What is Motivation? A Scientific Way to Get Motivated

what motivation means

Posted On February 21, 2021

What is motivation?

In the world of personal development, motivation is undoubtedly one of the most frequently recurring topics. Nevertheless, it is very often misinterpreted and misused.

Moreover, we all wrongly use the term motivation in our daily lives, confusing it mainly with willpower or determination.

For years I made the mistake of thinking that I could not move forward with my projects because I did not feel motivated to do so at all. Furthermore, I felt that the lack of motivation was due to certain laziness and that my lack of clarity in my objectives was definitely blocking me.

However, while researching the vast subject of motivation, I understood one fundamental thing, it is confused with the initial energy and the motor to act.

Many of us think that we need to be motivated to do a specific task. Indeed, we assume that “when I am motivated, I will do my workout.”

Finally, two months have passed, and you still haven’t done your workout, so you curse yourself for not finding enough motivation to move forward while others do.

That’s the whole problem; as I said before, motivation is not the fuel that allows us to start a project, but it is the engine that will fuel our determination.

This article aims to give you the keys to understanding what motivation is and why until now, nothing has succeeded in motivating you.


Definition and Origins

The most basic dictionary definition is enthusiasm for doing something.

It is interesting to note that we are talking about a feeling. There is a notion of a desire to act to achieve a specific goal.

It is often one of the most common reproaches made by teachers to students during our schooling, their lack of motivation.

The word’s origin is French; it comes from the Latin “motivus” which means movement, and is derived from the word “motif.”

In summary, we can conclude that motivation is the reason that sets us in motion.

This is all the subtlety I was talking about in the introduction; at this point, we wrongly think that it is the fuel that feeds our actions when it is the engine that will push us to reach our destination.

I will come back in more detail in the last part of this article to explain how to feed this engine and make you unstoppable. However, first I will go into the mechanisms of motivation.


Various forms of motivation

Research and studies on motivation have been very numerous since the 1940s, first with the theory of the hierarchy of needs through Abraham Maslow’s famous pyramid, and they have intensified in the last thirty years.

Among the main theories that allow us to understand better how motivation works is the theory of self-determination created by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, two psychology professors at the University of Rochester.

The model they created is based on three forms of motivation, which I will detail later; amotivation, extrinsic motivation, and intrinsic motivation.



It is merely the complete lack of interest and motivation for an activity.


Extrinsic motivation

This is the type of motivation generated by external sources, such as money, fame, or to avoid a sanction, such as doing a homework assignment we are not interested in to avoid getting a bad grade.

In the 1970s, Edward Deci first demonstrated that individuals who are rewarded for an activity are globally less motivated than those who are not.

These astonishing results at the time went against the very principle of the stick and carrot approach that is still widely used in our society today.

We are not going to lie to ourselves. The effects are undeniable in the short term; we have all been motivated for rewards in our lives. However, this approach has shown its limitations because it does not allow us to maintain a high level of commitment to long-term activities.


Intrinsic motivation

It is a motivation that comes from the individual, from the satisfaction and the interest that he feels towards an activity.
It does not seek the need for reward other than the pleasure of the task at hand.

This is very often the case when one is passionate about a specific task. Mark Twain said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”


The three pillars of intrinsic motivation

In their theory of self-determination, Deci and Ryan highlighted three essential needs for optimal intrinsic motivation.


The need for autonomy

Autonomy corresponds to the feeling of being at the origin of one’s own choices and decisions. The individual acts according to his own rules and is not subject to the constraint of external elements. For example, you are passionate about the piano; you decide to devote time and practice only for yourself on your own time.

The need for competence

The need for competence is the feeling that a person can have when they act effectively with their environment. This is when they can use their abilities and improve their control.

The need for social connection

The human being is a social animal, which corresponds to the need to feel connected to others. This sense of belonging can be easily seen in team sports in which each member wants to win for a common cause. Of course, it can also be found in some businesses.


Various ways to cultivate intrinsic motivation:

  • Having a High purpose
  • Share
  • Stay curious and open-minded
  • Challenging oneself
  • Encouraging
  • Make it fun
  • Continue to learn
  • Teaching what you know
  • Get constructive feedback
  • Set a greater goal
  • Measure your progress


How to stay motivated: Motivation and Willpower

What is the difference between willpower and motivation? Will is related to the brain, and motivation is associated with the state of mind.

Let’s try to see this more clearly. Let’s take the example of a person who wants to lose weight.

In our example, willpower will look like “I want to lose my excess weight, so I put in place actions to succeed” (sport, diet, for example).

The motivation will then look like, “I want to lose weight because I will feel better and be proud of myself.”

In short, motivation is a desire, whereas willpower is forcing yourself to do something. Will is the notion of self-control independently of reason. Nevertheless, we can consider that motivation is part of the will.

To stay motivated in the long term and set big goals, you cannot rely only on motivation because as soon as your energy drops, you will not act anymore.

However, you will be able to take action by using your will even if you are not motivated to do so, and that is the secret!
Your willingness to take action is the best way to motivate yourself, so don’t wait until you are inspired to act. It is by taking action that you will generate desire.

In other words, if you want to stay motivated, choose the will and focus on the process itself rather than the result.


Final Thoughts :

Motivation is a powerful ally with its qualities and flaws. That’s what I wanted to demonstrate to you during this article.
I find that we talk too imprecisely about motivation or the importance of being motivated to succeed when in the end, we confuse it with willpower.

For years, I have been caught in the trap of lack of motivation, which gave me an excellent excuse not to act. It was only later that I finally understood that trigger is generated in action.

In short, if you want to be motivated: take action for an activity that makes sense for you.

Happy changing, my friends.






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Written by Cédric Potard

I'm Cédric Potard, founder and author of this website and former 3D artist in the videogame industry. You can connect with me on my Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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