On Motivation

Essays > Psychology

An essay by Marc.

Motivation is a psychological feature that arouses an organism to act towards a desired goal and elicits, controls, and sustains certain goal-directed behaviours. It can be considered a driving force, a psychological one that compels or reinforces an action toward a desired goal. For example, hunger is a motivation that elicits a desire to eat. Motivation is the purpose or psychological cause of an action.

Motivation has been shown to have roots in physiological, behavioural, cognitive and social areas. Motivation may be rooted in a basic impulse to optimize well-being, minimize physical pain and maximize pleasure. It can also originate from specific physical needs such as eating, sleeping or resting and sex.

Motivation is an inner drive to behave or act in a certain manner. These inner conditions such as wishes, desires, goals, activate to move in a particular direction in behaviour.


Conscious and unconscious motivations

A number of motivational theories emphasize the distinction between conscious and unconscious motivations. In evolutionary psychology, the “ultimate”, unconscious motivation may be a cold evolutionary calculation; the conscious motivation could be more benign or even positive emotions. For example, while it may be in the best interest of a male’s genes to have multiple partners and thus break up with or divorce one before moving onto the next, the conscious rationalization could be, “I loved her at the time.”

Freud is associated with the idea that human beings have many unconscious motivations that cause them to make important decisions because of these unconscious forces, such as choosing a partner.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Motivation can be divided into two types: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation …

… refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures or a desire for reward.
Intrinsic motivation has been studied since the early 1970s. Students who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to engage in the task willingly as well as work to improve their skills, which will increase their capabilities. Students are likely to be intrinsically motivated if they:

  • attribute their educational results to factors under their own control, also known as autonomy
  • believe they have the skills to be effective agents in reaching their desired goals, also known as self-efficacy beliefs
  • are interested in mastering a topic, not just in achieving good grades

Extrinsic motivation …

… refers to the performance of an activity in order to attain an outcome, whether or not that activity is also intrinsically motivated. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the individual. Common extrinsic motivations are rewards (for example money or grades) for showing the desired behaviour, and the threat of punishment following misbehaviour.

Comparison of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Social psychological research has indicated that extrinsic rewards can lead to over-justification and a subsequent reduction in intrinsic motivation. In one study demonstrating this effect, children who expected to be (and were) rewarded with a ribbon and a gold star for drawing pictures spent less time playing with the drawing materials in subsequent observations than children who were assigned to an unexpected reward condition. While the provision of extrinsic rewards might reduce the desirability of an activity, the use of extrinsic constraints, such as the threat of punishment, against performing an activity has actually been found to increase one’s intrinsic interest in that activity. In one study, when children were given mild threats against playing with an attractive toy, it was found that the threat actually served to increase the child’s interest in the toy, which was previously undesirable to the child in the absence of threat.


The self-control aspect of motivation is increasingly considered to be a subset of emotional intelligence. It is suggested that although a person may be classed as highly intelligent (as measured by many traditional intelligence tests), they may remain unmotivated to pursue intellectual endeavours.


A drive or desire can be described as a deficiency or need that activates behaviour that is aimed at a goal or an incentive. These drives are thought to originate within the individual and may not require external stimuli to encourage the behaviour. Basic drives could be sparked by deficiencies such as hunger, which motivates a person to seek food, whereas more subtle drives might be the desire for praise and approval, which motivates a person to behave in a manner pleasing to others. Another basic drive is the sexual drive which, like food, motivates us because it is essential to our survival. The desire for sex is wired deep into the brain of all human beings as glands secrete hormones that travel through the blood to the brain and stimulate the onset of sexual desire. The hormonal basis of both men and women’s sex drives is testosterone. Men naturally have more testosterone than women do and so are more likely than woman to think about sex, have sexual fantasies, seek sex and sexual variety (whether positions or partners), masturbate, want sex at an early point in a relationship, sacrifice other things for sex, have permissive attitudes for sex and complain about low sex drive in their partners.

Cognitive dissonance theory

Cognitive dissonance occurs when an individual experiences some degree of discomfort resulting from an inconsistency between two cognitions: their views on the world around them, and their own personal feelings and actions. For example, religious believers may seek to reassure themselves regarding their religious practises and scriptures, feeling in retrospect that another decision may have been preferable. Their feeling that another choice or viewpoint would have been preferable is inconsistent with their status quo. The difference between their feelings and beliefs causes dissonance, so they seek to reassure themselves.

While not a theory of motivation as such, the theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. The cognitive miser perspective makes people want to justify things in a simple way in order to reduce the effort they put into cognition. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, or actions, rather than facing the inconsistencies, because dissonance is a mental strain. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.

If you move from one thought to another you remain in the world of time. If you move into the moment, not into thought, you move into eternity; you are not static – nothing is static in this world, nothing can be static – but a new movement, a movement without motivation. Remember these words. On the horizontal line you move because of motivation. You have to achieve something – money, prestige, power, or God, but you have to achieve something; a motivation is there. A motivated movement means sleep.

An unmotivated movement means awareness – you move because to move is sheer joy, you move because movement is life, you move because life is energy and energy is movement. You move because energy is delight – not for anything else. There is no goal to it, you are not after some achievement. In fact you are not going anywhere, you are not going at all – you are simply delighting in the energy. There is no goal outside the movement; movement has its own intrinsic value, no extrinsic value. A Buddha also lives, a Heraclitus lives, I am here living, breathing – but a different type of movement… unmotivated.

Osho, The Hidden Harmony

Related discourse: You Come with Motivation

Antar Marc, Osho News


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