Motivation refers to the underlying cause of any human action. In psychology, all human actions are seen to have a base cause, or motivation, that explain why we choose to do what we do.
We often create a hierarchy of motivations, whereby intrinsic motivation (the desire to do the task for the value of the task) is considered more valuable than extrinsic motivation (the desire to complete a task to achieve an external reward).
Most other forms of motivation fit somewhere along that spectrum. Examine the following types of motivation and see where you would put them along the intrinsic-extrinsic spectrum.
Types of Motivation
1. Extrinsic Motivation
The first type of motivation is extrinsic motivation. It sits on one end of our spectrum of motivations and describes the desire to do something purely for an external reward.
Children are often highly motivated by extrinsic wards such as a candy or a sticker. As we get older, we find that our extrinsic motivators change and we’re more discerning about what motivates us. Nevertheless, we remain extrinsically motivated throughout our lives, particularly for rewards that sustain us (such as food and money).
Extrinsic Motivation Examples:
- Food, water, and nourishment
- Prizes such as stickers, toys, or gifts
- Money as a motivator to go to work
- Academic grades or a certificate of merit
- Public recognition and praise.
2. Intrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic motivation is the opposite of extrinsic. This refers to times when we’re motivated for the pleasure of the process of doing a task rather than a reward if we complete it. That pleasure is considered an intrinsic reward.
Intrinsic motivation is believed to be an ideal form of motivation and encouraged in therapy through models such as motivational interviewing.
It refers to times when we’re so excited to do something that we’ll literally do it for free. Often, these tasks may be challenging but fun and exciting. We may fall into a flow state when doing these tasks where we simply love being in-the-moment doing the task.
- Playing video games
- Playing a musical instrument
- Listening to our favorite music
- Watching a movie
- Volunteering for a cause that you believe in
Read Also: Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
3. Achievement Motivation
Achievement motivation occurs when we feel the drive to feel like we’ve achieved something because of the rush we get at the point of mastery.
This might occur when we excel at a task, when we achieve noticeable improvements in our skill level, or we surpass our own personal best.
Achievement motivation is a powerful force that pushes us to set personal challenges and can help us to persevere in the face of difficulty.
Achievement motivation is considered a type of intrinsic motivation and people who are high in this type of motivation tend to have strong growth mindsets and feel high levels of pride in their own accomplishments.
Achievement Motivation Examples:
- Studying diligently to achieve your personal best grades in school
- Training consistently to break a personal record when playing video games
- Trying to move up the ranks in your career for the pleasure of doing well
- Setting your own financial goals and diligently sticking to a saving regime
- Participating in competitive sports
4. Power Motivation
Power motivation occurs when someone is driven by the desire to influence others or assert their own authority.
This is common for people who have a strong psychological need for control. Sometimes, a person may also pursue power in order to achieve change (e.g. greater freedom or social justice). In these cases, the motivation is for a goal rather than power per se.
People with strong power motivation may pursue leadership roles, sales roles, or positions in politics.
Power Motivation Examples:
- Seeking a promotion so you can get the corner office and the ability to hire and fire others in the workplace
- Buying an expensive car because it makes you look more powerful to onlookers
- Running for politics because you like how the president can do what he wants
- Tendency to assert authority in a conflict or decision-making process rather than embracing compromise
- Working in sales because you love when you convince someone to buy something they were hesitant to purpose
5. Fear-Based Motivation
Fear-based (or survival) motivation is based on a psychological fight-or-flight response. All humans have this innate motivation, which kicks-in when we sense danger.
Survival motivation generally leads to two reactions:
- Fight: where you stand your ground and fight for yourself, and
- Flight: where your avoidance motivation kicks in and you try to escape a situation (see next example)
Scientists also argue that a third response – freeze – may occur, which can be seen as a motivation not to be seen, or an inability to make a decision.
The danger of this type of motivation is it is usually spur of the moment and is at times not the best decision for someone to make.
Fear-Based Motivation Examples:
- Running from a bear in the woods
- Picking up a stick and crouching ready to fight when a cougar jumps out of the woods
- Quickly thinking up a lie to get yourself out of a tough situation
- The bad decision to put your foot on the accelerator and zip down a side alley when you see police sirens in your rear-vision mirror
- Running into a burning house to save your baby’s life
6. Avoidance Motivation
Avoidance motivation is the drive to steer clear of negative or unpleasant situations, experiences, or outcomes.
