There are several variations of drive theory. At the core of all of these theories is the idea that all organisms, humans included, continually attempt to maintain homeostasis or a state of physiological equilibrium.
The theory states that all organisms experience internal tensions and pressures called drives. These drives then motivate us to engage in activities that aim to reduce the tension.
Take hunger as a drive. This is one example of a biological drive that leads to physical discomfort - which leads to the motivation to get food - which leads to eating - which leads to a reduction in physical tension, thus reducing the drive. This process leads to the restoration of equilibrium where the process will begin again.
Temperature is another example of a biological drive. We have a homeostatic temperature of 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). When we experience hot or cold we automatically respond by perspiring or shivering. We are motivated to reduce the drive, which in this case is the feeling of being too hot or too cold.
There are some issues when considering this theory. Firstly, drive theory is ultimately based on innate intrinsic drives. Therefore it doesn't seem relevant when considering more evolved motives such as our desires to achieve great things, or our thirst for knowledge or our greed. It doesn't explain why we have these secondary extrinsic motives which, on face value, don’t appear to stem from a physiological need.
More evolved motives seem to be irrelevant to homeostasis, which is the crux of drive theory. For example, money satisfies no biological or psychological need, but having money certainly reduces the tension most of us have when it comes to attaining it. If this could be explained by drive theory, then it would have to be the outcome of wanting to reduce a biological tension. This may be possible however.
Secondly, motivation sometimes exists without a drive arousal, even when considering biological drives such as hunger. For example some organisms, humans most definitely included, still eat when they’re not hungry. If we only ate as a response to a hunger drive, then obesity, as well as various other weight-related issues, wouldn't be such a huge problem. When considering this example, it’s clear that drive reduction theory struggles to provide a complete explanation of why we behave the way we do. If it did it would mean a hungry human could not prepare a meal without eating the food before finishing it.
To understand dilemmas such as this we could consider secondary drives overriding primary drives, for example the drive to eat 'tasty' food may override the drive to eat 'any food'.
How might drive theory relate to exercise motivation and change?
As mentioned above it is not impossible to link more evolved motives with drive theory. When considering the motivation to become fit, for example, you could think about it in the following way:
For some people, being fit may contribute to a sense of physiological equilibrium. For these people, being unfit could create tension and threaten this equilibrium. In order to maintain homeostasis these people may become motivated to take action in an attempt to reduce this tension. As a result they would exercise to get fit. The key point when considering this example is not being able to make a link between exercising and maintaining equilibrium. Rather it is being able to get to a point where you view exercise as being a contributor to your equilibrium. Without getting to this point, the motive to exercise will be non-existent.
What you need to consider when linking drive theory with exercise motivation is this:
How in your own mind, can you make needing to exercise as important as needing to meet your basic biological needs? Or put another way, how can you transform the ‘want’ in “I want to exercise” to a ‘need’ as in “I need to exercise”. ‘Need’ in this context means a genuine need and not a superficial one, i.e. “I need those new shoes”. The type of genuine need that, if not met, will lead to a loss of equilibrium or imbalance in the way you think, feel and act.
What this is really referring to in a motivational context is IMPORTANCE. If you can make exercising so important that, if you fail to do it you simply won’t feel right, you will be on the right track. You need to get to a point where not exercising impinges on values and core beliefs to the point where you feel compelled to do something about it.
Take a moment to consider how drive theory is relevant to the things you have done in the past, or the things you are doing currently.
Coming in part 4 - Incentive theory