The Theory Series: Introduction to Motivation

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Ah, Motivation…nothing gets me going quite like this topic…

If you are reading this, you probably know me…and if you know me, then you have undoubtedly witnessed me throwing a hissy-fit over the nuances of Motivation, especially when well-meaning people post “Motivational Memes” or other various infographics on Facebook.

Forgive me.

Like my irrational hatred for Pineapple Pizza, it is just one of my quirks. I’m working on it. I swear.

When I did a Google search for images to put in this article, I got so inundated by bullshit, factually-incorrect memes that I just said “screw it” and put up this picture of me looking ridiculous.

Motivation: Motivational AF

That being said, I have found myself in a situation where the snark and bitchiness really aren’t helping anyone, and I feel as though perhaps I should start to educate people a bit. Of course, the problem with explaining Motivation is that there are so many theories out there that the task can get cumbersome. Also, the type of explanation you get can depend on the discipline/study area of the provider. (With that in mind, I should note that I happen to have a bias towards Self-Determination Theory, which is a topic that this series will cover).

Another thing to note is that, in general, when you are reading something about Motivation that is outside of a textbook or refereed literature, you are reading a synthesis of numerous theories that have been combined into a workable framework for the topic at hand. For example, one of my favorite lay-person Sport Psych books, Sport Psychology for Coaches by: Damon Burton and Thomas Raedeke, does include a chapter on motivation (Chapter 8, to be exact), but this chapter contains influences from Maslow, Self-Determination Theory, and various Behaviorism theories. This can be quite confusing to someone without a psych background, particularly in the above work, where the authors don’t take the time to stop and tell you what theory they happen to be referencing in every paragraph.

My intent here is to give you the BASICS, on the theoretical frameworks. Hopefully, subject matter experts will emerge for specific theories, which will allow me the opportunity to bring in guest posters that could give a more detailed view. Over the course of this series, I am going to make a valiant attempt to expose you to as many different Motivation Theories as I can so that you can get a sense of where a practitioner’s point of view arises from.

Some of these are:

  • Maslow’s Heirarchy
  • Alderfer’s ERG Theory
  • Acquired Needs Theory
  • Two-Factor Theory
  • Reinforcement Theory
  • Self-Determination Theory
  • Cognitive Evaluation Theory
  • Expectancy Theory
  • And a few more that I’m sure I missed…

If you get NOTHING ELSE from this intro article, walk away understanding that Motivation, by definition, is the REASON for one’s actions (or: needs, drives, desires), as well as the reason behind choosing to engage repeatedly in an action.

Motivation is a reason, not a “gas tank”.

When looking at various internet memes on the topic, it has dawned on me that this confusion arises due to linguistic limitations. The English language, in particular, can be a pain in the ass, in with the topic of Motivation, it is very important that we are saying what we mean within the context of the operative definitions.

To make this easier to understand, allow me to give you an example:

If I wake up in the morning and say: “Man, I have NO Motivation to work out today”, what I am really saying is that I don’t have a sufficient reason to prompt me to go to the gym. Based on the theory I am looking at, this Motivational conundrum may vary.

  • Perhaps I lost my job and money is more of a concern for me (Maslow).
  • Perhaps someone has been pestering me to work out and I feel like I lack control (SDT).
  • Perhaps the consequence of not going to the gym is not dire enough to prompt me to get off of my ass (Behaviorism).
  • etc, etc, etc,

For each theory, there is a unique explanation for what moves us to act as human being. I hope you stick with me, and I hope you find this topic to be as fascinating as i do!

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