It is closely related to fear-based motivation but specifically focuses on the act of evading or circumventing potential problems or discomfort.
This type of motivation can be useful in some situations where the avoidance is temporary and you’re not missing out on much by avoiding a situation. However, avoidance may be damaging because many things that are difficult, awkward, or embarrassing are important for personal growth.
Avoidance Motivation Examples:
- Procrastinating on your essay because it is going to be painful to complete
- Avoiding social events due to your social anxiety
- Choosing not to go to thanksgiving to avoid your crazy uncle
- Opting not to ask for a raise or promotion because you hate confrontation
- Deciding not to go to the gym because you know it will hurt
7. Competence Motivation
Competence motivation refers to the intrinsic desire to feel competent (i.e. good at) something.
It is related to achievement motivation. However, achievement motivation tends to be connected to extrinsic desire, whereas competence motivation tends to be about the intrinsic desire to be competent at something.
Competence is all about personal growth and improvement. If you’re driven by the desire to be competent, you’ll often be inspired to engage in lifelong learning, experiment, do regular research, and and push yourself to get better and better.
Competence Motivation Examples:
- The desire to learn a new language because it will feel good once you reach a competence level
- Watching YouTube videos about coding to learn more about how to code
- Practicing a musical instrument regularly to become more skilled and proficient
- Showing people your art online and asking for feedback to try to get better at it
- Dogged determination to ski a whole black run without falling because it will feel great
8. Curiosity Motivation
People motivated by curiosity are explorers. They are always looking to fix things, visit new places, or read new books just because they feel this deep-down desire to know more things.
Whereas a person with competency motivation might do things to try to be good at them, a curious person likely doesn’t care so much about being good at something. They just want to know about it.
Curiosity can lead to new discoveries that can open new doors for you down the track, but generally, simply gives you the internal satisfaction that you learned something new today.
Curiosity Motivation Examples:
- Spending hours down a Wikipedia rabbit hole reading about obscure historical events
- Listening to podcasts on generic topics because you know you’ll get enthralled (I recommend Stuff you Should Know)
- Using the YouTube browse feature and seeing dozens of videos you’d love to watch
- Enjoying conversations with a variety of different people because you just want to hear their stories
- Traveling to new countries to see what life is like there
9. Altruistic Motivation
This refers to the desire to help others, seek social justice for others, improve society, or contribute to something bigger than yourself.
This desire is seen within people who have strong measures of empathy and compassion. They are pulled to help people in need. Similarly, people who are awake to social injustices might embrace altruism because they believe there’s a need to make the world a better place.
Altruistic Motivation Examples:
- Feeling the need to pull aside and help an old lady cross the road
- Donating money to a charity because you feel it will be helpful
- Giving money to a homeless person at the supermarket
- Volunteering your weekends to the soup kitchen
- Agreeing to swap shifts with a friend so they can go to their grandma’s funeral
10. Growth Motivation
This refers to people who have a deep-down desire to achieve personal development and self-improvement.
This desire drives them to read self-help books and constantly think about ways to do better.
These sorts of people have a growth mindset and are always looking for ways to improve. They might regularly engage in self-reflection and have strong metacognitive skills (meaning they’re able to reflect on their own thinking processes or behaviors and consider how to improve them over time).
Growth Motivation Examples:
- Keeping a daily journal to record what you did today and reflect on your behaviors
- Constantly reading self-help books to get little tips on how to improve 1% every day
- Going to the gym daily to try to stay fit
- Attending university because you want to learn (rather than want a white-collar job)
- Hiring a life coach to give you tips on how to maximize your life
11. Purpose Motivation
People who have purpose motivation are driven to find meaning and direction in life. Often, this isn’t developed until much later in life.
According to David Brooks (2020), the first half of our lives is often driven by achievement motivation. But once we achieve many of our key financial and family goals, we realize there is a second bigger thing to achieve in life: a purpose.
People who are driven by a purpose often work in jobs that are less about money than about giving deep personal satisfaction and a sense of contributing to something bigger than you.
Purpose Motivation Examples:
- Building a company that you hope will outlive you and create jobs for hundreds of people
- Becoming a priest because you feel the drive to give your life to God
- Becoming a lawyer at an NGO even though the wage is low because it helps fulfil your sense of purpose to help the world
- Dedicating your 30s to building wealth not for yourself but for your child’s college fund
- Writing your autobiography because you have lessons you want to pass onto the next generation
12. Status Motivation
Status motivation occurs when someone has the deep-down desire to be loved or respected by their community.
