Have you ever wondered why you do not question twice when someone asks you to do something you enjoy doing? And why even getting a glass from the water cooler ten steps away can sound like such an exhausting task? Have you ever wondered why you continue doing certain things your parents told you to do while you were a kid, even if it makes not much sense as an adult? Human motivation has a lot to do with all these questions.

Psychologists have defined motivation as a process that influences the direction, persistence and vigor of goal directed behaviour (Passer & Smith).

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds – Intrinsically motivated behaviour is done for its ability to provide satisfaction and enjoyment to the person who is performing it. Extrinsically motivated behaviour, on the other hand, is done as a result of some external influence or to put it in simpler words, to receive awards or avoid punishment. 

Theorists have now come up with a continuum that captures the extent to which actions are either intrinsic or extrinsic. 

An absence of either kind of motivation is a state of amotivation. Here there is no sort of urge to perform the behaviour. So eventually, the behaviour is discontinued or done purely out of habituation. 

Extrinsic motivation has three kinds of levels. 

The first is external regulation wherein a behaviour is wholly performed under external influence, either to receive awards or avoid punishment. Certain students have no interest in studying a particular subject but study it so that they can receive a degree in order to get employed. 

The second is introjected regulation where some internalization of the reason for doing the behaviour has occurred. A student would study a subject because she has introjected or internalised her parents’ notion that “one should study”; the studying occurs not because of the love for it but because not doing it would cause guilt and doing it would increase self-regard. 

The third and final kind is identified regulation where the behaviour, even though not enjoyed, is done out of choice. A student wakes up every morning at 6am to revise chapters, not because she enjoys it but because doing so would make her better at her academics.

The most autonomous form of motivation occurs under intrinsic motivation wherein a behaviour is done for its own sake, because of the satisfaction, enjoyment and stimulation that accompanies it. In case of a student who genuinely enjoys studying a subject, it is because of the “true love” she experiences for it.

In our daily lives, we take the meaning of the term ‘motivation’ for granted. But as it turns out, the concept is not as simple as it seems! Infact, it’s so nuanced and layered. Also the mere awareness of what kind of motivation you experience towards an act can come in so handy! 

So the next time, you don’t think twice before picking up that guitar or looking through that cookbook, appreciate what drives you, what motivates you.