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The Concept of Motivation

Aaron Stipkovich
Aaron Stipkovich
With an education in information, technology, business and related disciplines, Aaron Stipkovich began as a disc jockey in southern California and went on to host a nationally syndicated talk show, launch a national print magazine, start several business media entities, and create AND Magazine. | Publisher, And Magazine, Stipko Live,

Scratching the surface of why we do what we do

The concept of motivation can be problematically subjective without a clear definition of the term itself.

In my recent travels, observing politicians, governmental worker bees, and others in the arena of building influence, I fought off boredom with an personal (keep myself awake) objective: What motivates the politician, the poor soul sleeping on the floor in Grand Central, the chef, the cop, etc.? Sounds simple, right? Not so much. Motivation itself is a specific sequence of events beginning with the selection of a valued goal. So what is that damn goal? Not the individuals specific goal, but moreover, what motivates those goals? Does one's environment really influence motivation?

According to philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer Stanford University (2003), "To be motivated is to be moved into action, or to decide on a change in action." Motivation of behavior can be linked to internal events such as things that an individual desires. Behavior motivation can also be linked to external events that can repel or pull and individual.

So, if motivation itself is a specific sequence of events beginning with the selection of a valued goal, then after this initial goal (or series of goals) is chosen, the individual is then motivated to demonstrate the necessary behaviors to satisfy the specific motive and ultimately achieve the specific goal. Finally, the when the motive is satisfied, or the goal is achieved, an end-state occurs.

Sources of Motivation
Schopenhauer was among the first to study the affirmative relationship between motivation and behavior. Behavior and actions do not happen on their own. They are initiated by environmental incentives as well as internal motives. Motivational sources come from a series of events that take motives from the desires, wants, needs, and anticipations of an individual, then carry them to end-states where these initial motives are then satisfied or the initial incentives are ultimately attained.

Scientists and philosophers have studied the internal dispositions and external incentives of individuals in an attempt to determine the inner workings of motivation. They have commonly agreed that the sources of motivation fall more specifically into the case of a push motivation (an internal disposition) or a pull motivation (an external incentive.)

The push motivation centers more on an individual's biological variables described by the nervous system and brain. The individual's psychological variables are more centered on the individual's mind. These two categories of variables, the biological and psychological, are linked, in theory, through emergence and reductionism. Emergence is the perspective that the brain's neuronal processes generate psychological feelings. These feelings intern can motivate individuals into action. Conversely, reductionism is the concept that psychology is defined by reducing motivations to an idea, based on the individual's brain or physiology.

The Mind
The Mind

A mind is the set of cognitive faculties that enables consciousness, perception, thinking, judgement, and memory a characteristic of humans, but which also may apply to other life forms. |
The Environment Factor
Another factor in motivation is environment. These variables can outline external sources of motivation such as the value of attaining a goal. When the value of a goal or the or level involved increases, so does motivation. Stable individual differences like personality traits and psychological needs are similar to environmental factors in that they are specific to the individual. In other words, an item that motivated one individual in one environment may not necessarily motivate another individual in the same environment. Furthermore, what motivates an individual in one environment may not necessarily motivate the same individual in another environment. Additionally, individuals do not only react to motivational stimulus, they also act by altering or creating changes in their environment. This intentional alteration of one's life circumstances is the central premise of Bandura's agentic theory (Bandura, 2001). This interaction between internal sources and external sources (drives and needs vs. incentives and goals) are what motivates behavior.

The Exhibition of Motivation in Behavior
One definition of motivation in behavior is The Expectancy Theory. This theory is formulaically expressed by Richard W. Scholl (2002) as "Motivational Force (MF) = Expectancy * Instrumentality * Valance." What Scholl is defining with his interpretation of the multiplicative relationship is if any of the particular components in the formula are zero, then the total motivational force will also be zero. Furthermore, both expectancy and instrumentality are cognitions. Because of this, they are equally subject to change based on the individual's personal experience. It is critical to also understand that these are perceptions of what the individual believes will occur.

Motivation can occur from a desire or a need. These desires and needs can be internally induced, in the case of a push motivation like hunger. They can also come from an externally induced influence like the pull motivation of a college degree. The direct relationship between motivation and behavior is inevitable since one is the valued goal and the other is the response. This response is also how motivation is exhibited in behavior. Motivations are an instrumental component of cognitive thought, as well as the philosophical concept of free will.

Truthfully, I'm not sure it's any clearer to me but I am now motivated with a path... a plan... and having a plan can most certainly motivate the unmotivated.

To be continued.

  1. Arthur Schopenhauer, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2003). In Stanford University.
  2. Bandura, A. (2001). Social Cognitive Theory: An Agentic Perspective. Stanford, California: Annu. Rev. Psychol..
  3. Richard W. Scholl, R. W. (2002). Motivation Overview. University of Rhode Island, 1(1), 1.

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Updated Feb 1, 2018 7:50 AM EST | More details


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