Every man without passions has within him no principle of action, nor motive to act.
Claude Adrien Helvetius (18c French philosopher)
Motivation is an inner push to act. Psychologists suggest that it ‘is an innate human drive and begins in infants as an undifferentiated need for competence and self-determination’.(1) There is no doubt that being able to affect our motivation is of great value, as little can be done without it. We are all too familiar with the debilitating effect that a lack of motivation can have. Learning about it is important not only to motivate ourselves, but also to be able to motivate others. This area will consider various types of motivation and how it can be increased.
Negative and positive motivation
- Negative motivation (an aspiration to preserve the existing state and avoid whatever threatens to make it worse) is associated with negative feelings (e.g. fear).
- Positive motivation (moving further, expanding, improving the existing state) is associated with positive feelings.
The former can sometimes be stronger, but the latter is more effective in the long run. Besides, negative motivation often ends in experiencing a lack of energy and desire for rest – not from the trigger, but from the unpleasant feelings that one is motivated by. It is interesting though that whether motivation is positive or negative often depends on our perspective (e.g. you can run from an attacker, or you can run for safety). To transform negative motivation into positive, you need to focus on what can be gained, rather than on what has been or can be lost; for example, you can motivate yourself to prepare for an exam by the fear of failure, or by a desire to do well. The former can jolt you into action but the latter is better in sustaining your motivation because it feels good.
Now, there are several categories of positive motivation – it can be useful to become familiar with them as they can help us expand our repertoire of possible ways to motivate ourselves.