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Motivation - It Keeps People Going To A Better State In Life And Overcome Adverse Situations

By Mohammad Anas Wahaj; MBA, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2000, USA; BS in Mechanical Engineering, Aligarh Muslim University, 1993, India
Dated: 15 December 2020

Motivation is an engine or fuel that is associated with human nature and is free to achieve success and reach a better stage in life. Motivation is a catalyst for better change. It brings a transformation in human beings from the state of lethargy, procrastination and avoidance to the state of thinking, action, creation, and success.

Humans have many aspects of life where they need motivation - personal life, student life, work/professional life, social life etc. Every moment of life requires optimal amount of motivation to enjoy the moment. Lack of it makes the moment dull and useless, and eventually lead to disappointments and finally to the more disastrous state of depression. From childhood to youth to old age - motivation is one thing that can keep one together psychologically and survive crises of life and come out of them without regrets and live a life of fulfilment, happiness and success.

In present time, depressive environment created by COVID-19 pandemic is demotivating in many ways. Stay at home, work from home, study at home etc have become the new normal. Restrictions have become part of life which people have not been used to before at such a massive scale. This has put people in a totally different psychological state. People have to self motivate to get on with the current situation and to remain efficient and productive, and above all happy and satisfied. Motivation has become the topic that is on everyone's mind.


According to P. R. Kleinginna and A. M. Kleinginna (1981), motivation is - (i) Internal state or condition that activates behavior and gives it direction. (ii) Desire or want that energizes and directs goal oriented behavior. (iii) Influence of needs and desires on the intensity and direction of behavior.

Robert E. Franken (2006) provides an additional component in his definition - the arousal, direction, and persistence of behavior. Roy F. Baumeister (2016) provides the simplest definition of motivation that boils down to wanting. According to him, people want a change in behavior, thoughts, feelings, self-concept, environment, and relationship.

Motivation influences behavior and directs towards a state of action with a purpose or inclined towards goal orientation. Sources of motivation can be either extrinsic (outside of the person) or intrinsic (internal to the person). Following are sources of motivational needs - Behavioral/External; Social; Biological; Cognitive; Affective; Conative; Spiritual.


There are various theories of motivation categorized as - Behavioral; Cognitive: Psychoanalytic; Humanistic: Social Learning; Social Cognition; Transpersonal or Spiritual; Achievement Motivation and others.

Abraham Maslow (1954) was one of the most influential writers in the area of human motivation. He posited hierarchy of human needs based on two groupings - dificiency needs and growth needs. He explained that lower deficiency needs must be met to reach fulfilment of higher level of deficiency needs, and to act upon growth needs one must be able to fulfil all his deficiency needs. Deficiency Needs - Physiological; Safety/Security; Belongingness and Love: Esteem. Growth Needs - Cognitive; Aesthetic; Self-actualization; Self-transcendence. Maslow recognized that not all personalities fit his hierarchy of needs thoery.

Other theorists, researchers and experts that contributed significantly to the study and practice of motivation include -

1. William James (1892/1962): Proposed a theory, termed as instinct theory of motivation, that hypothesized three levels of human needs - material (psychological, safety), social (belongingness, esteem), and spiritual.

2. Henry A. Murray (1938,1943): Developed a theory of personality that was organized in terms of motives, presses and needs. He described needs as a 'potentiality or readiness to respond in a certain way under certain given circumstances.'

3. Clayton P. Alderfer (1972): Proposed a hierarchy theory termed as ERG (Existence, Relatedness and Growth). He built upon work of Gordon Allport (1960,1961), who took concepts from Kenneth Boulding's (1956) systems theory and modified Maslow's theory.

4. Eugene W. Mathes (1981): Proposed that the three levels of needs were physiological, belongingness and self-actualization. He considered security and self-esteem as unwarranted.

5. David C. McClelland (1985): Proposed a human motivation theory, also known as Three Needs Theory, which states that every person has one of the three main drivers of motivation - the needs for achievement, affiliation, or power. These motivators are not inherent, we develop them through our culture and life experiences.

