have to make an effort to grow.

What Motivation Can Be

A distinction is made between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is a certain interest in an activity that brings pleasure from the process, the joy of belonging, the pleasure of having something, the desire to move in the chosen direction. Intrinsic motivation can look like the desire to succeed, the so-called “to” motivation, or the avoidance of failure, the “from” motivation. 

It’s believed that intrinsic motivation is weaker, because you can always justify yourself and make a compromise: for example, not finishing a book in time, you can write it off as fatigue. External motivation is often tied to social approval or obligations to other people, so it’s more effective and more actively used in society.

What the Level of Motivation Depends on

Different people may have different levels of motivation because of personality traits: some easily suppress their needs, some not. For some people, work-related motivation is stronger than motivation in other areas of life. In fact, people with a low level of motivation can be successful: they are helped by consistency, willpower and pumped up self-control.

Besides personal characteristics, the ability to achieve the goal is influenced by the number of motives: if their strength or a small number, it’s easier to select one and stick to it. If there are many motives or needs, it’s more difficult to set a goal and solve it.

It can be said that people who focus on a single task and systematically perform actions in order to achieve the goal are more successful in satisfying their needs. And also people with a limited number of goals, because all their efforts are focused on one thing.

Certain illnesses can affect a person’s ability to accomplish what they have planned. For example, with depression, when there is little energy and it is difficult to enjoy activities, it will be more difficult to achieve goals, and with clinical depression, when the simplest daily activities seem difficult – even impossible.

Why Motivation Doesn’t Always Lead to Action

It happens so that a person after reading a book, taking a course or visiting an individual counseling session, feels motivated, but does nothing and quite quickly this impulse passes. To understand why this happens, we need to understand the structure of our psyche.

Conventionally speaking, there are two “layers” in it: a small layer of logic, understanding, analysis and a huge layer of the unconscious, where emotions, feelings, intergenerational patterns and attitudes “live”. This is where there are displaced pains from childhood (usually we are not even aware of their existence) that block our actions. We can realize what is in the unconscious only through manifested reality, i.e., through situations we live through, e.g., chronic failure to achieve goals.

Therefore, in moments of enthusiasm, the mind creates a beautiful picture, but a person cannot materialize what he wants: there are deep blocks to start earning money, write a book, get married and other desires. And they are indicated by repeated scenarios – “the same rake again. That is, in such cases, it isn’t about the lack of motivation, but about unconscious processes that can be effectively worked out together with a therapist.

A motivated person does not equal a person who always achieves a goal. It’s possible to have enthusiasm, to see the goal clearly, but not to achieve it because of what is hidden in the depths of our psyche.

How You Can Motivate Yourself

If we proceed from the general structure of the motivational sphere proposed by psychologist Robert Nemov, we can distinguish four main classes of motivation, which are based on fear or organic motives, the unsatisfying of which leads to vital death; profit or material motives; interest or social motives; love or spiritual motives. Most often people experience mixed motivation, but the higher its quality, the more energy a person has to accomplish tasks. For example, a person goes to work because:

  • Fears not providing for his or her vital needs and starving to death (motivation is fear).
  • Wants to earn money and buy a car/flat, etc. (motivation – profit).
  • Likes the process itself, it is interesting to interact with people and is curious what the result will be (motivation – interest).
  • Likes to help other people, to take care of them, to be useful (motivation – love).

When planning a goal, you can analyze which motivation class is the main one for you and what you can do to move up a class.

You can also learn how to motivate yourself in psychotherapy. For example, the specialist will help to understand that behind the abstract idea of “I want a lot of money” may be a need for security. Further the client together with the psychotherapist will specify the result, prescribe the steps to achieve the goal and allocate the time for implementation. If blocking attitudes are revealed, for example, money = danger, the therapist helps eliminate them.


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