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Insights Newsletter: March 2014 

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Dynamics of Personal Motivation

If the underlying reason for personal success had to be distilled down to one single element, that one element would probably be personal motivation.  Personal motivation also known as intrinsic or self-motivation can be defined as motivation arising from an individual's internal desires for the satisfaction and fulfillment of specific needs.  Unlike external (extrinsic) motivation [see below] which derives from outside factors existing within an individual's environment, personal motivation is an internal, unobservable force that generates a person's effort, drive and persistence toward the achievement of a pre-determined, worthwhile goal.  The degree and strength of an individual's personal motivation is the single most important factor in determining the extent to which he or she will commit to do what needs to be done to achieve a desired result. see Success Formula.  Without personal motivation, little of any significance is usually achieved in spite of the existence of the necessary knowledge skills and resources. With it, anything is possible regardless of whether or not those elements are present.

Understanding Motivation

Motivation is the force that drives all human behavior.  It represents the degree of initiative, persistence and intensity of effort expended by an individual to achieve a specific outcome.  It is that which moves a person to take action.  Motivation is goal-directed and essentially derives from people's desires to satisfy basic common physiological and psychological human needs.  This idea forms the basis for the psychological concept of needs theory which attempts to explain what motivates humans to act.   Abraham Maslow, a noted American psychologist postulated that all basic human needs can be categorized into what he described as a hierarchy of needs composed of five basic need categories: physiological, safety & security, social, self-esteem and self-actualization which is another way of characterizing self-fulfillment.  These broadly-defined needs are present in varying degrees in everyone, but the relative importance of each need varies from person to person. 


The chief importance in studying them is to be able to understand one's own motivation.  However, it is also important to recognize that every person is a unique individual who adopts unique behaviors to meet his or her specific perceived needs.  Humans typically seek first to satisfy physical and safety/security needs before progressing to social and self-esteem needs, and usually only strive for self-actualization, the highest level, after all the other needs have been at least moderately satisfied.

Physiological Needs

This group includes the physical requirements for food, drink, air to breathe, shelter and the need for sexual satisfaction.  These are the most primitive needs of man, and thought they are considered the strongest motivators, they are also the most easily satisfied.  Physiological needs must be satisfied if life is to be sustained.  Only in unusual circumstances can other needs dominate a person's focus and actions when basic physiological needs remain unsatisfied.

Safety & Security Needs

Human beings have an extremely strong need to feel safe and secure from physical harm.  Only in rare emergencies is a person likely to encounter a situation today in which a need for basic safety and security dominates over higher needs.  Safety needs in our current society usually take more subtle and disguised forms.  Safety needs are often manifested in a person's desire for justice and fair play.  Such needs are expressed in such issues as a desire for job security, fair treatment in the eyes of the law, and equal opportunities for success. 

Social Needs

All humans crave love and a sense of belonging.  When our physical and safety/security needs have been reasonably satisfied, we then seek to satisfy our needs for social acceptance, friendship and love.  Social needs are powerful and often drive desires for material things such as a bigger home, newer car, nicer clothes, and a higher level of income which people feel may facilitate the satisfaction of social needs.  Social needs are more complex and more difficult to satisfy than physical and safety/security needs.  However, while they are less critical to a person's survival, social needs can be very powerful motivators.

Self-Esteem Needs

After people have sufficiently satisfied their physical, safety/security and social needs, they naturally progress toward gaining the respect of others and themselves.  Self-esteem is a self-assessment of ones value or worth.  Self-esteem needs reflects an individual's desire to feel that he or she is a worthwhile person making a reasonably significant contribution to society.  One's level of self-esteem is an indicator of the degree to which a person likes himself or herself.  For self-esteem needs to be satisfied, recognition or praise must be genuinely deserved.  Conversely, public acclaim is not necessarily required to satisfy self-esteem needs.  So long as we know we have achieved something significant, our self-esteem need is usually satisfied. more about self esteem

Self Actualization Needs

The best way to describe self-actualization or self-fulfillment needs is to characterize them as an individual's self-development needs.  However, self-actualization is not solely about developing specific skills.  Skills are only part of the picture.  It is more about developing the entire individual to optimize his or her potential in a continual, progressive manner to become everything that one is capable of becoming.  Unlike the lower needs in Maslow's hierarchy which are oriented more towards satisfying deficiencies or basic needs, self-actualization is growth-motivated.  Self-actualization needs generally only come to the forefront of attention after all other needs have been at least moderately satisfied.

