Motivation theories are a very helpful self improvement tool.

This page describes some motivation theories; the Maslow theory of motivation; what is motivation; and a brief chronology of motivational theories. Reflecting on these theories of motivation, and thinking through their application in your particular circumstances, will boost your self help motivation and yield higher returns on your self improvement investments.

Just before we delve into the motivation theories:
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Motivation theories - where to start?:

Let's start with a little revision from our Define Motivation web page that explains what is motivation:

motivation means - the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way; the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

Click here for a broader view and some self motivation tips.

Early motivational theories included:

The earliest motivation theories derived from the experiences and practices of leading entrepreneurs dealing with motivation in the workplace. For example:

Employees needed three key things to be motivated:

1. a boss to tell them what to do

2. job security, and

3. money.

The primary theories of motivation started with "fear" (as above) before evolving (e.g. through the work study techniques of Taylor, and the studies of Eltom Mayo at the Hawthorne Plant of the Western Electric Co. in Chicago) to include:.

* satisfaction theory

That is, people will be motivated to achieve a state of satisfaction in whatever terms makes sense and is significant for them. Put another way, if you enable people to be satisfied they will be productive achievers

* incentive theory

That is, the way to get people motivated is to offer them a "carrot" or reinforcement of the desired behaviour (in terms of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, this was most often interpreted to be extrinsic - e.g. especially, money)

* intrinsic theory

That is, people will be motivated by having worthwhile things to do and the opportunity to be in control of how to do them (as perceived by them).

Motivation theories are based on some important underlying and evolving assumptions, such as:

* rational economic man - people are primarily motivated by economic needs. In the workplace, their feelings must be controlled by the organisation

* social man - people are motivated by their relationships with others and without this they do not exist. The need to belong to social groups and teams is critical

* self actualising man - people are self motivated and self controlled. Given the appropriate opportunities and resources they will apply their talents to achieve mutual goals

* complex man - people are variable in what motivates them. Their self motivation changes from time to time, and through time, and from situation to situation

* psychological man - people are a complex, evolving, maturing, organism with an ego ideal to strive for. Everything they experience, including their work and its environment, is part of their identity.

the Maslow theory of motivation:

One of the most significant motivation theories to emerge was put forward by Abraham Maslow (1908 - 1990), an American psychologist.

He pointed out that motivation was NOT something done TO people by others but fundamentally came from people's INNER NEEDS. In striving to satisfy these needs, people were motivated to take action and achieve.

Maslow suggested that there were five common needs that operated as a hierarchy. That is, only when the most fundamental need was satisfied would the next need act as a motivator, as follows:

* Maslow suggests that people will be moved firstly to satisfy their security (physiological) needs (e.g. needs for food, rest, exercise, air)

* once those needs are satisfied, people would then seek to satisfy their safety needs (e.g. shelter, protection from danger and threats)

* having satisfied that need, people would seek to satisfy their social needs (e.g. to belong to a tribe or group or team, to associate and relate with others, to be accepted)

* once these needs were satisfied, people would seek to satisfy their status needs (e.g. self esteem, recognition by others, pride, dignity)

* and, finally, people would seek to satisfy their self actualisation needs (e.g. self respect, self confidence, autonomy of achievement, realisation of potential).

An alternative interpretation of this one of the motivation theories is that any of these needs may become frustrated and rise to the top of the hierarchy.

Gandhi, for example, threatened his security needs (by going on hunger strike) to satisfy his self actualisation needs (to achieve independence for India).

Maybe a little reflection at this point?

* what is your reaction to Maslow's hierarchy of needs?

* how well does it explain motivation from your perspective?

* how relevant is it for you personally, would you say?

Click here to see some motivational phrases and motivation quotes.


Knowledge of motivation theories, and using them in practice for self motivation, will facilitate your self improvement.

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