11 Motivation Theories That Have Changed My Behavior and The Way I Live

10 November 2023
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Definition: Motivation

Let’s start by defining motivation!

Motivation refers to the inner drive and desire that drives us to take action and achieve our goals.

It acts as a catalyst for personal growth and success, providing the energy and determination to overcome obstacles and pursue dreams.

Motivation can come from a variety of sources, including intrinsic factors such as passion and curiosity, and extrinsic factors such as rewards and recognition.

It plays a crucial role in shaping our behavior, influencing decision-making, and fostering a sense of purpose and fulfillment in our lives.

Why Is Motivation Important?

Motivation is important because we are all motivated by different things, and motivation is not a linear process but is influenced by many factors such as age, cultural norms, and changes over the course of a lifetime.

We all have things that can motivate us to improve our lives, but it is often only when we are at the end of our lives, or when we have been suffering for too long, that we act on them.

By understanding how motivation works, we can improve our lives and those of our loved ones.

Basic Needs

(Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs)

The fulfillment of basic needs, such as food, water, and shelter, as well as safety needs, forms the foundation of motivation.

We need to address our motivation to fulfill these lower-level needs before progressing to higher-level ones, including social needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization at the top of the hierarchy.

I have observed, especially since the rise of TikTok, that one of the main reasons why many teenagers and young adults lack motivation is their failure to prioritize and allocate time to fulfill their basic needs.

Recognizing and addressing these basic needs is a crucial step in fostering motivation and personal development, especially during the formative stages of life.

Sustaining motivation over time becomes nearly impossible without sufficient energy.

Question for Reflection: How can you ensure that you prioritize and allocate time to fulfill your basic needs in order to foster motivation and personal development?

Recognition And Achievement

(Herzberg’s Theory)

We are often highly motivated by the recognition and acknowledgment of our accomplishments.

Recognizing this serves as a powerful catalyst for personal and professional growth, as it not only validates our hard work and dedication but also inspires us to reach even greater heights.

The opportunity for personal and professional growth further fuels our motivation, as it presents us with the chance to expand our knowledge, skills, and capabilities.

It allows us to continuously learn, develop, and evolve as individuals, paving the way for new opportunities and achievements.

The combination of recognition and the opportunity for personal and professional growth serves as a driving force that propels us forward, enabling us to unleash our full potential and achieve remarkable success.

Question for Reflection: How can you proactively seek recognition for your accomplishments and create opportunities for personal and professional growth?

Expectations Of Rewards

(Expectancy Theory)

We strongly believe that consistent and dedicated effort will inevitably lead to improved performance.

This enhanced performance will not only bring about a sense of accomplishment but also pave the way for various rewards.

These rewards play a crucial role in motivating individuals to strive for excellence.

Note that the desirability of these rewards can greatly vary from person to person, as each individual is driven by their own unique aspirations and goals.

Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the allure of these rewards serves as a powerful driving force for many of us, propelling us to push our limits and achieve things we never thought possible.

I am driven by freedom of time and choice as a reward.

Question for Reflection: What reward or outcome would be most meaningful and motivating for you? How can you align your efforts and goals to pursue that reward?

Fairness And Justice

(Equity Theory)

Our perception of fairness and justice in the distribution of rewards and resources plays a crucial role in motivation.

It is important to note that when we perceive a fair distribution of rewards, we are more likely to be motivated to put in the necessary effort.

The balance between input and output is a key factor in this process in many areas of life.

When there is a fair and equitable distribution of rewards relative to the input provided, we are more likely to feel motivated and satisfied with our work.

Question for Reflection: How can you advocate for fairness and justice in the distribution of rewards and resources in your personal and professional life? What is the first step you can take to fix it?

Clear And Challenging Goals

(Goal-Setting Theory)

Setting specific and challenging goals provides clear direction.

When we have well-defined goals, we are more motivated to take action and strive for excellence. These goals serve as a roadmap for our personal and professional growth.

Having clear and specific goals allows us to measure our progress and track our achievements.

If we can’t see it, we have a hard time believing it. Seeing how far we have come and how much we have achieved gives us a sense of accomplishment.

It is important to emphasize that the goals we set should always be aligned with our values and purpose. When our goals are in harmony with what truly resonates and matters to us, we are more likely to stay committed and motivated throughout the journey.

Self-Determination Theory

(SDT Or “Intrinsic Drive”)

Self-Determination Theory (SDT), and the phrase “intrinsic drive” is typically attributed to psychologists Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, who coined the term as part of their Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to explain human motivation.

Their theory states that we have natural psychological requirements for independence, proficiency, and connection. SDT suggests that intrinsic drive stems from an inherent wish to take part in pursuits that grant genuine gratification and pleasure.

Ryan and Deci researched the topic in-depth and published extensively on it, resulting in significant impacts on psychology, education, and organizational behavior fields. The concept of intrinsic motivation is now a fundamental aspect of motivational psychology, shaping the way practitioners, life coaches like myself and researchers perceive and handle human motivation.

This theory places significant emphasis on the importance of three fundamental psychological needs that individuals possess.

According to the Self-Determination Theory, there are three motivators that drive us to take action:


We need to have a sense of independence and control over our own actions and decisions. We need to have the freedom to pursue our goals and make choices that align with our values and interests.