Internal vs. External Motivation

Both internal (personal) motivation and external motivation are directed toward need satisfaction.  The difference is that in personal motivation the need satisfaction drive arises from within the person himself or herself whereas in external motivation the drive is stimulated or prompted by people, events or circumstances that exist in a person’s environment.  A person’s internally-generated desire to achieve personal power to satisfy one or more levels of the hierarchy of needs would be characterized as personal motivation. Examples of external motivation would include things such as the influence of an economic recession on spending habits, the threat of an impending hurricane on vacation plans or the personal biases of a superior on subordinates' social interaction with him or her.  External motivation is often used by people and organizations and society to deliberately control or manipulate others for both positive and negative purposes.

Types of External Motivation

Fear Motivation

One form of external motivation is motivation through fear.  We have all experienced in one way or another, the influence of fear on our behaviors.  Externally derived fear generally motivates a person to act in a certain way because of the consequences that may result if the person does not act accordingly.  Fear motivation can be a powerful force for maintaining social order and stability, and while it can have an impact on all levels of needs, it is most effective when directed to the potential loss of the more basic physiological, security and social needs. Fear of the loss of a job would be a strong motivator for continued work quality and timely attendance.  Similarly, fear of getting a ticket is usually an effective motivator for traveling at or near the posted speed limit.  Although fear tactics can prevent people from doing bad things, they generally cannot motivate people to do good things.  Furthermore, attempts to motivate through fear generally wear off either because those subjected to it develop a tolerance or because they come to see it as an empty threat since the specified punishment is rarely if ever delivered.  In the final analysis, fear motivation can be very constructive or highly negative, depending on the way it is used.  Fear motivation can easily be misapplied, but it does have its useful applications.

Incentive Motivation

The opposite of fear motivation is incentive motivation.  Incentive motivation involves the promise of a reward for performing a desired behavior.  Incentive motivation moves people to act in a certain way because need satisfaction is linked to the specified behavior.  Such rewards can be aligned with any level of needs, but to be effective, they must be closely connected to the individual needs of the target population.  The incentive of increased income is only effective, for example, if the targeted individuals have a need for increased earnings, and a reward of enhanced social acceptance is only a motivator for persons desiring such.  When the appropriate elements are present and the timing is right, there’s no question that incentive motivation works.  However, every person’s current desires depend entirely on what that person already has.  As soon as a person’s desire is satisfied, it ceases to be one, and any incentive associated with that particular desire is no longer a motivator of behavior.  Another drawback to incentive motivation is that over time rewards for the desired behavior may become commonplace and expected, leading to a sense of entitlement which causes their motivational value to subside.  Motivation through incentive works only when people want the offered reward. Otherwise, only continually increasing the level of incentive will be effective, but its cost may quickly become prohibitive

Inspiration Motivation

Inspiration motivation is motivation derived from the words, emotions and actions of others.  It is the kind of motivation resulting from observing a momentous act or listening to a powerful speech.  At its core, inspirational motivation is almost totally feelings-driven and is often lacking in any meaningful substance.  Inspirational motivation can appear powerful at the moment, but its impact on behavior usually dissipates rapidly with little or no residual effect.  In order to have any ongoing impact at all, inspirational motivation must be continually reinforced.  An example of inspirational motivation is the stereotypical motivational speaker employed at sales and management meetings.  Most attendees at such meetings, while moved by the moment, retain almost nothing after only a few days of attending such events. While fear, incentive and inspirational motivation can all work in the short-term, they ultimately do not provide sustainable motivational impact and long-term individual satisfaction. 

