The Why and What of Motivation?

Sunny Samanta

31st Mar'21
The Why and What of Motivation? | OpenGrowth

“One day or day one, you decide.”


If there is one thing the on-going Covid-19 pandemic did not affect one bit is the people and their talks about motivation. It is like the evergreen song that gets either reprised or remixed again and again. And people sometimes either like it, be in awe of it, or simply hate it. In fact, motivation can be classified as the two different types of person that we may often encounter where one can be found talking about it, and the other can be found at the receiving end of it. Even the whole discussion around motivation revolves mainly around the why and what of motivation.


Now, if we sensibly look at the why and what of motivation, we would figure that it takes the "what" to create the "why" of motivation. Therefore, taking it as a sign of motivation, I’m differing somewhat from the title of this post and instead is continuing this post with the what of motivation over the why of motivation.


What is motivation?


What is Motivation?

Merriam-Webster would tell you that motivation is the act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something. And since it is Merriam-Webster, it is highly unlikely to be wrong in its observation. However, to completely understand what motivation is? We will have to look beyond what a dictionary tells us. Therefore, in the not, so dictionary format, motivation can be defined as the impetus that determines a person’s behavior towards achieving or pursuing a set goal. To explain it better, here is an example demonstrating what is motivation?

A person wakes up at 7:00 AM, does his morning chores, and leaves for the office before the scheduled time. He does the same from every Monday to Friday for months and years. Now, the question would be, why does he do that in such a routine manner?

The answer is simple. It is either the need or the desire or both. The need to provide financial security to himself or his family or the desire to accomplish a set goal or dream he has been working for years, or it can be a bit of both. This daily responsive behavior modification caused by the need and the desire of a person is what we can call a motivation. With that being said, motivation can be of two major types. They are extrinsic and intrinsic.


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Extrinsic Motivation

Continuing from the above mentioned example, if the change in the person's behavior modification has come up due to the possible reward he may secure down the line or any punishment he can avoid can be termed as extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation is mainly a reward driven behavior modification where rewards and incentives such as money, promotion, fame, and praise are used as a tool for motivating a person to continue working and working better. In extrinsic motivation, it is the external factors that drive the behavior modification. Getting paid for a job is extrinsic motivation. A person would have the choice to do anything with his time, but he chose to work in those hours due to the money he would make from it. Similarly, here are few more examples of extrinsic motivation:


  • Competing in a contest for rewards.
  • Buy one, get one offer.
  • Customer loyalty programs.
  • Going on a job for money.


Intrinsic Motivation

If the person's behavior modification has nothing to with external factors such as rewards and is instead caused due to a personal interest then it can be defined as intrinsic motivation. In intrinsic motivation, a person does a thing, including going for a job, simply because he finds things enjoyable and interesting.

Consider reading a book; Person-A would read it simply because they may have to write a report on it. However, Person-B read it because of the subject and story that lies in it and not because they have to write a report on it. Here, Person-B represents an intrinsic motivation, whereas Person-A is a representation of extrinsic motivation that we have discussed above.


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Therefore, intrinsic motivation can be considered as the opposite of extrinsic motivation where the person is motivated by internal factors such as self growth and desires as opposed to external factors such as praise or rewards that may come from it. Here are few examples demonstrating intrinsic motivation:


  • Learning a new language because you want to have a new experience and not because your job demands it.
  • Spending time with a person because you love to be in their company and not because you seek some social gains from them.
  • Keeping your room clean not because your mom would be angry otherwise but because you prefer to not live in a messy room.
  • Painting a picture or learning any new art because it helps you in feeling nice and calm about yourself than try to make money from selling your art.


The “Why” of Motivation?

Now, that we have covered the details about “What is Motivation?”, let us try to understand the “why” of motivation. The “why” of motivation is a way to demonstrate the importance of motivation. For example, how a person with motivation would do the same work more efficiently than a person who lacks the motivation to do it. Whether it is extrinsic or intrinsic, people are needed to be motivated to do something as without motivation nobody could achieve anything.

Motivation plays a significant role from one’s personal life to the professional one. It is the driving factor that decides our immediate and long term future. A world without motivations in it will be much slower than Flash, The Sloth in the movie Zootopia, and Lt. Judy Hopps wouldn’t have bothered solving the case if not for her intrinsic motivation to prove that she was meant to be a police officer. Motivation is what has shaped the world to its current state and what will propel it to people living on Mars in the future. 


Be it in many spheres of life, motivation is important because a room full of just dozens of motivated people are more capable of thousands of people with no motivation in their life. Motivation is also a skill that all leaders must practice to keep their team or people together even when the situation isn’t in their favor.



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A lone wolf by definition, a writer by heart, and a lost star with ambitions to light up the dark both inside and around me, sometimes by immersing myself into books or video games or traveling with a backpack to an uncertain destination believing that life is all about the choices we make and we don't.