Types of Motivation

Learning about the types of motivation that affect us as humans will allow you to understand yourself better and will help you succeed in achieving your goals.

By Mari Whitmore — January 25, 2023


Types of Motivation

As you navigate college and set increasingly ambitious goals for your future, it is important to understand types of motivation. For example, why do you struggle to complete the assignments for one class but work ahead and learn extra materials in another? Do you respond to social pressure or tend to "follow your star"? Are you strongly influenced by the potential to earn a reward? Learning about the types of motivation that affect us as humans will allow you to understand yourself better and will help you succeed in achieving your goals.

Casual introspection should indicate that there are different types of motivation. Perhaps you want to learn a skill to impress a crush, such as playing guitar. Then, you realize that you enjoy playing guitar for yourself and continue doing so even after you've moved on from your crush. Or maybe you're motivated to study because you enjoy your classes and don't want to get poor grades. These reasons for doing things are all related to different types of motivation. While motivation has been described in many ways by psychologists and other experts, the most fundamental division is between external and internal motivation. These two types are extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. The terms are used fairly interchangeably.

External Motivation

External or extrinsic motivation comes from outside yourself. It includes many things we may think of when deciding what motivates people. Various tangible rewards, such as money, provide external motivation—praise, desire for social status or power, and fear of consequences. The idea that "everyone has a price" is based on the assumption that external motivation will always work or can be used to get a person to do almost anything. However, this is not necessarily the case, and external motivation has limits. You've probably experienced this. Sometimes there arecthings you simply do not want to do, even if there is some reward or consequence for not doing them. If you have an assignment that you are simply not interested or invested in, no amount of fear of failure or cajoling may make completing the assignment worth it to you.

Internal Motivation

Internal, or intrinsic, motivation is what you feel when you want to perform an action for its own sake because you want to. You aren't doing something because you will receive a reward from someone else or because you face external consequences for not doing something. You probably have several behavior patterns you are intrinsically motivated to do, such as hobbies. Whether painting, skateboarding, baking, or playing the drums, if you love to do it, you experience internal motivation. Intrinsic motivation is extremely powerful, and some studies have indicated that it is necessary for long-term success with a task.

Positive and Negative Motivation

Motivations can be further divided into positive and negative: positive motivations link to things we like or enjoy. Negative motivations are based on things we dislike and seek to avoid. Positive and negative motivations link to emotion. They can be both internal and external.

Positive Motivations

A positive internal motivation involves choosing to do something just because you enjoy it-not because of any fear of consequences or external pressure. It typically emerges from what you value most and relates to your worldview, habits, and goals. Most hobbies fall under this type of motivation, but career goals can also be internally and positively motivated. What motivates you positively and internally can change depending on where you are in your life and what you hope to achieve.

Positive external motivation includes rewards and praise and is based on most social structures. You probably wouldn't be motivated to complete all your class assignments and study hard if you weren't earning a grade and working towards a degree. Although you hopefully enjoy your classes and are motivated to learn the subjects you are studying, you probably also hope your education will help you get a good job and lead a good life.

Positive motivations are generally the most long-lasting and powerful form of motivation. While it may seem that internal motivation is far better than external motivation, external motivation is very valuable to understand. Not all people are motivated in the same ways, and you may find that you respond better to positive external motivations. You can use positive external motivational strategies to supplement your lack of internal motivation. Try helping yourself develop and strengthen habits by setting rewards for yourself and working with others (external motivations) to reach your goals.

Negative Motivations

Negative external motivation is pressure someone imposes on you based on negative emotions and actions. This type of motivation is often socially based and threatens punishment or tangible consequences. For example, perhaps you're motivated to complete a group assignment because your classmates will ostracize you, or your professor will fail you if you don't. Or perhaps you feel pressure to conform with your friend group because they will make fun of you if you don't act as they do.

Negative internal motivation is the pressure you place on yourself to do something based on a negative emotion, like guilt, fear, or stress. Perhaps you complete all your assignments and get good grades not because you hope to gain something or because you enjoy your studies but because you fear failure or are a perfectionist. While negative motivation can be very powerful, it can also fade quickly and cause unhappiness with your actions and decisions unless it is founded on something you truly value.

While this article has barely scratched the surface of all the research on motivation, it might just provide you with motivation to continue learning about the topic. Understanding the different types of motivations will help you understand how your mind works and responds to your environment. This self-awareness helps you analyze your actions, better align with your values, and achieve your goals now and in the future.

Mari Whitmore

Mari Whitmore

Mari Whitmore recently graduated from a tiny private college in the middle of beautiful Wyoming. She spends her time traveling, adventuring in nature, writing, and working as a barista and bartender. Recently, Mari relocated to the gorgeous hill country of Central Texas. In her free time, she loves to hike, paddleboard, read, paint, watch movies, and gather with friends and family.
Types of Motivation
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January 25, 2023
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