Motivation is crucial to achieving your goals and moving your life in a positive direction.
If we didn’t feel motivation, we’d literally do nothing all day. We’d be like a mobile phone with no battery — inactive and worthless.
We feel an urge, and then we act. That’s how most people think about motivation, but the truth is that it’s much more complex than that.
There are several types of motivation that drive our actions depending on the various scenarios that we find ourselves in.
Not every type of motivation is optimal for your specific situation. It’s important to ensure that you’re adding the right fuel to your fire so that it doesn’t wither and die out.
Let’s dive into the various types of motivation and talk about the best ways to use each one to move your life forward.
What is Motivation?
Motivates is the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors.
It’s the force that causes you to act, whether it’s in your best interest or not.
When most people think of motivation, they think of the burning desire that pushes people to achieve their goals.
However, motivation also drives the most basic, seemingly unimportant rituals we perform on a daily basis.
- We sit on a couch instead of the hard floor because we’re motivated to feel comfortable.
- We season the steak that we cook because we’re motivated to make it taste less bland.
- We lock the door behind us because we’re motivated to protect our house from intruders.
Everything that we do has intent behind it, and that intent comes from the internal and external factors spring us into action.
However, motivation isn’t just about the forces that activate certain behaviors, it also involves the factors that maintain these behaviors.
This is where things get a bit tricky, as these motives are rarely observable. Because of this, we often have to infer why people act in a certain way based on their actions.
There are several different theories of motivation out there, but let’s boil it down to the two main types of motivation that we experience on a daily basis.
The Two Main Types of Motivation
Different types of motivation all fall into one of two categories — intrinsic motivation or extrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation arises when factors outside of our internal world cause us to act.
The most common forms of extrinsic motivation are physical rewards for certain actions, such as money, cars, trophies, etc.
John wants a promotion at work because he wants to make more money and buy a new Mercedes. Additionally, his wife has just lost her job so he’s feeling external pressure from her to provide income for the family.
As a result of this predicament, John is working long hours every day to boost his performance and show his boss that he’s worthy of a bigger title. He’s consistently the first one in the office every morning and the last one to leave at night.
In this case, John’s actions are being driven by external factors.
The second of the two main types of motivation is intrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation is a type of motivation where an individual is driven by internal desires.
Intrinsic motivation exists separately from the external world. The motivation to act comes from within.
Let’s bring our friend John back into the mix and assume that he has the same goal — to get a promotion.
Driven by the desire to expand his capabilities and discover his true potential, he puts in long hours at the office day after day.
In this case, external factors are not the primary driver behind John’s actions — his motivation to excel is coming from an internal desire to push his own limits.
All types of motivation are either extrinsic or intrinsic. Now let’s dig a little deeper and analyze the various types of motivation that fall under these two categories.
Types of Motivation: Intrinsic
1) Competence Motivation
Competence motivation is a type of motivation that pushes people to become proficient at something by developing their skills.
About five months ago I picked up tennis.
Because I have fairly good hand eye coordination, I thought that I would be pretty decent at it despite having never played tennis in my entire life. (how about that for delusional)
Long story short, my first attempt at tennis went horribly. Almost every shot I hit was a high-arching flyball as opposed to a low, piercing forehand. And when it came to serving, simply getting the ball over the net was a major accomplishment.
I’m a very competitive person by nature. So when I got home, my competitive juices started firing. I made the resolution that tennis was going to be a sport that I was going to get good at.
I decided to make the time commitment and start playing/practicing 1-2x per week. When I had some free time, I’d fire up Youtube and watch a couple videos to help me out with my sticking points.
Fast forward six months later, and I’d consider myself to be an intermediate level tennis player. There are plenty of players better than me, but there are also plenty of players worse than me too.
The more I practiced tennis, the better I got at it. And as I got better, I felt motivated to continue working on my game. When you’re driven by the desire to be good at something that you enjoy, it’s almost impossible to stop.
That’s the power of competence motivation — once you see results, it becomes an addiction.
The catch? You need to start taking action first.