The Power of Attitudes

Attitudes represent collection of personal beliefs, feelings and values that influence a person's behavior in response to specific ideas, objects, persons or situations.  Attitudes represent habits of thought formed over time through exposure to people, events and ideas over the course of one's life experiences.  This storehouse of acquired attitudes acts like a subconscious computer master program for controlling behavior.  These habits of thought have an impact not only on how we see and react to the world around us, but also on how we see ourselves.  Attitudes are often based not on reality but rather, simply on how we personally think or feel about something. This then, becomes our reality.  Because our attitudes reflect what we think, feel and believe about ourselves and the world around us, they effectively shape our expectations of daily life, and these expectations directly influence the nature of our behavior.

The Role of Conditioning

Since attitudes are habits, they develop in the same way as other types of habits do.  A habit can be defined as a conditioned response to stimuli as a result of repetition. A person doesn’t just have habits, he or she develops them.  Similarly, attitudes don’t just happen, they are caused.  One way they are caused is through the impact of personal experience.  For example, a person may encounter a certain breed of dog while jogging and suffer a bite on the leg.  As a result, this person develops a rather negative attitude regarding this breed of dog.  Later on, this person hears of another jogger who was bitten by another dog of this same breed.  This serves to reinforce the person's fear.  The result is that this person forms the attitude that these dogs are inherently nasty animals and develops the expectation that he or she will experience the same outcome when encountering this breed of dog in the futureGenerally, this assumption may not be true, but it nonetheless, becomes this particular individual’s reality 

A person can also become conditioned to develop a certain attitude by repeated exposure to the beliefs and behaviors of family and friends, especially during one’s younger, developmental years. Rather than drawing conclusions from personal experience, this pathway conditions through the influence of the attitudes of people whom we value and respect.  During the early years, our parents strongly influence our thoughts and beliefs, and because we are unable to ascertain right and wrong for ourselves, we accept our parents’ attitudes as truth.  While these early influences can be both positive and negative, much of such day-to-day attitude conditioning we receive consists of negative-oriented admonitions such as "don’t bite off more than you can chew" and "better safe than sorry."  Research has shown that their effects can surface repeatedly in adults and that even those children who have considerably more natural ability than their parents, find it difficult to rise above the effects of the negative conditioning instilled in them.  As people grow older, their environment and the institutions to which they belong also significantly influence the nature of their attitudes. 

Mental Models 

Basically, habit formation is a constructive process for dealing with the challenges we face in life.  In routine activities, people encounter new experiences and situations every day.  These encounters often require a conscious choice or decision.   If a decision is made which a person comes to believe was a good decision, he or she is likely to seek to achieve similar positive expectations in the future by making the same decision again whenever a similar situation arises. This person’s brain stores for future use the data, details and outcome of the initial decision for automatic use over and over again.  These habits of behavior are known as mental models.

Personal Motivation (Internal Motivation

Personal motivation derives from people's attitudes about themselves, their world and their role in it.  Personal motivation is motivation through and by positive attitudes.  Personally motivated people are driven by powerful dreams and aspirations and their unwavering beliefs in their abilities and worthiness.  Like all people, personally motivated individuals are driven to satisfy basic physical and psychological needs, but unlike most people, those who are personally motivated also develop a powerful drive for self-actualization, the highest and most fulfilling level of needs.  This is because personally motivated people are acutely aware of the great number of opportunities for self-fulfillment that exist in the world and are driven to maximize their potential, not simply for personal reward, but because they feel it is part of their life's purpose.  Unlike  external motivation which is usually short-lived and often used in a manipulative fashion by others, personal motivation is much more enduring, and because it comes from and individual’s core beliefs, it is much more closely aligned with that person’s own needs priorities.  Because personal motivation comes from within, it is sometimes referred to as self-motivation.

Successful, personally motivated individuals discard any wrong or counterproductive attitudes that they may have developed through prior negative conditioning and deliberately replace them with “right habits” of thought to empower themselves to demonstrate the “right behaviors” to help them to identify and acquire what they want out of life.  Personally motivated people cast off self-limiting behaviors that stifle achievement and through affirmations and positive conditioning, consciously cultivate success- oriented mental models regarding family, friends and work and most important, regarding themselves and life in general.