6. Albert Bandura (1986, 1987): Proposed social cognition theory that highlights self-efficacy (the belief that a particular action is possible and that the individual can accomplish it) and self-regulation (the establishment of goals, the development of a plan to attain those goals, the commitment to implement that plan, the actual implementation of the plan, and subsequent actions of reflection and modification or redirection.

7. Carole Ames (1992), Carol Dweck (1986), Timothy Urdan (1995), Martin Maehr (1995), Paul Pintrich (2000): Their work focuses on achievement motivation and goal theory. In the area of achievement motivation, the work on goal-theory has differentiated three separate types of goals - mastery goals (also called learning goals) which focus on gaining competence or mastering a new set of knowledge or skills; performance goals (also called ego-involvement goals) which focus on achieving normative-based standards, doing better than others, or doing well without a lot of effort; and social goals which focus on relationships among people.

8. N. J. Norwood (1999): Proposed that Maslow's hierarchy can be used to describe the kind of information that individuals seek at different levels.

9. Nancy H. Leonard, Laura L. Beauvais, Richard W. Scholl (1999): Attempted grand theory of motivation. Proposed five factors as the sources of motivation - (i) Instrumental Motivation (Rewards and Punishers) (ii) Intrinsic Process Motivation (Enjoyment, Fun) (iii) Goal Internalization (Self-determined Values and Goals) (iv) Internal Self Concept-based Motivation (Matching behavior with internally-developed ideal self) (v) External Self Concept-based Motivation (Matching behavior with externally-developed ideal self).

10. Richard M. Ryan, Edward L. Deci (2000): Suggested three needs that are not necessarily arranged hierarchically - Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness. Self-determination Theory (SDT) evolved from the works of these psychologists.

11. Paul R. Lawrence, Nitin Nohria, E. O. Wilson (2001): Provided evidence from sociobiology theory of motivation that humans have four basic needs - (i) Acquire objects and experiences (ii) Bond with others in long-term relationships of mutual care and commitment (iii) Learn and make sense of the world and of ourselves (iv) To defend ourselves, our loved ones, beliefs and resources from harm.

12. Michael Thompson, Catherine O'Neill-Grace, Lawrence J. Cohen (2001): Proposed that the most important needs for children are - (i) Connection (ii) Recognition (iii) Power.

13. W. Huitt (2004): Proposed social learning theory suggesting that modeling (imitating others) and vicarious learning (watching others have consequences applied to their behavior) are important motivators of behavior.

14. Chip Conley (2007): Wrote about leadership in organizations and proposed three levels of meeting human needs - (i) Survival (ii) Success (iii) Transformation. He related this hierarchy to three different groups - (i) Employees (ii) Customers (iii) Investors, and suggested that meeting the needs of these different groups at where they are can lead to a more satisfied personal life.

15. Daniel Pink (2009): Suggested that there are three basic drives - (i) Autonomy (ii) Mastery (iii) Purpose. The concept of autonomy suggests that human beings are not as easily modifiable as behavioral theorists would suggest.

16. Martin Seligman (2011): Proposed a human well-being theory that includes five components termed as PERMA - (i) Positive Emotion (ii) Engagement (iii) Positive Relationships (iv) Meaning and Purpose (v) Accomplishment or Achievement.

17. Johnmarshall Reeve (2018): Suggested that motivation is an internal process. Whether it is defined as a drive or a need, motivation is a condition inside humans that desires a change, either in the self or the environment. When this well of energy is tapped, motivation endows the person with the drive and direction needed to engage with the environment in an adaptive, open ended, and problem solving sort of way. The essence of motivation is energized and persistent goal-directed behavior.


Keeping oneself motivated with an internal drive and goal setting is the best recipe to accomplishment and well-being. It helps in taking up challenges and move on, and grow. One of the most important things to get motivated is to make it easy to start. Having discipline and setting a schedule brings naturality in the decision-making process. It builds the framework for purposeful activities and channeling of energies towards the goals one has set mind on. The schedule will help to follow the purpose without waiting for motivation or inspiration to happen.

