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Sep 11, 2020

What is motivation?

Today we are continuously hearing about ‘motivation’. How do we get motivated, where does our motivation come from, and how do we stay motivated? Yet, the first and simplest question we should be asking is, ‘What is motivation?’ - because we’re not always 100% sure about what it is.

Motivation, in a nutshell, is ‘what causes us to act in a particular way’ or ‘what drives us to do something’, Cherry (2020). For example, when we get up in the morning, whether we know it or not, we have to be motivated to do so. Even getting up to brush our teeth requires motivation. But these acts and motivations often go unnoticed by all of us. 

Moreover, when we feel energised and motivated we strive to achieve a particular goal that we need to achieve, Souders (2020). This also fits in well with the Latin version of the word, ‘movēre’ which means "to move". 

When it comes to motivation anyone can be motivated by anything, and it can be quite hard to pinpoint an individual's motivation. For example, it can be a person, an emotion, material goods, or even a movie. As you can see why we are motivated can be down to many things. It is for this reason that motivation is often known as ‘Intrinsic’ or ‘Extrinsic’ motivation. Some of us do things that will end in only ourselves being rewarded, like feeling happy after cooking a meal for our whole family because you know they’ve been fed well (intrinsic), while others do things because they want to be rewarded externally, like getting money (extrinsic). 

In our ever-growing world it is imperative that we all understand motivation, and that we appreciate the significance of it in life, in learning, and in the workplace. Because one thing is clear: motivation is relevant to all of us, whatever the path we choose to take in life.

Join us as we take a look at motivation in more depth, and you can learn some tips on how to keep motivated, even when things are going south. 

Intrinsic motivation

As mentioned above, we can look at motivation from two perspectives, the first we will cover is ‘Intrinsic’ motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when you do something because you will personally gain from the activity, Bernazzani (2017). 

Examples of intrinsic motivations are:

  • Cleaning and removing rubbish from your car because it makes you feel organized
  • You spend time with someone because you like their company and not because they are popular, and by hanging out with them you’ll also be popular
  • You go to your local animal shelter and walk the dogs because this makes you feel fulfilled and happy 

Intrinsic motivation typically means that you are satisfying your basic and psychological needs. This means things like hunger, competence, relatedness, and individuals may have a desire to perform interesting and challenging activities. All this would be done without actually getting an external reward. Doing the activity is enough of a reward in this case. 

However, intrinsic motivation may not work for everyone. Take a look at the examples below and see how intrinsic motivation, without wholehearted belief and dedication, can be short-lived.  

Imagine it’s hard for you to get up early in the morning, and you’re an ‘extra 5 minutes in bed person’. Every morning you need to find the strength to get up and walk to the bathroom, which is a chore in itself. And suddenly a new hobby appears in your life: running. Suddenly, there is an incredible urge inside you to wake up in the morning to run. Perhaps you manage this for a few weeks but then you start to go off running, and you don’t go everyday because you don’t get any internal pleasure from the act. Your running will stop because you have no motivation and interest to go out.

Take a look at this second example, imagine that tomorrow is a very important day. You need to get up early, so in the morning you set an alarm and you get up straight away. There is an exciting day ahead and it’s like no other day! Everything goes well on your first exciting day, but as the weeks go on your excitement wanes. If you had to do this every single day, your exciting new task would turn into a dreary task for you, and you’d start to struggle to get up in the morning. Like running, you’d revert back to your old ways because there is no pleasure, or internal reward, in getting up early for you anymore.

In both examples all you’d need to do was change your inner attitude towards the events, and you would have the required motivation to wake up easily every morning. But as you can see all interest and attraction for the tasks has been lost, so there is no motivation, because you don’t feel like you’re personally gaining anything from the experience. 

Unfortunately or fortunately, intrinsic motivation can be very strong for some individuals, but it also dries up quickly. It is likely that only people with strict discipline can lead such a motivated life, in most cases, extrinsic motivation lasts longer with most individuals.

Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation differs from intrinsic motivation because there is generally an external force pushing you towards your goal. This force, if you like, can be linked to you receiving a reward or it can be to avoid punishment, Bernazzani (2017).