Status motivation usually appears within people with a strong sense that their self-worth is based on their social status .
Generally, a desire to belong and contribute to community is healthy. Similarly, motivation to achieve upward social mobility is natural and healthy.
However, excessive desire for status for the sake of status is often seen as a reflection of a person’s insecurity, immaturity, or social anxiety.
Status Motivation Examples:
- A 21-year-old going into debt to buy a black Mercedez Benz to look good for girls
- Parents who pressure their children into being doctors so they can brag to their friends
- A person who wants a PhD so they can be called “Dr” but don’t really care about their research topic
- Someone who buys clothing based on the brand not what it looks like
- A person who chooses their university based on the status of the university rather than whether the programs it offers are suitable for you
13. Autonomy Motivation
This refers to people who have a strong urge to be in complete control of their lives or decisions. They are people who value independence, freedom, and self-determination.
This type of motivation is far down the intrinsic side of the spectrum. These people tend to make decisions that align with their values and interests. They don’t tend to be overly concerned with external factors or the opinions of others who they see as restraining their free will.
Autonomy tends to be highly encouraged in individualistic western societies, while collectivist societies such as some in Asia tend to discourage this form of motivation.
- A person who quits their job and starts a small business to take control over their life
- An 18-year-old who moves out of home as soon as they finish school to take control over their life
- An adult who decides not to have children or get married because they feel these decisions will restrict their autonomy
- Someone who’s strongly averse to debt because they know it will be a chain around their leg for years
- Someone who regularly disobeys their boss because they think their ideas are better
14. Sensation-Seeking Motivation
This form of motivation is driven by the desire to experience new sensations, excitement, or novelty.
It may also go by the name of arousal motivation, describing the chemicals that are released in the body when you are exposed to new sensations.
However, often arousal motivation is also driven by the drive to reduce arousal as well as increase it.
Sensation seekers may engage in activities that provide intense or thrilling experiences, such as extreme sports or travel, or intense physical arousal such as delicious food.
- A person who loves coffee because it gives them a little buzz
- Someone who loves jumping out of airplanes for the thrill that comes from it
- A food lover who goes to a new 5-star restaurant each weekend to taste the chef’s creations
- Someone who loves to run marathons for the endorphins that are released on the 36th kilometer
- Someone who loves dancing at parties to feel the pleasure of letting your body shake out
15. Conservation Motivation
This is the drive to preserve something such as your wealth, culture, status, or environment.
Often associated with conservatism, this type of motivation tends to be higher among people who are situated higher-up on social ladders or wealth ladders because they have more to benefit from maintaining the status quo.
A conservation motivation when it comes to the environment may refer to engaging in activities that support sustainability or environmental protection. When it comes to conservation of wealth, it often refers to maintaining the economic structures of a society.
Conservation Motivation Examples:
- A city councilor who advocates for the preservation of historically important buildings
- A person who votes for political parties based on their environmental record and positions
- A person who invests in diversified and safe asset classes in order to preserve their wealth
- A father who leans on his son to go to university to prevent downward intergenerational mobility
- Someone who recycles diligently to do their part for the environment
16. Revenge Motivation
Perhaps the darkest example, revenge motivation is all about getting back at someone who you feel has done you harm.
It might be considered a sub-category of justice motivation, with the other sub-category being altruistic motivation that was explored early.
But revenge is all about feeling the strong urge to get back at a person or people who you feel have done harm to you, your family, culture, or community.
Revenge Motivation Examples:
- A child who hits his sister when she takes his pen
- A jaded ex who writes a song with thinly-veiled lyrics casting accusations at their former partner
- An ex-employee who takes their employer to court for unfair dismissal
- A student who TP’s their teacher’s house because they felt their teacher was mean to them
- An angry customer who storms into the supermarket and yells at the staff because she bought sour milk
Maslow’s Hierarchy Motivations
The final five motivations are all based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is a hierarchy that demonstrates the five fundamental categories of needs that each person must pass through to achieve self-actualization.
According to this hierarchy, people will be intrinsically motivated to pass through each stage of the hierarchy in order to achieve the state of self-actualization. However, not many people achieve this state – in fact, Maslow’s hierarchy was created by studying just a handful of extremely successful people.
