Motivational Facts About Motivational Processes

Katharina Graf, M.Sc student clinical psychology

„Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible.” – Audrey Hepburn.
What is Motivation? 

Motivation is the mental process that initiates and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. It is the inner drive that causes you to act (Cherry, 2020). Regardless of whether you eat your favorite sushi-bowl to reduce hunger or whether you take your Woppie to the park to work on your projects – it all comes down to motivation.

Motivation can be generally divided into two main categories: Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to doing something because one enjoys it. Extrinsic motivation is defined as being motivated to do something to achieve an external goal. For example, to get a salary increase (Hennessey et al., 2015). Fostering intrinsic motivation is important as it is associated with a feeling of self-determination, satisfaction, and control. Beyond that, intrinsic motivation comes in hand with performance creativity, longer-lasting learning, and perseverance. Extrinsic influences on the other hand, such as expected rewards, deadlines, or impending evaluation can lead to a reduction of self-determination. This is because they generate an external orientation implying that one only engages in the task because of the reward, not because one enjoys it. Nevertheless, certain external rewards can enhance intrinsic motivation (Hennessey et al., 2015)Namely, rewards received in an autonomy-supportive setting do not undermine but enhance intrinsic motivation (Gerhart & Fang, 2015). Interestingly, employees aim at being successful in their job for intrinsic as well as extrinsic reasons. Thus, they tend to not distinguish between the two. For example, employees want both economic security and the autonomy to decide what to do with their income and free time and how to achieve job-related goals. However, it is worth mentioning that rewards can backfire as well. If employees feel underpaid and do not see a balance in their effort and their received rewards, their motivation can be hampered (Heyman and Ariely, 2004).

How does one become motivated?
Implementation Intentions

Despite intentions being fairly strong, people often struggle to achieve their goals (Legrand et al., 2017). Here implementation intentions can be helpful. Implementation intentions are specific plans through which situations and goal-directed behaviors are connected in an if-then format. For example, “If I come home from work, then I will go for a run.”. Forming these intentions increases the chance of actually attaining the goal. This applies to various domains such as health, academic, and interpersonal situations (Legrand et al., 2017). But why do they work this well? Implementation intentions build a strong mental linkage between a specific situation (e.g., coming home from work) and goal-directed behavior (e.g., going for a run). This way the behavior can be automatically activated and people can control their behavior bottom-up instead of top-down. Meaning, their behavior is stimulus controlled rather than intentionally controlled. The more precise the description of the situation in which one aims to perform a behavior, the higher its triggering factor as a stimulus and the higher the likelihood of engagement in the behavior. Similarly, the more detailed the behavior, the more automatically it can be initiated. This is because there is no need to further think about the behavior (Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006).

SMART

There are multiple ways to enhance one’s motivation. For example, using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable,Relevant, and Time bounded) goals is essential to foster and maintain motivation (Weintraub et al., 2021). The simple goal to “become better at work” or “become a better person” is too broad. The SMARTer a goal, the higher the likelihood of achieving it. To decide whether a goal is too high or difficult, one must observe which goals engender best performance (Vohs & Schmeichel, 2007). Thus, setting SMART goals that come in hand with one’s best performance, will be most beneficial in developing and maintaining motivation to achieve these goals.

Motivation at Work 

Employee motivation is of large interest for organizations as they highly depend on the employees’ efforts and their performance. Previous research in this field suggests employees are most motivated in work settings in which they (1) have great autonomy in planning their activities, (2) can engage in a variety of tasks, and in doing so (3) can develop and display a variety of competencies (Steers et al., 2004). Generally, it is interesting that, in group settings, one can observe what is called social loafing. This effect is defined as the phenomenon that with increasing group size, individuals in the group become less productive due to a decrease in motivation and or coordination problems. Here, increasing task visibility and team cohesiveness, as well as clear group roles, are known to reduce the effects of social loafing (Stouten & Liden, 2020). Hence, a setting characterized by autonomy, variety, opportunity, task visibility, clear roles, and team cohesiveness, is most motivating and beneficial for both organizations and their employees. 

Procrastination 

Another factor that is influencing one’s performance is procrastination. Epidemical investigations state that more than 80% of people report experiencing procrastination. 15% to 20% even suffer from pathological procrastination. Meant by the term procrastination is an undesirable protraction of actions despite its long-term consequences (e.g.,poor academic or work performance, low subjective well-being, poor mental health, unstable financial status). To better control procrastination it is helpful to understand its neural substrates. Previous research suggests white matter related neural markers to be associated with procrastination. Evidence supporting this is found primarily in three networks. (1) The self-control network, (2) the emotional regulation network, and (3) the episodic network. More precisely, there seems to be a neuronal interplay between the self-control system of the frontoparietal network and the emotional regulation system of the limbic network. Further investigation made clear that emotional processes are a key component of why individuals procrastinate. Namely, individuals tend to focus on the negative emotions produced by engaging in a task and fail to regulate their short-term mood, which then results in procrastination. Self-control processes were proven to reduce these procrastination behaviors (Chen et al., 2021). Thus, in practicing self-control, focusing on the positive aspects of a task, and in training one’s mood regulation skills, procrastination can be conquered.

 

Finally, here are a few useful tips and examples on how to increase your motivation with different versions of our Woppie:

Together with these inspiring examples and the research results discussed in the article, we are sure that you will find your own personal way to increase your motivation. Achieve your goals and live Woppiness.

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