4 Motivation theories and their Examples

Motivation is the force that drives us to initiate or sustain an action.

What is motivation?

Generally, when we talk about motivation we refer to the internal or external forces that act on an individual to trigger, direct or sustain a behavior. In technical terms, many authors define it as “the dynamic root of behavior,” which means that every form of behavior is born from some type of motive.

In simpler terms, motivation is the psychic energy that pushes us to undertake or sustain an action or behavior. Its disappearance necessarily entails the abandonment of what is done. Therefore, it is much more difficult to achieve goals when you lack motivation.

Motivation allows us to create habits, try new things, sustain effort in a task that we consider rewarding or productive, and is even necessary to satisfy certain fundamental needs.

On the other hand, one can distinguish between:

  • Positive motivation. Invites action to obtain a benefit.
  • Negative motivation. Actions are taken to avoid a possible negative consequence.

Motivation theories

The study of motivation includes various perspectives and approaches, from the different branches and areas of psychological knowledge. Broadly speaking, we can identify four different theories on the topic:

  1. Content theory. It proposes the understanding of motivation based on its link with human needs, as Maslow understood them in his famous pyramid, in which he represented the hierarchy of human needs. Thus, according to this approach to motivation, behind it there is always some type of unsatisfied need.
  2. Incentive theory. This approach assumes motivation as the result of a stimulus or incentive, material or of another nature, that affects behavior in a positive way (inciting action) or negatively (inhibiting action). These incentives are called reinforcers, and their effects will be, respectively, positive reinforcements (they offer the possibility of a reward) or negative reinforcements (they offer the possibility of a punishment).
  3. Drive reduction theory. This theory is based on the consideration that human beings have basic fundamental drives (hunger, thirst, etc.) that, as time passes, gain strength and motivation if they are dissatisfied, and in the same way when satisfied they lose strength, that is, , reduced.
  4. Cognitive dissonance theory. It’s not exactly a theory about motivation, but it can be applied to it. It states that individuals actively attempt to decrease their sense of subjective dissonance with the world around them, their own desires or feelings, and others. That is, people have a motivational impulse that leads them to take actions to directly or indirectly remedy other ailments and perceptions.

Importance of motivation

Psychology is greatly interested in motivation. On the one hand, it is the source of energy to complete the tasks we have set for ourselves. On the other hand, it is a factor that influences other emotional and psychological variables such as stress, self-esteem, concentration, among others.

But in the daily sphere, the possibility of staying motivated is essential to carry out many of the tasks that, in one way or another, require some type of effort or postponement of pleasure. It is as simple as that, without motivation, action becomes difficult, slow or unsustainable over time.

Examples of motivation

Motivation plays an important role in our daily lives. When we set out to start a new habit or abandon one that we no longer want, our success or failure will largely depend on how motivated we are.

For example, a person who is ready to quit smoking will be able to do so more or less easily depending on the internal and external motivations they have.

Their motivations can be diverse. For example, you may be motivated by social pressures. Or because the doctor warned him that he has an illness that smoking would aggravate. Another motivation would be that your partner imposed an ultimatum on you. Depending on the individual’s values, each scenario will be more or less motivating.