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The Most Famos and Usable Motivation Theories

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Motivation is the thing that keeps people going throughout life, helping them achieve their goals and further their causes. Undoubtedly, this interesting phenomenon has been thoroughly studied, however, there’s no single concept that accurately describes why people feel motivated. That being said, there are still four leading theories that do their best to define motivation. These are the instinct/evolutionary, drive-reduction, optimum arousal and hierarchy of needs theories.

The instinct/evolutionary theory states that people are motivated purely by instinct, i.e. a naturally occurring behaviour that is not learned (for example, feeding or a fear of certain animals). A mother’s instinctual need to care for her crying baby would be an example of this theory. However, it has some flaws, such as the fact that not all of our actions are motivated by instinct, like the drive to earn more money or go to college.

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Another one is the drive-reduction theory, which states that people’s most basic physical needs dictate their actions. According to it, the need creates a psychological drive, which then motivates people to reduce it. For example, if someone is hungry, it means they are experiencing a need for food, which creates a drive (hunger) and motivates them to reduce it by eating food. The problem with this theory comes from the fact that it does not explain why people engage in certain behaviours without having to reduce a drive (e.g. eating out of boredom), or even act in ways that would increase the drive (e.g. rock climbing).

Then there’s the optimum arousal theory. It asserts that people are motivated to seek out their optimum level of physical arousal. For example, some might prefer a lower level of arousal and engage in activities such as reading or watching movies, while others need a higher level of arousal and therefore participate in more stressful activities like bungee-jumping or skydiving.

Finally, there’s the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory. It states that human physical and psychological needs are in a hierarchical order, starting with physiological needs like food and water, with safety, belongingness and love, esteem, self-actualization and self-transcendence later completing the structure. In order to satisfy a need that is higher up the hierarchy, all the needs before it must be satisfied too. For example, is someone wants to meet their need for belongingness and love, they must satisfy their psychological and safety needs first. Even though this theory is currently leading, it still has some flaws. For example, a person might be deprived of a lower level need and still strive for self-actualization or esteem.

Of course, these theories can’t explain every whim that people have. For example, not long ago, I had the sudden urge to buy expensive clothes, even though I am not financially secure and the action of purchasing does not arouse me or reduce a drive, and is definitely not an instinct. Motivation is still not completely explainable, and that’s why these theories are so interesting. To me, the most intriguing one is the optimum arousal theory, because it explains some of the impulses that I sometimes have and is overall a completely novel concept for me.

It’s always a good thing to know what motivates you personally, and that’s why I chose to complete the relationship style quiz. The results said that I had a “preoccupied attachment” style, and I think that very accurately fits my current relationship. Since I scored 2.2 on the avoidance scale, it means that my strength is in sharing my feelings freely with my partner, however, a score of 3.5 on the anxiety scale meant that I am not completely secure in the relationship and worry about how much attention I’m receiving. Again, this test was scarily accurate, because that’s exactly how I feel about my current romantic relationship.

The other activity I chose was the article about how Maslow’s theory applies to the workplace. The short answer is, it doesn’t. Maslow’s theory does not help understand motivation in the workplace, because the order of needs is not necessarily fixed. Different people are motivated by different things and may not place the same importance on a specific category of needs, e.g. where some might feel that self-actualization is most important in the workplace, others might value financial security over self-actualization.

In the article Abraham Maslow and the theory that beguiled business, William Kremer and Claudia Hammond (2013) argue that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory has become outdated, therefore in the recent years, it has been replaced with the ERG theory. ERG stands for Existence, Relatedness and Growth, and states that a person must satisfy these three areas in order to be most productive, and if they do not, it’s thought that they concentrate more of their attention on another area (Hammond and Kremer, 2013). For example, if a person is not feeling challenged enough in work, it’s likely that they will interact with their colleagues more frequently, as their attention has shifted from growth to relatedness. It helps better understand employee motivations at work, because unlike Maslow’s theory, it acknowledges that some needs might be replaced by others and that people value different things. It is an interesting real-life application of a psychological theory, that tends to provide fruitful results.

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