According to the Goldilocks Rule, humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities - just optimal - neither too hard nor too easy. To maintain long-term motivation Goldilocks Rule helps. Blend of happiness and peak performance is often termed as 'Flow'. It is the mental state that keeps one focused on tasks without distractions. Psychologist Gilbert Brim says, 'One of the important sources of human happiness is working on tasks at a suitable level of difficulty.' Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says, 'One of the keys to reaching a flow state is that you get immediate feedback about how you are doing at each step.'

If one wants to motivate self or others, high internal motives need to match high external motives. And to sustain motivation in long-term will require reminders, repetition and rituals.


In a learning environment, motivation of students is an important component that determines learning outcomes. Motivation in education can have varied impact on how students pursue learning and how they behave towards subjects, courses, classes and online lectures.

Motivated students learn better and remember more of what they learned. Moreover, teacher efficacy is an important determinant of student's success as it impacts a teacher's motivation to engage students in teaching/learning process. Teachers can apply various methods to enhance student motivation in classroom tasks. They are generally categorized as intrinsic motivation (explainig value of learning, student involvement and engagement in learning, develop curiosity, set learning goals, help students develop plan of action) and extrinsic motivation (clarity of expectations, corrective feedback, rewards, social learning activities). Teachers need to utilize both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to impact students with learning that leads to enhanced achievement.

People study for two different types of goals - mastery goals (master and develop competence) and performance goals (to perform better in comparison to others). For short-term learning, performance goals are of great help, while for long-term learning, mastery goals are facilitators.

During COVID-19 pandemic educational and learning environment has changed and in-class interactive and socially engaged learning has transformed to mostly online and self learning. Over time this may lead to decrease in motivation to learn. Students and teachers have to find innovative ways to keep motivation at optimum levels for best outcomes in current situation. Some ways that can help students to stay motivated are - stay organized; lean on friends, classmates and professors and stay connected through various channels; keep a healthy balance between school time and free time; stick to the goals both short-term and long-term.


In a work/business environment, motivation of employees is key to the success of the organization. Leadership and management have to keep teams motivated to give results and enhance value of the organization and keep shareholders and customers satisfied.

Employees need motivation to increase productivity at workplace. Some of the popular theories that apply to employees and teams are -

1. Frederick Hertzberg's Two-Factor Theory, also known as dual factor theory, proposes two factors that influence employee motivation and satisfaction - (i) Motivator Factors (work enjoyment, recognition, career progression etc) (ii) Hygiene Factors (salary, policies, benefits, relationships etc).

2. Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs as explained earlier involves meeting of basic needs first to make individuals motivated to achieve higher level needs. Managers should be able to understand various needs of their team members and support them in other aspects of their lives outside of work to keep them motivated, for example providing flexible hours when needed, fair pay etc.

3. Hawthorne Effect, described by Henry A. Landsberger in 1950, found a tendency in some workers to work harder and perform better when they are being observed. Making changes in work environment also motivates workers and improves efficiency. To fulfil it, managers should engage with teams and should assure them that they care. They should get worker feedback to improve workspace conditions. This can be a great motivator to enhance productivity.

4. Expectancy Theory proposes that people will choose how to behave depending on the outcomes they expect as a result of their behavior. Expectancy Theory is based on three elements - expectancy, instrumentality and valence. The key is to set achievable goals for employees and provide rewards according to their wants.

5. Bernard Weiner's 3-Dimensional Theory of attribution assumes that people try to determine why we do what we do. Weiner suggests that reasons we attribute to our behavior can influence how we behave in future. According to Weiner there are three main characteristics of attributions that can effect future motivation - (i) Stability (ii) Locus of Control (iii) Controllability. This theory has implications for employee feedback. Specific feedback to employee helps them achieve better through correcting their strategies and prevents them to attribute their underperformance to innate set of skills.

COVID-19 pandemic has brought in new challenges to the concept of employee and worker team motivation. As more employees are working remotely the motivation mechanism have also transformed and requires new ways.

According to Digital Etiquette Research, prior to COVID-19 around 43% of people were using work channels for personal communications and personal channels like WhatsApp or Skype for work. Almost overnight, since COVID-19, a further 31% are doing so. According to a recent survey by the Conference Board, more than 3/4th of HR leaders (77%) believe the shift toward remote work will continue even after the COVID-19 pandemic declines.

