Motivation – what do you want to do today?!

Motivation is our explanation of why we do what we do – or not. Motivation represents the reasons for our actions, either before or after actions are taken or not taken, and the needs or desires which prompt them. We call those needs or desires ‘motives’ – the prompts for actions or likely behaviours.

Our motivation to do something – to learn, to act, to participate – depends on our internal ‘health’ and resultant response to the situation in which we find ourselves.

In the 1950s Abraham Maslow related our motivation to a Hierarchy of Needs, suggesting that we must satisfy each of these needs (from the most basic needs for survival, such as food and shelter) in turn, and only when our essential needs for our own wellbeing are met will we need and therefore seek to satisfy our desire for more, for example self-esteem, independence and self-fulfilment.

People talk about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – motivating factors coming from within us or from externals. Perhaps these relate directly to our needs – so if our essential needs are not being satisfied we might crave extrinsic factors, such as more money to buy food. However, it may be that the real need that is not being satisfied is the intrinsic motivator, the increased self-esteem we crave, and we are relating that to being given a bigger salary…

Also in the 1950s Frederick Herzberg produced important research on motivators and hygiene factors – suggesting that motivators are those aspects of our work that give us high satisfaction, whilst hygiene factors are those aspects of our work that can create dissatisfaction. He revealed a contrast between the two, emphasising that it is not the presence or absence of any one factor that affects our motivation, but rather the greater or lesser presence of some and the greater or lesser absence of others.

More recently Daniel Goleman has linked our ability to motivate ourselves and to create the conditions for others to find motivation to our emotional intelligence. He suggests that self-motivation is a part of self-management, whereby we mobilise our positive emotions to drive forward our intention to achieve. What he does not necessary explain is how or why we might want to achieve!


There are lots of resources on the internet designed to help you ‘test’ your motivation. Print off and complete this self-motivation quiz – but rather than getting hung up on the scores and their interpretation, go through your responses to each statement and take a moment to reflect:

  • What was I thinking about when I gave this score?

  • Why did that experience or aspect of my life prompt me to give that score?

  • What different circumstance or attitude might have altered that score?

  • If I would like to alter that score in future, what would I need to do?

External links

businessballs on motivation

humanistic orientations to learning

learning theory

If you liked learning about this, you might also want to learn about

appreciative enquiry



flow at work

technology for flow

These activities are part of In Flow, a KnowledgeHub experience designed to help you recognise what it feels like to be positive, energised and fully immersed in an activity, and to create the conditions to achieve that state more often in your personal and professional life

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