Below is Maslow’s Heirarchy visualized:
17. Physiological Motivation
Physiological needs refers the first of five types of needs we are motivated to pursue based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
This is the drive to satisfy basic biological needs such as hunger, thirst, and sleep. According to Maslow, we can’t pass through to any other stage if we haven’t got our physiological needs satisfied. For example, a child will not have a desire to learn if they are tired or hungry.
Physiological motivation helps ensure survival and maintain physical well-being.
Physiological Motivation Examples:
- A homeless person sits out the front of a supermarket and begs for food because of their burning hunger
- A person has very little money, but they still head to the hospital because fixing their acute illness is more motivating than staying out of debt
- A dog will be extremely obedient if it is hungry, but as soon as it’s satiated, you just can’t get it to sit on command
- Despite the fact you haven’t completed your assignment that’s due tomorrow, your desire for sleep takes over, so you give up and concede you’ll hand it in late
- Despite knowing the water is unclean, a person lost in the forest drinks from a stream to satiate their burning hunger
18. Security Motivation
Once you have satisfied your physiological needs, you will begin to be motivated for safety and security. This will deliver the protection that will prevent you from needing to fall back to satisfying your physiological needs.
Security can refer to protection from wild animals or other humans who might be fearful to you. Or, it can refer to the desire for a safe house to live in where you’ll be protected from those animals, humans, and the elements.
You may also desire emotional security, such as a child desiring to be close to their parents at all times.
Security Motivation Examples:
- A woman who gets a job to pay for her rent
- A man who works tirelessly to save up the deposit for a mortgage
- A tourist who feels unsafe on the street so they duck into a jewelry store where there’s a security guard
- A family who chooses to buy extended health benefits to protect themselves in case of an emergency
- A family who apply for refugee status to escape their unsafe country
19. Belonging Motivation (aka Affiliation Motivation)
Belongingness or affiliation motivation is the desire to build and maintain strong social connections, be part of a group, and contribute to its success.
According to Maslow, this type of motivation tends to emerge after a person has successfully achieved personal safety and security. As humans, we all tend to experience the need to belong to a group or community. Maslow calls these our social needs.
A downside of affiliation motivation is that excessive fixation on this type of motivation may lead a person to set aside their personal ethics in order to be part of the in-group. We call this deindividuation.
Affiliation Motivation Examples:
- Joining a sports club or organization to meet like-minded individuals
- Wanting to return to a social job after taking parental leave alone because you miss the sense of community in the office
- Organizing social events to bring people together
- Enjoying going to home games for your soccer team for the buzz of being in a crowd of home team supporters
- Offering support and encouragement to friends and family members
20. Esteem Motivation
Esteem needs on Maslow’s hierarchy are said to be only desired once you have secured security and physiological needs.
Esteem needs are split into two.
On the lower level, we have status needs (see also: status motivations). On the upper level, we have self-esteem needs.
Generally, higher-level esteem needs are connected to intrinsic motivation whereas lower-level esteem needs are connected to extrinsic motivation.
Esteem Motivation Examples:
- A person who seeks a certificate of recognition from their workplace (lower-level)
- A teenager who acts cocky to try to get the respect of their peers (lower-level)
- A young man who posts his salary on social media to boast about how wealthy he is (lower level)
- A woman who goes to the gym every morning to feel good about her health and body (higher level)
- A businessperson who wants to keep building their business because it makes them feel successful (higher level)
21. Actualization Motivation
According to Maslow, very few people reach self-actualization. It requires having all of your other needs fulfilled, and then you can focus your motivations on actualizing your dreams.
People who are motivated to achieve self-actualization will have the desire and drive to work toward big dreams and passions. Their dreams will likely be directed toward something far bigger than themselves and a goal that will far outlive their time on earth.
Many of these goals are spiritual, such as with Buddhists, whose idea of self-actualization is transcending feelings of greed or self-interest. Similarly, a politician could strive for self-actualization for effecting positive change for their nation.
Actualization Motivation Examples:
- A person who works daily to realize their lifelong dream of traveling to Antarctica
- Someone whose major decisions are motivated by the dream of raising a happy family
- A man who desires to feel happiness every day with his children
- A monk who spends every day aspiring to achieve a state of Nirvana
- A politician whose every action is motivated by a vision of himself as president one day
The above types of motivation are just a handful of the many possible categories that exist, but they are the most common ones. The two most important in both pop psychology and educational research are intrinsic and extrinsic, and many of the others sit on a spectrum between the two.
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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]