Theories of Motivation
Self Help

Theories of Motivation

Let us begin by, what we mean by motivation. Motivation can be described as the internal process which activates, guides, and sustains our behavior or action toward achieving goals. It’s about finding the reason on why we do what we do and what drives us to do that. Motivation is influenced by a lot of factors, including our beliefs, values, needs, and desires. There have been many theories that tried to describe the motivation factor as the reason why we do what we do.

Some of the famous theories include

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

This says that we are driven to fulfill our survival needs, without which we won’t be able to live. Needs like water, food, and shelter, Before we move to any higher level like safety, belongingness, love, esteem, or self-actualisation.

Expectancy theory:

This theory states that motivation is influenced by the beliefs that the efforts we have put will lead to successful performance, which would finally result in desire for expected outcomes.

Self-determination theory:

This theory focuses on the importance of autonomy, relatedness and competence in motivating our behaviour. It states that we are motivated when we own a sense of choice , mastery and connection to others.

Goal setting theory:

This theory focuses on the power of setting certain goals that are challenging. It states that setting clear goals can increase motivation and improve performance. Each of these theories provides a different perspective on what drives to act and achieve.

Early theories of motivation

Physiological needs:

It refers to the fundamental needs, or the needs necessary to survive like food, water, shelter and sleep. If these are not fulfilled it’ll be challenging to focus on anything else.

Safety needs:

After physiological needs comes safety needs. This includes personal safety, financial stability, a stable job, access to healthcare and a secure living environment. Fulfilling these needs gives a sense of stability and reduces anxiety.

Love and belongingness needs:

After safety comes the social needs of connections and a sense of belongingness. It involves forming relationships, friendships and being part of a community or family. This gives emotional support, love and a sense of acceptance.

Esteem needs:

Once the lower level needs are fulfilled, people desire recognition, respect and a positive self-image. This involves gaining confidence, achieving personal goals, receiving praise and being acknowledged for accomplishments.

Self-actualisation needs:

The hierarchy is self actualisation needs which means reaching one’s full potential and personal growth. It includes pursuing meaningful activities, exploring creativity, seeking knowledge and meeting one’s unique purpose in life. It brings a sense of fulfillment and a sense of satisfaction.

Its applications at workplace:

  • Physiological needs: Provide a safe and comfortable workplace and fair comparison.
  • Safety needs: Proper job security, making clear policies and encouraging a safe work environment.
  • Love and belongingness needs: Promoting team work and positive relationship and a sense of community.
  • Esteem needs: Identifying and rewarding achievement, giving opportunities for growth and advancements.
  • Self actualization needs: Providing support for personal and professional development, encouraging creativity and autonomy.

Theory X and Theory Y by Douglas McGregor

Douglas stated theory X and theory Y as 2 contrasts of management techniques about employee innovation and behaviour.

Theory X – This assumes that employees are lazy and dislike work and needed to be closely monitored and controlled. It focuses on making strict rules, top down decision making and extrinsic rewards and punishments to motivate employees.

Theory Y – This assumes that employees are self motivated, enjoy work and seek autonomy and responsibility. It focuses on building trust, empowerment and a supportive work environment that promotes creativity collaboration and intrinsic motivation.

There has been several other theories like:

  • Goal setting theory: which focuses on setting certain challenges and goals and boost motivation and performance.
  • Achievement motivation theory: employees are motivated by the desire to achieve success and avoid failures.
  • Cognitive evaluation theory: extrinsic rewards often decrease intrinsic motivation if they seem to be controlling..
  • Motivation is influenced by 2 factors, namely hygiene factors and motivators example- job environment and job contact respectively.


Understanding motivation can help you recognise personal and professional goals. Motivation ignites passion and drive self improvement it will help in building meaningful. Relationships and effective teamwork. Ultimately, knowing what motivates you, empowers you to take control of your own growth and success.

  • Motivation.pdf. (n.d.-b).
  • Simplilearn. (2024, April 18). Theories of motivation: A comprehensive guide.
  • Kendra Cherry, Mse. (2023, September 12). What motivation theory can tell us about human behavior. Verywell Mind.

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