The fullest representations of humanity show people to be curious, vital, and self-motivated. At their best, they are agentic and inspired, striving to learn; extend themselves; master new skills; and apply their talents responsibly. ? Yet it is also clear that the human spirit can be diminished or crushed and that individuals sometimes reject growth and responsibility. Regardless of social strata or cultural origin, examples of both children and adults who are apathetic, alienated and irresponsible are abundant. Such non-optimal human functioning can be observed not only in our psychological clinics but also among the millions who, for hours a day, sit passively before their televisions, stare blankly from the back of their classrooms, or wait listlessly for the weekend as they go about their jobs.
Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, 2000

Introduction to motivation

Motivation is fundamental to many aspects of our lives. It is complex and pervasive in its scope and underpins how we understand and treat each other.

Theories of motivation

Motivational theories can be divided into two main camps based on different assumptions about human nature.

From theory to practice

Thinking has been marked for a long time by the tension between the view of motivation as development from within and the opposing idea that it is arises from without.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

We are intrinsically motivated when we want to do something for its own sake, interest and enjoyment and when we get a feeling of satisfaction during rather than after an activity.


Self-determination is any effort to be in control of and alter our actions, thoughts and feelings. Its essential nature is of one action over-riding another, in terms of stopping, starting or changing behaviour.

Our emotions and motivation

The main function of our emotions is to help us adjust our behaviour and adapt to our environment. Emotions are the constant radar we use to appraise our experiences and determine our behaviour to maintain optimal conditions.

Personality and motivation

To understand motivation we need to take into account personality. While we all share the same basic needs, we all have unique personalities which lead us to follow different pathways to meet our needs.

Motivating others

There are two main dilemmas at the heart of motivating others. One is between trying to give people unconditional acceptance while at the same time providing accurate feedback.

Creating a motivating climate

Organisations are more likely to instil ?want to? attitudes in people if they nurture three factors, namely ?I belong? feelings, ?can do? beliefs and an ? I?m responsible? or ?I?m allowed? mindset.

Motivation and self-esteem

The trouble with the self-esteem movement is that it concentrates too much on self-esteem and so only looks at one of three important elements of what I call the 'self-emotions' - how people feel about themselves