Examples of extrinsic motivations are:

  • Going to work everyday because you’re going to earn money
  • Buying a really expensive new car because you’ll look good and impressive in it
  • Making sure you keep up to date and pay your taxes to avoid being fined 

Generally, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about extrinsic motivation is money and material goods. And this is quite logical, since money = wealth = can purchase material goods = a peace of mind and happiness. 

Typically, money is the strongest motivation for a lot of individuals around the globe, and it is the one thing that will urge the majority to take some kind of action.

Of course, there are other sources of external motivation, for example, loved ones, living conditions, and future goals. But as you can see this can still be related to intrinsic motivation. 

As a rule, as long as there is money available to you, the desire for more money is unlikely to be a huge incentive to make you take action, because you’re able to achieve the basic needs in life. But as soon as your money runs low you’ll be incredibly motivated to get more money, and extrinsic motivation will grow stronger within you: this is connected with you needing to meet and achieve basic living conditions (food/shelter).

Although extrinsic motivation works better with a larger proportion of individuals, rather than the intrinsic motivation alone, there is reason to believe that a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is the magic formula to guarantee that goals are achieved, and to ensure motivation.

Laziness as the obstacle to achieving goals

Have you ever had a good idea about something, and then as you do it more and more your desire to do it decreases and decreases? We have all been here at some point in our life.

There are many reasons for this type of behaviour. But the main reason is that motivation has been completely lost, and laziness has replaced it.

Laziness is the main enemy of motivation. 

Sometimes in life an individual just doesn’t want to do something because they just don’t want to do it, or because there are health issues. And sometimes laziness occurs because tasks are not stimulating enough for an individual. Hence the easier it is to achieve a goal, the more lazier the person becomes because the task is repetitive and boring, for example. 

Take this example: I want to change my profession and become a QA Engineer. I need to take a course, practice and learn the interview questions so I can successfully pass an interview and get a job. For this, I don’t need to study at university for many years, like doctors, for example. Plus, I can get all of my questions answered by pros in the field. But for some reason, after a while, the desire to learn has been lost. 

Sometimes, even though we want something badly, we can become quite lazy, and this does happen when we have to learn new things. We start off well with good intentions, but we get distracted by other things, like watching TV, and we become lazy. 

At Careerist, we aim to eliminate as much of this as possible by providing our students with stimulating, practical, and thought provoking courses, that are overseen by professional mentors, so that there is something for everyone to enjoy and to keep them motivated.

Ways to increase motivation when our students lose motivation when looking for work

Here at Careerist we are passionate about finding and seeing our graduates working in roles that they love. Unfortunately, not every graduate finds work immediately, so this is how we keep them motivated when life doesn’t quite go the way they planned.

To start with let's check out this example: I’ve studied to become a QA engineer and I know the interview questions, and I’ve got my answers ready. I’m looking for a job, and I’ve sent my CV out to loads of organizations. After a month, I get lots of rejections back, and I only get a couple of interviews that also end up being unsuccessful. My motivation drops, and I stop applying for vacancies as well. As a result, I can't find a job.

At Careerist we don’t like to see our graduates struggling to find work alone, so we have a team of mentors who are there to encourage and share their stories with graduates who are feeling under-motivated, as a way of inspiring and instilling confidence in them.

We also encourage our graduates to keep on applying for roles for 3-4 months after completing their course. We have witnessed many cases when our students, who have great potential, just simply give up after the first month of looking for a job. And this is understandable, after all receiving NO continually will demotivate even the strongest and most motivated person. 

Additionally, we help our graduates prepare CVs, so that we can pick up any glaring errors that will obviously make them unfavourable with organizations. We also run mock interviews with our graduates, so that we can provide them with feedback to help them with their interview. Running mock interviews also helps those who have a lack of confidence to become confident too, which helps to further their motivation, as the interview does not come across as completely unpleasant experience to them. 

Finally, if motivation is completely lost we ask our graduates to answer this question, "Why am I doing this?" We do this to try to understand what is stopping them applying for jobs, we want to know why they want this job, and what result do you actually want from the whole process. Our graduates find the answers to these questions themselves, with only a gentle nudge from a mentor. Sometimes, all we need to do is to suggest that our graduates watch a motivational film to figure out what they really want.


Bernazzani, S. (2017) Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: What’s the difference? HubSpot .
Cherry, K. (2020) What is motivation? Very Well Mind
Souders, B. (2020) What Is Motivation? A Psychologist Explains.

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