How To Stay Motivated (Motivation Theories Explained)

How To Stay Motivated (Motivation Theories Explained)

Internal Motivation vs. External Motivation

Internal motivation and external motivation are two different types of motivation that drive our behavior and actions. Internal motivation comes from within oneself and is driven by personal interests, values, and desires, whereas external motivation comes from external factors such as rewards, punishments, or social pressure.

Internal motivation is often seen as more sustainable and fulfilling in the long term, as it comes from a deep sense of purpose and passion. When internally motivated, we are more likely to enjoy what we are doing, fully engage in the task at hand, and persist even in facing obstacles. This type of motivation is often associated with activities we find inherently rewarding, such as hobbies, creative pursuits, or meaningful work.

Conversely, external motivation is often seen as less sustainable and less fulfilling in the long term, as it relies on rewards or punishments to motivate. While external motivation can effectively drive behavior in the short term, it can decrease motivation over time if the rewards or punishments are not sustained. This type of motivation is often associated with activities done for extrinsic reasons, such as work done for pay, papers written for grades, or social recognition for accomplishments.

While both internal and external motivation can effectively drive behavior, internal motivation is generally seen as more fulfilling and sustainable over the long term. In contrast, external motivation is more effective in driving behavior in the short term. Still, it may decrease motivation over time if the external rewards or punishments are not sustained.

If you want to be an entrepreneur or self-employed, you must find ways to motivate yourself to do the work needed, as you have no boss or company to motivate you externally.

Businesses look for what they call self-starters or employees driven by internal motivation, as it makes management so much easier. Companies, bosses, and leaders also have many ways to motivate people externally.

Motivation Theories Explained

Motivating people in an organization is crucial for achieving organizational success. Employees are likelier to be productive, engaged, and committed when encouraged. Motivation can also increase job satisfaction, leading to lower employee turnover rates. Motivated employees are more likely to take on challenges, be creative, and find innovative solutions to problems. They are also more likely to take ownership of their work and feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments. Ultimately, a motivated workforce can contribute to increased profitability, improved performance, and a positive organizational culture.

Motivation is crucial for every leader to understand. Let’s look at how scholars have developed various motivation theories to understand what motivates people.

Content Theories

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: This theory describes needs as a hierarchy. The five levels include physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. Maslow argued that needs at the bottom of the hierarchy must be satisfied before an individual can move to the next level and seek to satisfy those needs.
  • Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory: According to this theory, two factors affect job satisfaction and dissatisfaction: hygiene factors and motivators. Hygiene factors are those that are necessary to prevent dissatisfaction in the workplace but do not necessarily contribute to satisfaction. Examples of hygiene factors include working conditions, salary, company policies, job security, and relationships with supervisors and coworkers. If these factors are not met, employees may become dissatisfied with their job, but if they are met, employees will not necessarily be satisfied. Conversely, motivators contribute to job satisfaction and motivate employees to perform at their best. Examples of motivators include achievement, recognition, responsibility, advancement, and the work itself.
  • Three Needs Theory: This theory argues that each of us has three needs on a scale: the need for achievement, affiliation, and power. Managers can use the three needs theory to set motivational targets tailored to each team member.
  • McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y: This theory states that employees fall into two categories: theory X and theory Y. Theory X assumes that team members are intrinsically lazy and unmotivated and will avoid doing work if there is any opportunity to do so. Theory Y, on the other hand, assumes that team members are ambitious and self-motivated.
  • ERG Theory: ERG theory is a simplified version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In ERG theory, there are three needs arranged as a hierarchy: existence needs, relatedness needs, and growth needs.
  • Mayo’s Motivation Theory: Mayo determined that how well a group of employees performs is defined by norms and group cohesiveness. Groups with high cohesiveness and positive models will be the most highly motivated and, therefore, the highest performing.

Process Theories

  • Adams’ Equity Theory: This theory says that high levels of employee motivation can only be achieved when each employee perceives their treatment as fair to others.
  • Expectancy Theory: This theory states that a person will choose their behavior based on what they expect the result of that behavior to be. For an employee to be motivated, three factors must be present: expectancy, instrumentality, and valence.
  • Taylor’s Scientific Management: Taylor believed employees were only motivated by one thing: money. Employers should monitor workers very closely to ensure they are not slacking off.
  • Self-Efficacy Theory of Motivation: The higher your self-efficacy, the greater your belief that you can perform a specific task and the more your motivation.
  • Reinforcement Theory of Motivation: Four factors influence motivation: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, and extinction.
  • Locke’s Goal Setting Theory: This theory is based on the premise that setting the right goals can increase motivation and productivity.

How to Implement Motivational Theories

Successfully implementing motivational theories in an organization requires careful planning and execution. Here are some steps that can help to ensure successful implementation:

  • Assess the needs of employees: Understanding the needs and aspirations of employees is key to implementing effective motivational strategies. Conducting employee surveys and gathering feedback can help to identify areas of improvement.
  • Choose the right motivation theory: Selecting the most appropriate motivation theory for your organization and employees is crucial. Consider the unique needs and challenges of your organization when selecting a theory.
  • Set clear goals and expectations: Communicating goals and expectations is essential to ensure that employees understand what is expected of them and what they are working towards.
  • Resources and support: Providing employees with the help and support they need to achieve their goals is essential. This can include training, mentorship, and access to tools and technology.
  • Offer recognition and rewards: Recognizing and rewarding employees for their achievements can help to motivate them and encourage continued success.
  • Evaluate and adjust: Regularly evaluating the effectiveness of motivational strategies and changing as needed is essential to ensure continued success.


Motivation theories attempt to explain how to motivate employees in the workplace. Content theories look at motivation from the perspective of our needs and aspirations, whereas process theories look at how people are motivated. By understanding these theories, companies can create a work environment conducive to employee motivation, increasing productivity, job satisfaction, and organizational success. Entrepreneurs, traders, and the self-employed must be our own source of motivation to get things done.