“You are the embodiment of the information you choose to accept and act upon. To change your circumstances you need to change your thinking and subsequent actions.” - Adlin Sinclair
The predominant message that arises from discussing motivational theories and perspectives is that THERE IS NO ONE ANSWER ABOUT HOW AND WHY WE BECOME MOTIVATED. What these theories do provide us with however is a range of points to consider. As we now know motivation can manifest itself in a variety of ways depending on the individual. Because of this it is important that you take out of this series WHAT IS RELEVANT TO YOU.
Do you for example feel as if physiological needs dictate your thinking and behaviour? If so instinct theory, drive theory and the beginning levels of Maslow’s hierarchy will be most relevant to you. Maybe you believe that incentives and goal-setting are more relevant, in which case you will take more from these theories. Maybe you feel that exploring a conflict in thinking regarding a specific issue will kick-start you into action, in which case cognitive dissonance theory may be more relevant.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory developed by the American psychologist Abraham Maslow. It is one of the most widely discussed and referenced theories on motivation.
Maslow’s perspective is a wide-ranging overview of human motivation. It incorporates a blend of biological and environmental motives which represent the increasing complexity of human requirements. The theory is based on five hierarchical levels. Each level represents an increasingly complex set of human needs.
The theory states that basic needs must be met, or at least partially met, before more advanced or evolved needs can be addressed. These needs are arranged in a pyramid form and indicate the varying strength and importance of each. The basic needs or requirements that are vital for daily survival form the bottom level of the pyramid and are the most important. The needs that are less important to survival or aren’t relevant to survival are higher up the pyramid.
The following describes the five levels starting with the bottom of the pyramid, or level 1:
Physiological. These needs are the literal requirements for human survival and form the largest and most important part of the hierarchy. Metabolic needs such as food, water and air as well as protective elements like clothing and shelter are all included in this level. If these most basic of needs aren’t met the hierarchy becomes obsolete as we cease to function.
Goal setting theory is based on the idea that we can sometimes have desires to attain clearly identifiable goals. As a result an individual may become motivated to pursue a course of action in an attempt to reach this goal. In most cases the end goal is what provides the reward rather than the action or journey we take to attain it. The more effective a goal is, the more motivated someone will be to achieve it. The effectiveness of a goal is influenced by three key features, these being: proximity, difficulty and specificity.
Firstly, with regard to proximity, an ideal goal should be achievable within a reasonably short amount of time. What is reasonable will vary depending on the person, but in general if achieving a goal seems like it will take forever it probably will. If we can see the finish line we are more likely to reach it. If we can’t see the finish line, things can often seem hopeless because we feel as if we are drifting and getting nowhere. I know many people, myself included, have felt this way about past goals. Many people will be feeling this way now regarding their current goals and aspirations.
Cognitive dissonance theory (which refers to a conflict in thinking) is one of the most influential theories in social psychology and has many applications within the field of motivation.
The term cognitive dissonance may refer to a feeling of discomfort caused by having conflicting ideas simultaneously. Alternately, discomfort may occur when our beliefs are in conflict with the way we behave. It is sometimes referred to as ‘the psychological squirm’, in reference to the uncomfortable feelings we often experience when contemplating two incompatible viewpoints.
The theory proposes that when people experience discomfort, they have a motivational drive to reduce the conflict causing it. In the context of health and fitness, consider a person who would like to lose weight. On one hand they think or believe that they would like to look and feel better, yet, on the other hand, they continue to eat junk food and not exercise. This represents a conflict between where the person is now, versus where they would like to be. Another classic example often discussed in the context of this theory is the example of someone who smokes. A person may wish to be healthy. They believe smoking is bad for them, yet they continue to smoke.
An incentive may be defined as an external reward or stimulus. An incentive has the capacity to motivate us to think, behave and act in a specific way. This incentive can be something tangible like money, or intangible, like a good feeling. An incentive doesn't guarantee that a person will become motivated, only that it has the potential to motivate. As discussed previously, motivation means different things to different people. This means an incentive that could motivate one person may not necessarily motivate another. This is due to the fact that we all think differently and believe in different things. This results in the value of incentives varying between individuals.
Earlier in this series we established that many motivational theories consist of both biological motivators (nature) and environmental motivators (nurture). When considering incentive theory we begin to see a shift away from biological influences and a movement towards the environment and its influence on behaviour.
While instinct theory and drive theory draw almost exclusively from biological motivators, incentive theory is the opposite in that it draws on environmental motivators. Incentive theory is based on the idea that a positive external stimulus attracts or pulls a person in a certain direction. This is the opposite of both instinct and drive theory, where a negative internal state, e.g. hunger, pushes you in a certain direction.
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.
Instinct theory states that motivation is the product of biological, genetic programming. Consequently the theory proposes that we are all driven by the same motives as per our evolutionary programming. As a species, our behaviours and the drivers of these behaviours, are innate. As a result all of our actions are essentially instinctual.
It is the collective motivation to survive that is fundamental to this perspective. Because we are all genetically 99.9% the same, all of our motivations and drives are derived from the same instinctual programming.
For example, instinct theory proposes that parents don't play that big of a role in the development of their children. Consider a mother staying awake all night with her crying infant in an attempt to provide comfort. Instinct theory states that this is done for no other reason than the mother being programmed to behave this way. The theory would not attribute this behaviour to wisdom, or habituation, or being brought up in a specific way. Nor would having strong or weak female role models or anything else other than pure biology.
Issues arise with this perspective when considering that not all instincts are universal. Many theorists believe that instincts are subjective and are governed by individuals and their differences. Moreover not all people exhibit the same attachment levels or behave in the same way.
In this blog series, ‘Motivational theories’, we will be taking a look at a selection of perspectives and theories on motivation in an attempt to understand why we do the things we do. Where possible and/or relevant, links to exercise, health and fitness will be made. The following theories will be covered:
Before taking a closer look at the first theory (instinct theory) lets first consider the following “why” questions…
There is a simple answer to each one of these questions. That answer is MOTIVE. You see, YOU NEVER JUST DO SOMETHING FOR THE SAKE OF IT. Although it may feel as though you sometimes do things for no apparent reason there is actually a motive behind every behaviour or action you carry out.