The Psychology of Motivation: Why Is Motivation So Powerful?

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Motivation is an important driving force in people’s lives. It can affect both minor and major aspects of your life. Oftentimes, one’s level of motivation—or lack thereof—can determine their level of success.

In this article, I will discuss the concepts of motivation and psychology and present six psychological motives that drive people. Moreover, I will present some tips on how you can get motivated and discuss reasons why motivation is so powerful. I will also add my thoughts from my world where motivation plays an important role: the world of athletics.

Table of Contents

  1. What Is Motivation?
  2. What Is Psychology?
  3. Why is Motivation So Powerful?
  4. 5 Ways to Get Motivated
  5. Final Thoughts
  6. More Tips on Gaining Motivation

What Is Motivation?

Research indicates that motivation has many definitions. The Oxford Dictionary defines it in several ways:[1]

  • “The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a certain way.”
  • “The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.”
  • “Motivation is the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behavior.”

We can conclude from these definitions that motivation is the driving force behind what we do and the key ingredient to accomplishing goals.

There are two primary types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is doing an activity to attain an outcome, usually a reward of some kind. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is “an internal drive for success or sense of purpose.” Research states that the more effective of the two—the motivation that leads to the best results—is intrinsic.[2]

Kevin Kruse validated the value of intrinsic motivation when he wrote,

“Life is about making an impact, not an income.”

Stephen Covey said it a different way,

“Motivation is a fire from within. If someone tries to light that fire, chances are it will burn very briefly.”

What Is Psychology?

American Psychology defines psychology as “the scientific study of the mind and behavior.”[3] There are six insights that psychology has brought to us regarding the forces behind motivation.

  1. Money and rewards – Some people are driven to make as much money as they can so they can flaunt their wealth in their community. Others see money as a necessity to take care of their families.
  2. Desire to be the best – I believe that the key factor to be the best stems from a willingness to prepare. Michael Jordan and Tom Brady are prime examples of the 5P’s—”Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”
  3. Helping others – Albert Einstein said it best when he wrote, “I can think of no reason why we are here but to help others.”
  4. Power and fame – I think a great number of people who attain fame do not pursue it. They simply go to work, roll up their sleeves, attain fame, and remain humble.
  5. Recognition – Take it with a grain of salt. It can vanish quickly and permanently!
  6. Passion – I am from the same town as Rudy Ruettiger from the movie, “Rudy.” I do know Rudy well and I can say without hesitation that it was his passion that got him admitted into Notre Dame, to play football there, and to get his outstanding movie to the public.

Why is Motivation So Powerful?

I believe that the goal of extrinsic motivation is to get people to reach intrinsic motivation, which is a very powerful driving force. Below are the five main reasons why intrinsic motivation is so powerful.[4]

1. It Leads to Better Persistence

I can think of no worthwhile endeavor that I was involved with that was easy. Most accomplishments face obstacles and failure along the way. Persistent people beat them.

Persistent people develop a strong Failure Quotient (FQ). Losing is a part—and often a big part—of an athletic season. According to Stan Kellner in his book, Taking it to the limit with basketball-cybernetics: A revolutionary mind-training program for winning performance, those who do succeed in developing a strong FQ approach losing in two ways: learn from it or move on. Moving on may be the tougher of the two to accomplish, but it is essential for future success. An oft-used refrain in athletics is that you need to have a short memory—forget the failure and move on now.

2. It Enhances Engagement

In their research, Kuvaas and Dysvik found that “intrinsically motivated employees were more likely to be highly engaged and more involved in their work, as well as display a greater readiness to step up and take responsibility.”[5] People who step up to the plate get things done! Advertising

All great athletes are motivated to work on their own. Very few people realize all the time they invest on their own. When Michael Jordan came back to the Chicago Bulls after his stint in baseball, he and the Bulls lost in the playoffs. He knew he had to get his basketball legs back, but he had signed to make the movie, Space Jam. So, he had an outdoor basketball court built on the movie property so he could practice between and after sets. Even the greatest basketball player ever still needed to practice on his own.