Question for Reflection: How can you cultivate a greater sense of autonomy in your life, allowing yourself to make decisions and take actions that align with your values and aspirations?


We need to feel capable and effective in our activities and pursuits. To be able to create opportunities to develop and showcase our skills, as well as to experience a sense of mastery and achievement in our endeavors.

Question for Reflection: How can you nurture your sense of competence and create opportunities to develop and showcase your skills, ultimately leading to a greater sense of mastery and achievement?


We need social connections and relationships in our lives to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness with others. This is where the feeling of meaningful and supportive interactions with others stems from. When we have a clear sense of purpose, we possess a strong internal motivator that accompanies us wherever we go. When we feel that our actions are meaningful and contribute to a greater cause, we are more likely to find the activity itself inherently rewarding.

Question for Reflection: How can you cultivate meaningful connections and contribute to a greater cause in your life, thereby finding intrinsic motivation and fulfillment?

Social Influence Theory

Acknowledges that we are influenced and motivated by social norms, seek approval, and are shaped by the opinions of those in our social circles.

This statement encapsulates the idea that our personal development, behaviors, attitudes, and values are significantly influenced by the individuals with whom we spend the most time.

This concept is often attributed to motivational speaker Jim Rohn, who emphasized the impact of our social circles on our lives.

The people we spend the most time with wield a huge influence over our behavior.

Our outlook on life, motivation levels, mental health, and personal growth are all influenced by the people and things in our immediate environment.

Question for Reflection: How can you intentionally surround yourself with people who inspire and uplift you, creating a positive and empowering environment for personal growth and motivation?

Attachment Theory

Attachment theory emphasizes the importance of early relationships, particularly with caregivers, in shaping emotional and relational patterns throughout life that affect our motivation.

Question for Reflection: How can you use your understanding of early relationships and their impact on your motivation to foster personal growth and create fulfilling relationships in your life?

Social Exchange Theory

According to the Social Exchange Theory, our engagement in relationships is driven by a cost-benefit analysis. We are motivated to form connections that offer rewards while minimizing costs.

Question for Reflection: How can you ensure that your relationships provide a healthy balance of rewards and costs, empowering you to thrive and grow?

Social Identity Theory

Explores how we categorize ourselves and others into social groups, motivating us to alter our identity to belong to a certain group.

Question for Reflection: How can you embrace your unique identity while also finding a sense of belonging within a specific social group?

Social Capital Theory

Social capital is a concept that highlights the significance of social connections and relationships in generating different types of resources, opportunities, and support networks.

It can be beneficial at both an individual and community level. These social ties can be extremely motivating, both for positive and negative outcomes.

On the positive side, they nurture and invest in social capital, enabling individuals and communities to improve their social well-being, establish trust, and facilitate collective action towards shared objectives.

Building strong social networks allows us to share experiences, support each other, and create lasting memories.

Meaningful relationships are a place where we can be vulnerable, and provide opportunities for personal development, learning, and expanding our perspectives.

When we are able to authentically express ourselves in our interactions with others, we gain valuable insights, diverse perspectives, and emotional support. This, in turn, enhances our sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Nurturing social and interpersonal relationships is vital for our holistic well-being and personal growth.

Question for Reflection: How can you actively cultivate and nurture your social connections and relationships to enhance your social capital, personal development, and overall sense of well-being?

Key Takeaways

We and the people we love and interact with our old motivated by different things.

Even if we occasionally get lost, many of us come to recognize that the freedom to make choices and the ability to have control over the course of our lives are more valuable than trading our time for money.

Personally, I highly prioritize the value of freedom over the pursuit of a high salary. This allows me to have the flexibility to make decisions that align with my personal goals and values, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and satisfying life.

One common motivation for our actions is the fear or avoidance of negative consequences or punishment.

This fear is deeply ingrained in many of us as a result of our family dynamics or early relationships.

I used to live my life motivated by fear, which was both blessed and cursed. It protected me from being “hurt” – in romantic relationships, at work, and in life in general. But it also limited my willingness to take risks and explore the new frontiers of my soul.

Motivation matters, especially in today’s age of social media and constant comparison.

The fear of discomfort and negative outcomes plays a significant role in shaping our thoughts, behaviors, and choices, forming the very basis of our motivation.

Studying theories about motivation is essential for personal development as it helps you understand your motivations, set and achieve goals, and overcome obstacles.

If you understand motivation you will be able to use adaptive strategies, improve self-awareness, and develop consistency and self-discipline.

Understanding what you need and why you need it will enable you to develop a positive mindset for consistent personal growth.

Recommended Books

Here is a list of books on motivation that I have read and applied in my life:

  1. “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink
  2. “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck
  3. “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek
  4. “The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win” by Jeff Haden
  5. “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  6. “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth
  7. “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell
  8. “Drive Your Destiny: Create a Vision for Your Life” by Tony Robbins
  9. “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg
  10. “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise” by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

These books provide insights into motivation theories and offer practical guidance on how to apply them in different areas of life.

These books provide valuable insights into motivation theories and their practical applications in various aspects of life.

Reading about motivation theories is just the first step. Applying these concepts in your daily life and reflecting on what motivates you will help you unlock your full potential and drive toward success.