What moves you? Understanding motivation is your key to success

May 17, 2022 - 17 min read


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What is motivation?

The different types of motivation

How to use the types of motivation to your advantage

Best types of motivation for different scenarios

Can motivation be negative?

Looking forward

Should you be reading this? Or should you be working right now?

Since you’re here, you’re probably looking for some motivation. It happens to the best of us. Whether you should be working on a big presentation for work or writing an article, we’re here to help. 

The thing is, no matter your job, we all struggle to stay motivated sometimes. But, thankfully, we aren’t powerless in this situation. Understanding the different types of motivation can help you avoid procrastination and stay focused.

When you know what motivates you, you can leverage it to get back on track when you lose your way. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding yourself why you love your work. Or, if you’re a leader, you might need a reward system to keep your team at their best.

Let’s break down the types of motivation and how they can help you get more done.


What is motivation?

At its core, motivation is the force that drives you to perform a task or behavior. It’s why you get up in the morning, brush your teeth, and go to work. 

You probably don’t notice your motivation until you feel like it’s not there anymore. But, in reality, many things drive you every day — even if you’re unaware of them.

In fact, it's the motivations we're unaware of that can have the biggest impact. Bringing them into the light, inspecting them and learning how to work with our different types of motivations helps us sail our boat rather than drift with the wind and current. It is a powerful practice. 

So even though you feel apathetic right now, consider this: something  motivated you to look up this article. You obviously want to get back in the groove. That counts for something.

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The different types of motivation

We can boil things down to two motivational types: intrinsic and extrinsic. Both also have accompanying subtypes. 

Intrinsic motivation (or internal motivation) comes from within. It refers to when you do something for its own sake because it aligns with your interests, passions, or personal values. 

These motivators come with internal rewards, like the feeling of knowing you’re following your life purpose. That means they hold a deeper meaning than other motivators, which can usually keep you focused on a goal for a long time.

Extrinsic motivation (or external motivation) refers to external factors that drive you to do something. For example, you could be motivated by extrinsic rewards or negative consequences.

What you get is based on you accomplishing (or not accomplishing) a task. 

Extrinsic motivators are temporary in nature, so they’re best used for short to medium-term projects. In fact, studies have shown that people experience a boost in motivation when they’re promised an immediate reward.

External motivation can look like students aiming to succeed in school because their grades reflect their performance. On the other hand, students who try to succeed in school because they’re genuinely interested in the content are intrinsically motivated.

5 types of intrinsic motivation

Many things can motivate a person from within. Below are some of the common examples. Try to see which ones you relate to. It could be a good reminder about why you do what you do.

1. Learning motivation (or competence motivation)

In this type of motivation, you’re driven by the act of learning. What you’re trying to achieve is exciting because you’ve never done it before. You love learning a new skill or improving on an existing one. In this case, the reward upon completing the task is less important than the task itself.

Example: A university professor is driven by the pursuit of knowledge. For them, constant studying and learning motivate them to work every day.

2. Attitude motivation

If you have attitude motivation, you love being positive and spreading positivity. It’s about making people feel good, so you seek out activities that allow you to do that. 

Example: A gym trainer helps people have fun during their workouts with a great attitude. This motivates them to come to work each day.


3. Achievement motivation

For this type of motivation, you’re not necessarily thinking about the reward at the end — you just care about crossing the finish line. There’s no greater satisfaction than the feeling of accomplishment.

Example: A professional athlete wants to win, regardless of the prize or title. It’s the ultimate goal and makes the season's struggles worth it.

4. Creative motivation

You might find yourself motivated by creativity. If this type of motivation sounds familiar, you value freedom of expression and are happiest when people let you spread your wings.

Example: A graphic designer feels suffocated when they are micromanaged.

As a creative person, they’re happiest when they have the freedom to complete a project how they choose.

5. Physiological motivation

Here you’re motivated by biological needs like food and water. These motivations exist because years of evolution have made us this way.

Example: Consider Dr. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He categorized humans’ fundamental motivators in order of importance, starting with physical needs. As you meet these needs, you gradually progress toward self-actualization.