3. Intrinsically Motivated Learning Is More Effective

Hinton Zigler presented the power of learning succinctly when he wrote,

“If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.”

I have always believed great teachers do four things: they know their subject matter, they are organized, they teach with enthusiasm, and they care about their students in and out of the classroom. However, no matter how outstanding that teacher may be, if the student is not motivated to learn, he will not learn. In the last analysis, only one person is responsible for your body of work—you!

4. We Perform Better When Intrinsically Motivated

When we are intrinsically motivated, we strive for perfection in any task we take on. Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, stressed the efficacy of perfection when he wrote,[6]

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

Motivated people do find excellence and find it often. Advertising

5. Intrinsically Motivated People Are More Likely to Stay

Motivated people stay with you through the tough times, but non-motivated people leave when times get tough.

When a new coach is hired to take over a program, they are often hired because the program has fallen on bad times—they are losing. There is a real possibility that it will take three to five years to turn the program around, and that is why new coaches are often given five-year contracts. Given this reality, the coach must recruit or draft talented players. However, that is not enough. They will also want to bring in players of character because they stick with you through the tough times.

5 Ways to Get Motivated

According to Kendra Cherry, there are certain psychological factors regarding motivation that you can use to your advantage. She claims that these psychological techniques can help you feel more motivated in life.[7] Below are five ways to get motivated.

1. Use Incentives Carefully

Be cautious with rewards. She emphasized that we should not compliment someone for being smart or athletic—instead, compliment them for the effort they make to be smart or athletic.

In addition to complimenting someone for their effort, we took it one step further. We found that a good number of people could give great effort on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday but could not reach down and find that same effort on Thursday and Friday. So, we told our athletes that effort is not enough and that the difference between good and great is the consistency of effort. The great ones can find the best they have to give daily. None of us have our “A Game” every day, but the great ones consistently find their best.

2. Introduce Challenges

It often seems to me that the challenges I have been most apprehensive about have been the best things I have ever done. I have traveled overseas to present basketball camps and speak at clinics. I certainly found this work challenging. I wanted to give presentations that would be valuable to the players and coaches, and I was nervous. The one thing I found that helped me get through nervousness was preparation. I spent a great deal of time preparing for these challenges.

3. Don’t Visualize Success

This goes against the modern theory of visualization. The usual concept is to see yourself doing the activity successfully. Instead, Cherry believes that you should visualize the steps it will take to achieve success.

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I do not necessarily agree with her on this premise for motivation. I believe in visualization—you should see the goal, the end result. Shooting free throws in basketball is a great time to visualize. I believe seeing the ball going through the net is more important than trying to break down all the steps to get to that objective. Visualize the success.

4. Take Control

Cherry does not promote trying to dominate a project. She does, however, promote ascertaining how you can contribute to the success of the project.

Most projects you undertake necessitate teamwork, and it is important to understand that you are part of a team and that your main goal is to contribute to the team’s success. In athletics, we look at this concept a little differently. We want the team to develop the “Disposition to Dominate.” It is still about the team, but we want the team to dominate.

5. Focus on the Journey, Not the Outcome

In athletic competition, you want the outcome to be victory, but your focus cannot be on the victory. Your focus must be on the process it will take to get the victorious outcome. If you fail to concentrate on the things you must do to achieve success, you will never arrive at a successful conclusion.

Final Thoughts

The psychology of motivation gives us insights into the kind of mindset we need for us to excel in life. Those who pursue perfection leading to excellence are the most powerful and productive people in any organization. They don’t need extrinsic motivation because they are driven internally—it’s in their DNA.

More Tips on Gaining Motivation

  • What Is Motivation And How To Get Motivated (Your Ultimate Guide)
  • 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams

Featured photo credit: Quino Al via unsplash.com

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