2) Attitude Motivation
Attitude motivation is defined by a desire to change the way you and others around you feel.
For those of you who feel like you’re missing out on life because of the way you see yourself, attitude motivation is one of the best types of motivation to help you kickstart your life and start taking action
The best way to activate attitude motivation is to set goals that focus on changing your identity as opposed to changing your results.
Deploying self-awareness and thinking deeply about the kind of person you want to become will ensure that your goals are in alignment with your values. When you’re acting in a way that is consistent with your values, you’ll lift up yourself as well as the other people around you.
3) Achievement Motivation
Achievement motivation states that people are driven to achieve specific goals because of the feeling of accomplishment that will accompany reaching it.
When you achieve a goal, it’s not always about the reward. Sometimes, it’s more about the satisfaction and fulfillment you feel when you recognize the implications of breaking that milestone.
The feeling of achievement means everything — the rewards that come along with it are just window-dressing.
You see this all of the time with people who lose a bunch of weight. Are they usually pretty happy that they lost 100 pounds? Absolutely. Who wouldn’t be.
But losing the weight was an external reward they received because of their hard work.
Often, what means more is the fact that they proved to themselves they could overcome obstacles and take control of their life. And that feeling is priceless — because it fans the flame even more.
That feeling makes you more hungry. More driven. More eager to find out what’s next. More willing to put yourself in challenging situations and find out what you’re made of.
And the next time you decide to challenge yourself, you take on that challenge with supreme confidence because you know you’re capable.
Types of Motivation: Extrinsic
1) Affiliation Motivation
We’re social creatures, so it makes sense that one of the most powerful forms of motivation is affiliation motivation — which is characterized by our need to feel acceptance and belonging in the world.
It’s hard wired into our DNA to seek the approval of other people.
Thousands of years ago, we lived in small tribes of 50-100 people. If we violated social norms, fellow tribe members would express their disapproval and we risked being exiled from the tribe.
In those times, being exiled almost meant certain death. Hunting for your own food without your fellow tribemates usually meant ending up as a delicious snack for another animal. And if you tried to ingratiate yourself into another tribe, you were likely killed before even making an attempt.
In other words, if you fit in and followed the rules, you lived. If you didn’t you died.
In today’s world, the consequences of violating social norms aren’t so drastic, but our natural survival instincts are still alive and well. We’re still afraid of being an outcast and upsetting the people around us.
Although this constraint tends to hinder the progress of most people, there are a couple strategies that turn our motivation to feel accepted into an asset.
- Get an accountability partner.
One of the easiest ways to leverage your innate desire for approval is to find an accountability partner.
An accountability partner is someone you report back to at the end of each day/week as you progress towards your goals.
Let’s say that you have a goal to walk for 30 minutes per day. At the end of each day, you would report back to your accountability partner whether or not you hit that goal, and they would do the same for whatever they are trying to achieve.
If you didn’t hit your goal, you may engage in some sort of agreed upon punishment, such as sending your accountability partner $20.
We hate it when other people think less of us, and knowing that you’ll have to tell someone else you failed if you don’t discipline yourself will increase the odds of you persisting towards your goals.
- Level up your social circle
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was this — if you’re looking to make a change in your life, join a group where your desired behavior is the norm.
When the behavior you want to implement is the status quo in your social circle, your need for approval will kick in — you’ll start acting in a way that is consistent with the group identity.
If you’re a negative person, it’s likely you have friends who are supporting that behavior.
In this case, being negative serves you, so why would you stop?
However, if you start hanging around with people who are more positive and uplifting, now the tables are turned.
Being negative is no longer the social norm. That means your survival instinct will kick in and you’ll realize you need to adopt some new habits so that you aren’t seen as an outcast.
With enough time, you’ll have made fundamental changes to your identity simply by changing who you spend your time with.
2) Power Motivation
Power motivation is a type of motivation that arises when people want to control their lives and the lives of others.
Essentially, power motivation is about expanding your influence and being the master of your own environment.
No one likes to feel helpless. We want to control the things that happen to us. That’s what power motivation is about.
