The Science Behind Motivation

Motivation cover

In our lives, we are constantly faced with two choices, either to do something or not do something. Mostly we don’t even think about these things either we are just absorbed in our thoughts or doing the task mindlessly. But at times situations arise, where we find ourselves bursting with energy and a will to do anything. During those times one is capable of completing even the daunting tasks, those times we are fueled by motivation. But is there more to motivation than just a mindset?

What is Motivation?

Motivation can be described in numerous ways, the simple way to define it would be a process that is enabled in a person’s psychology that initiates a flow of certain thoughts, provide the body with the required energy, and a will to continue or initiate action in order to achieve a certain goal. Motivation is not just limited to these aspects, as people have accomplished great feats on pure motivation. It can also be differentiated into two types.

  • Intrinsic Motivation: It is a type of motivation that originates from within an individual without any external factors. Simply put, if one strongly desires to reach their goals they continue to take necessary action and are in turn motivated by their own self. Intrinsic motivation is often long-lasted but is hard to generate.
  • Extrinsic Motivation: Contrary to the previous form, this is purely external-based. Here a person might be continually motivated by other people or by external factors such as money or motivational videos. Usually, this type of motivation is short-lived but is easily accessible.

The science behind Motivation

Though we all are motivated by one thing or the other, why is it that some of us stick to our plans religiously while others fail to do so? That’s because motivation is not a constant but a variable. In order to understand motivation, we must see how it affects us.

  • Rewards: When we are given a certain task with criteria that we’d be rewarded, we generally are motivated to perform that task. However, different factors hinder or enhance motivation. Firstly, the amount of reward is inversely proportional to the effort it requires to carry out a task. For example in a study, a group of people was asked to perform a simple task of arranging shapes according to their size while paying them $100 and obviously all of them performed it precisely and were highly motivated. However, when they were asked to solve a complex math problem for the same amount of money, their motivation quickly dropped, researchers say this is because in their mind money was not enough for the task, as they had already established that a simple task can pay them equally. Additionally, it is observed when a person is rewarded in one task but is asked to repeat the same task without a reward their motivation disappears right away.
Reward system motivation

A lollipop representing a reward.

  • Time: In addition to that, if a certain process takes longer to complete but the reward is higher, while the other is short-term but rewards less, it is observed people tend to go for the latter. In a separate study, college students were asked to choose between two tasks. Either to make an assignment which would take up to a week but they’d get paid $300 or write a one-page article but they’d only receive $30, over 80% of the students chose one-page article. According to scientists, this is because our mind is aware that external motivation is short-lived and they’d fail to carry out the task.
Time test writing

College students writing

  • Play Factor: One of the major factors which decide if motivation will be brief or long is the playful nature of the process. Our brain is designed in a way that if we are engaged in certain activities which enable us to enjoy the chore or work we happen to ignore the time taken in the task, the efforts that are required, or even the reward in some cases. One study was conducted among two groups, where the driving factor was either to stay healthy or feel better while the other group stated they wanted to get at a certain weight. Interestingly, the people who were doing the workout for the sake of working out happened to be enjoying it and over 78% of that group continued their session. Meanwhile, the group who wanted to get in better shape, 91% opted out of the program.
Playful nature

Seniors enjoying a fun workout session.

  • What the Hell: It may sound like swearing, however, it is known as a deal-breaking factor when it comes to sticking to a schedule that was a result of motivation. It works in the way that if we happen to fail slightly or stray away from our goal we engage in other destructive activities with a mindset saying “what the hell”, meaning one has already failed for the day, might as well take a break or stop for the day. In a research, scientists offered milkshakes followed by ice cream of the small, medium, and large sizes to the participants who were in a workout program to lose weight. It was observed, the individuals who opted for small milkshakes either refused to eat the ice cream or got a smaller size. While the people who drank larger milkshakes said: “what the hell” and even got larger ice cream. This is one of the major factors when it comes to sticking to a plan for the end goal.
Milkshake what the hell

Milkshakes representing the study.

Motivation even though it appears like a simple process, involves a lot of brain function and processing of the situation to be able to carry out the task. A large part of psychological processing goes into motivation.

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