The Motivation of Goal-Setting

Effective goal-setting can play an enormously powerful role in clearing a path for motivation toward the satisfaction of human needs.  Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, all behaviors are goal-directed.  It is our drive to achieve goals that generates the results we get.  We get what we are currently getting out of life (our results) because of our current behaviors, and our current behaviors are to a very large extent determined by what we set out to achieve (i.e., our goals).  Goal achievement in itself is rarely the ultimate end we desire to attain.  It is usually only the means through which we gain something we ultimately want.  However, since it can often be difficult to focus our behaviors for the attainment of an ultimate objective (usually best described by a desirable feeling or mood), directing efforts to the attainment of clearly-defined performance goals and developmental goals that are linked to our ultimate objective is a very effective strategy.  Motivation can be significantly impacted by a person's goal-setting effectiveness in at least three important ways.

First, the very act of setting goals calls for active imagining and visualization of what could be, and thereby creates a deeper awareness of what is possible.  This new awareness can transform into desires that previously did not exist.  By having the opportunity to visualize virtually unlimited performance possibilities, an individual breaks free from the psychological bonds that limit true potential and becomes free to discover and realize his or her full potential and purpose.

Second, the success that comes with effective goal planning helps develop confidence in one's abilities.  This increased confidence can dissolve mental and emotional barriers that may have previously stood in the way of striving for bigger and better things, and motivate one to take action he or she would not have attempted before.  The fear of failure, a powerful negative conditioning force, is overcome, and people begin to think in terms of unlimited capability.  One begins to think in terms of “what would I attempt to achieve if I knew I could not fail?”

Third, one cannot find motivation for optimal expression while he or she is hungry, lacking safety and security or feeling rejected by others.  Additionally, most people find that trying to satisfy the other lower, more basic needs generally detracts from their efforts to achieve higher-level needs. Since goal achievement skills facilitate and accelerate the process of goal accomplishment, the more basic elements of the human "hierarchy of needs" may be more easily and quickly satisfied.  As a result, a person may have an increased opportunity  to set and achieve goals associated with the more highly rewarding and satisfying self-esteem and self-actuation needs.  The more successful individuals are those who have somehow managed to find sufficient satisfaction in all of the stronger but lower human needs and can then devote significant time and attention to self-actualization needs, the realization of which can be the most satisfying and rewarding of all.  Furthermore, the quest to satisfy self-actualization needs can be the most powerful motivator of all for focused, productive and fulfilling performance behaviors.  learn more about the dynamics of goal-setting.

Manager as Motivator

Any manager who supervises the work of others is usually responsible for motivating subordinates to do what needs to be done.  This can be accomplished in two ways; by directing others to take action or by leading them.  The basic distinction between directing and leading is that a director’s motivational capability is authority-based while leader’s power is derived from his or her own persona.  Directors motivate through the use of rewards and consequences, i.e., external motivation that they administer through the power of their respective positions in organizations.  Subordinate generally do what they are told because of the benefits they receive by doing so (salary, praise, promotion, etc.) or to avoid the negative consequences of not doing so (being fired, being demoted or being otherwise penalized).  As discussed above, external motivation is generally oriented toward satisfying a person's more basic security, social and self-esteem needs which once satisfied, often no longer serve as motivators.

Leaders motivate through non-authoritarian means to move people to act in a specific manner by aligning an individual's internal desires for the satisfaction and fulfillment of personal needs with the accomplishment of a common organization goal.  In other words, leaders tap into people's internal/personal motivation. Leaders are able to connect with people to create an awareness of how the achievement of organizational goals can also satisfy their personal needs for self-fulfillment (self-actualization), an individual's highest and most satisfying level of needs.  As a result, subordinates are driven to maximize their potential through their work, not simply for personal reward, but because their work becomes part of their life's purpose.  Both directing and leading are recognized functions of management, and skilled managers know when each approach is appropriate.  see Making Sense of Management. 

Personal motivation along with effective goal setting and interpersonal skills constitute the foundational elements of Symbiont Performance Group's Self Leadership Program. 

Learn about how Symbiont's Self-Leadership program can put you on the path to use effective goal setting for greater personal and professional success.

Learn how you can improve results through increased personal motivation. 

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