So what are your intrinsic motivators? At BetterUp, we can help you get to know yourself and stay productive — even when you’re in a slump.

What are the 4 types of external motivation?

There are probably a few external factors driving your behavior, too. These forms of motivation are just as important as intrinsic ones if you can leverage them.

1. Incentive motivation

Incentive motivation is all about external rewards. Just like a mouse motivated by cheese, you’re motivated by the outcome of a task — not the task itself. 

Example: After a workout, you allow yourself your favorite snack. The snack is more important to you than the exercise and motivates you to get the workout done.

2. Fear motivation

Here you’re motivated by the fear of an undesirable outcome. You don’t want to do the task, but you have to if you want to avoid a bad thing.

Example: You save a part of your paycheck for fear of an emergency when you would rather buy a TV. Fear motivation isn’t necessarily bad because it can help you achieve financial wellness, like in this example.

3. Power motivation

It’s normal to want control over your own life. But some people take it one step further: they want to control other people. There are many types of power, and they can be used for nefarious or altruistic reasons.

Example: A politician runs for president because they believe their ideas are good for the world — they just need the power to implement them.

4. Social motivation

Social motivation describes the desire to be accepted by your social group. Here you’re motivated by what others think of you.

Example: You spend time learning social skills, like active listening, so that you can build stronger friendships. You want new friends to like you.


How to use the types of motivation to your advantage

Motivations mean nothing if you can’t convert that drive into action. Here are some examples of how you can implement these types of motivation into your everyday life.

  1. Goal-setting. Focusing on concrete goals is a great method for people motivated by achievement. 
  2. Tell people about your goals. For the socially motivated among you, telling people about your goals will keep you accountable.
  3. Create a reward system. This is a perfect technique if you need an external incentive. In fact, you should always reward yourself for your wins.
  4. Write about who you helped. If you're attitude-motivated, take time to reflect on who you made smile at the end of the day. Keep a journal as a record of happy moments.
  5. Track your progress on a task. Doing so will remind you how well you’re doing.
  6. Stay active. Exercise and taking care of your physical well-being are essential to your physiological needs. Achieving this goal will help you stay on top of the others.
  7. Eat healthy food. Similar to exercise, your body needs good fuel to function at its best. Meet this need, and you will improve your performance.
  8. Use a tracking app. Many apps will “gamify” tasks and goals. They’ll provide a virtual reward to extrinsically motivate you.


Best types of motivation for different scenarios

The types of motivation are at their best when you use them in the right context. You should adapt, mix and match, and adjust based on your needs. Here are some examples:

  1. If you’re a teacher, you can use the motivators as types of learning motivations. For example, if a student doesn’t like learning for the sake of it, use an extrinsic method to encourage studying. Also, remember that some students will be intrinsically motivated and work hard without prompting. This could socially motivate other students. 
  2. You can also use each type of motivation at work. If you’re a team leader or manager, set clear goals and track them where everyone can see their progress. This can spark the team’s sense of achievement and boost morale. Your team will likely internalize their desire to succeed and meet these goals.
  3. If an employee is underperforming, find out what their intrinsic motivators are. You can try to assign them projects based on what moves them.


Can motivation be negative?

As you create a motivation strategy for yourself or others, remember that incentives can either be positive or negative. 

Negative incentives will only hurt motivation in the long run. Exploiting an employee’s fear of failure is negative because it is linked to a stressful emotion (fear) and avoidance of a negative outcome (failure). In the long-term, you’re placing a burden on their shoulders and hurting their problem-solving skills. Plus, you could risk burning them out.

Instead, listen for your team’s intrinsic motivators. If a member loves to learn, leaning into that desire is a positive incentive. You’re challenging them to do work they enjoy, which keeps them interested and motivated. Promotions and praise are also great examples of positive motivating factors.

Looking forward

Different motivators work for different people. Knowing what drives you will help you “trick” your brain into being productive. You can set up a reward system to build new habits, boost employee motivation, or find work that is more meaningful to you. 

Once you’re equipped with the right types of motivation, you can do it too. If you need extra support, BetterUp can help you get started. Together we can find out what motivates you, so you can rekindle the flame of inspiration.

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Published May 17, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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