To motivate these remote employees some suggestions are - use technology to foster connection; proactively communicate; prioritize team building and engagement; set realistic goals and assess employee performance; share how to build a successful workspace.

Moreover, a new style of communication is needed for these employees and workers to keep them motivated and reduce their stress. It should try to make virtual social interactions real. Some ideas in this aspect would include - treat people as individuals and give them options; provide guidance to help people switch-off and recuperate; reduce anxiety and maintain focus; communicate often and informally; understand the organization as a network; find your own way step-by-step.

To solve real world problems, it becomes essential to engage people in the process and motivation can be key to align them towards the achievable goals. Empowering people by applying principles of motivation and providing them genuine purpose can help them attain value and meaning not only to their own lives but can also bring positive change to their environment and world.

Select Motivation and Motivational Quotes

'To begin, begin.' - William Wordsworth

'Step by step and the thing is done.' - Charles Atlas

'Procrastination is the thief of time.' - Edward Young

'Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.' - Ralph Marston

'The secret of getting ahead is getting started.' - Mark Twain

'Action is the foundational key to all success.' - Pablo Picasso

'Be the change you want to see in the world.' - Mahatma Gandhi

'In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.' - Albert Einstein

'Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.' - William James

'To see what is right and not do it is a lack of courage.' - Confucius

'You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.' - Henry Ford

'Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.' - Arthur Ashe

'Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.' - Peter Marshall

'Motivation will almost always beat mere talent.' - Norman Ralph Augustine

'Do what you can with all you have, wherever you are.' - Theodore Roosevelt

'The best way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.' - Walt Disney

'Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.' - Jim Ryun

'How do you know you're going to do something, untill you do it?' - J. D. Salinger

'You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.' - C. S. Lewis

'We generate fears while we sit. We overcome them by action.' - Dr. Henry Link

'You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.' - Zig Ziglar

'Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.' - Vincent Van Gogh

'Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.' - Maya Angelou

'The future belongs to the competent. Get good, get better, be the best!' - Brian Tracy

'You can't cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.' - Rabindranath Tagore

'Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.' - Walter Elliot

'Leadership is the ability to get extraordinary achievement from ordinary people.' - Brian Tracy

'As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.' - Bill Gates

'The will to succeed is important, but what's more important is the will to prepare.' - Bobby Knight

'A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.' - Ayn Rand

'Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.' - William James

'Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.' - Nelson Mandela

'We become what we think about most of the time, and that's the strangest secret.' - Earl Nightingale

'Striving for success without hard work is like trying to harvest where you haven't planted.' - David Bly

'If you don't build your dream, someone else will hire you to help them build theirs.' - Dhirubhai Ambani

'The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.' - Socrates

'Winning means you're willing to go longer, work harder, and give more than anyone else.' - Vince Lombardi

'Motivation may be what starts you off, but it's habit that keeps you going back for more.' - Miya Yamanouchi

'Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.' - Malcolm X

'The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.' - Epictetus

'Knowing is not enough; We must apply. Wishing is not enough; We must do.' - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

'The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.' - Brian Herbert

'If you work on something a little bit every day, you end up with something that is massive.' - Kenneth Goldsmith

'It's not what you do once in a while it's what you do day in and day out that makes the difference.' - Jenny Craig

'Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by, and that made all the difference.' - Robert Frost

'There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self.' - Aldous Huxley

'You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.' – C.S. Lewis

'You've got to get up every morning with determination if you're going to go to bed with satisfaction.' – George Lorimer

'People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily.' - Zig Ziglar

'If you don't value your time, neither will others. Stop giving away your time and talents - start charging for it.' - Kim Garst

'If you are working on something that you really care about, you don't have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.' - Steve Jobs

'Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.' - H. L. Hunt

'The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.' - Arthur C. Clarke

'Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.' - Thomas A. Edison

'Thinking should become your capital asset, no matter whatever ups and downs you come across in your life.' - A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

'If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work.' - Thomas J. Watson

'Believe in yourself. You are braver than you think, more talented than you know, and capable of more than you imagine.' - Roy T. Bennett

'Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying 'I will try again tomorrow'.' - Mary Anne Radmacher

'Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.' - Ralph Waldo Emerson

'Learn from the past, set vivid, detailed goals for the future, and live in the only moment of time over which you have any control: NOW.' - Denis Waitley

'Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no help at all.' - Dale Carnegie

'March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life's path.' - Khalil Gibran

'Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.' - Pele

'One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals.' - Michelle Obama

'Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.' - Lao Tzu

'Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.' - Hillary Clinton

'Competing at the highest level is not about winning. It's about preparation, courage, understanding, nurturing your people, and heart. Winning is the result.' - Joe Torre

'The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.' - Steve Maraboli

'Don't limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, remember, you can achieve.' - Mary Kay Ash

'You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...' - Dr. Seuss

'I learned that we can do anything, but we can't do least not at the same time. So think of your priorities not in terms of what activities you do, but when you do them. Timing is everything.' - Dan Millman

'There are those who work all day. Those who dream all day. And those who spend an hour dreaming before setting to work to fulfill those dreams. Go into the third category because there’s virtually no competition.' - Steven J. Ross

'Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life - think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.' - Swami Vivekananda

'People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them.' - George Bernard Shaw

'People who succeed have momentum. The more they succeed, the more they want to succeed, and the more they find a way to succeed. Similarly, when someone is failing, the tendency is to get on a downward spiral that can even become a self-fulfilling prophecy.' - Tony Robbins

'The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don't define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them.' - Denis Waitley

'A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.' - Vince Lombardi

'Work hard for what you want because it won't come to you without a fight. You have to be strong and courageous and know that you can do anything you put your mind to. If somebody puts you down or criticizes you, just keep on believing in yourself and turn it into something positive.' - Leah LaBelle

'Be an Encourager: When you encourage others, you boost their self-esteem, enhance their self-confidence, make them work harder, lift their spirits and make them successful in their endeavors. Encouragement goes straight to the heart and is always available. Be an encourager. Always.' - Roy T. Bennett

'The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of life is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give.' - William Arthur Ward

'To be a champion, I think you have to see the big picture. It's not about winning and losing; it's about every day hard work and about thriving on a challenge. It’s about embracing the pain that you’ll experience at the end of a race and not being afraid. I think people think too hard and get afraid of a certain challenge.' - Summer Sanders

List Of References

1. Motivational Quotes | Good Reads, 14 dec 2020
2. Motivational Quotes | BrainyQuote, 13 dec 2020
3. 56 Inspirational Motivational Quotes To Inspire You To Greatness | Brian Tracy, Brian Tracy International, 13 dec 2020
4. McClelland's Human Motivation Theory: Discovering What Drives Members of Your Team | MindTools, 08 dec 2020
5. 300+ MOTIVATIONAL QUOTES TO REACH YOUR POTENTIAL EACH DAY | Nicole Martins Ferreira, Oberlo, 05 oct 2020
6. Motivation | Wikipedia, 18 sep 2020
7. Motivation: The Scientific Guide on How to Get and Stay Motivated | James Clear,, 18 sep 2020
8. Keeping teams motivated in an increasingly remote world | HRnews, 17 sep 2020
9. Murray's Theory of Psychogenic Needs | Kendra Cherry, VeryWellMind, 17 sep 2020
10. Four ways to stay motivated, achieve success during online classes | Madelyn Muschek, UT Daily Beacon, 08 sep 2020
11. How to motivate remote employees: 5 keys to success | Mark Feffer, TechTarget, 21 aug 2020
12. 38 Inspiring Quotes To Help You Stay Motivated Through College | Dustin Groves, Independence University, 07 apr 2020
13. What is Motivation? A Psychologist Explains. | Beata Souders, Positive Psychology, 09 jan 2020
14. 5 Psychological Theories of Motivation to Increase Productivity | Mark, contactzilla, 10 jun 2019
15. The science of motivation | Kou Murayama, American Psychological Association, jun 2018
16. 100 Motivational Quotes That Will Inspire You to Succeed | Lolly Daskal, Inc., 09 oct 2014
17. Motivation to Learn: An Overview | W. Huitt, Educational Psychology Interactive, 2011

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