Taken to its extreme, there are certainly issues that can arise when power is the primary source of motivation for one’s action. Atrocities like the Rwandan Genocide and The Holocuast highlight what we all know — an excessive appetitie for power can push people to do despicable evil.
However in most circumstances, power motivation is about influencing others in a positive way.
For example, I want to be one of the most well-known names in the world of personal development 10-15 years from now.
Do I want to reach that goal because of the money and status that would result from hitting that milestone? Sure that’s part of of motivation, but it isn’t the full picture.
Truthfully, I’m more motivated by the potential to impact the lives of millions of people in a positive way.
The idea of my work one day helping people lead more fulfilling lives is far more exciting to me than seeing millions of dollars in my savings account.
Being a millionaire is cool, but power and influence are priceless.
3) Fear Motivation
Fear can destroy your life, but it can also give you the push you need to improve it.
Fear motivation is a type of motivation that brings future negative consequences to the present moment in order to motivate people into action.
When you’re motivated by fear, you’re trying to avoid pain.
If your boss tells you that cuts are being made to your department, you may start coming into work early and working long hours to ensure you’re not one of the employees who gets let go.
If you have a high school reunion in three months and you’re overweight, you may start working out because you don’t want your peers to judge your appearance.
Fear motivation is great to rely upon when you’re trying to meet deadlines and achieve short-term goals. However, it’s typically not a sustainable solution for long-term personal growth.
Let’s take the high school reunion example from earlier. If you suck it up and discipline yourself for three months, the weight will probably come off assuming you don’t gorge yourself with food.
On the day of the reunion, you’re going to walk in confident. Looking good. Feeling good. You may even get a few comments from people saying, “Hey you look great! Have you been working out?”
But what happens after the reunion? What happens when you no longer are being driven by the fear of being judged by your peers at a public event?
Well, in many cases, people revert back to their old habits. Because that fear driving them to pursue the path of discipline is longer present, it becomes easier to choose the path of least resistance.
So the moral of the story is this — fear motivation can be great for meeting short-term deadlines, but it’s often not consistent enough for us to achieve long-term change.
4) Incentive Motivation
Incentive motivation is pretty straightforward — it’s the motivation that you feel whenever you expect a reward to be given.
Whereas achievement motivation centers around the process and pursuit of a certain goal, incentive motivation is the drive to attain the rewards that come along with achieving that goal.
You do things that you don’t want to do all the time because you are driven by external incentives.
Even though you rarely felt like it, you studied hard to get good grades so that you could get into a prestigious college.
If you played high school sports, you pushed yourself at practice so that your coach would notice your effort and give you more playing time.
External incentives drive performance and reinforce behavior. However, problems arise when incentives become your only source of motivation — there needs to be a balance between internal drive and the pursuit of external rewards.
If you hate your job, but you’re motivated to get a promotion so that you can make money, you’re on a collision course with burnout. Because even if you get the promotion, the money is just a temporary band-aid that masks your internal dissatisfaction.
No amount of money will change the fact that you hate your job.
However, if you were motivated to get a promotion because you want to make more money, while also improving your skill set (competence motivation), now there are external and internal forces shaping your behavior.
When you get the promotion, you’re happy with the pay raise, but you’re also happy that you were able to move further along the path towards mastery.
All of the types of motivation that were discussed in this article are useful when it comes to achieving your goals.
Intrinsic motivation comes from within, which means that you’re likely to engage in an activity because it gives you personal satisfaction.
Extrinsic motivation comes from the outside world, meaning that your motivation is a product of the desire to attain a certain reward.
Just because intrinsic motivation typically lasts longer and is more effective for long-term success, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be driven by external rewards.
Optimally, you want to have both types of motivation working in your favor.
It’s hard to be a millionaire, but it becomes easier when you truly enjoy your work.
It’s hard to get through medical school and become a surgeon, but it becomes easier when you’re intrinsically motivated to master the art of heart surgery.
A combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation will give you all of the fuel you need to strive and excel.