Mojza Blog

Unveiling the truth behind motivation

by Miraal omer | 24 Dec 2023

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Have you ever excused your lack of productivity by saying, “I just lack motivation”? If so, continue reading because you may learn more about how motivation actually works. 

To define, motivation is a phenomenon which initiates and maintains behaviours to achieve a goal. People also have motives which induce them to be efficient and work towards the fulfilment of a human need. But, take a moment to reflect; are we truly more efficient when the reliance on motivation often cripples us and hinders our path to accomplishment? 


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The Psychology of motivation

Motivational science is a behavioural science that constructs theories to dive deeper into the complexities of human motivation. It actually explains what incites us to take action and how the process actually takes place. Generally, there are two types of motivation: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation arises from outside the individual and usually from external rewards such as trophies, medals, praise and recognition. On the other hand, the latter arises from within the individual for their own satisfaction, for instance, solving a crossword puzzle purely for the gratification you gain from the activity. Intrinsic motivation is more likely to last compared to extrinsic motivation because external factors are out of our control. 

Motivation vs Discipline

Self-discipline is a way to train yourself to keep driving towards an outcome, especially when your motivation runs out. Committed action always comes first; motivation comes after. That is because motivation is a secondary feeling that wavers without you realising. Intuitively, you might think that you need to summon some vitalizing energy in order to get something done. But this is incredibly unrealistic because extrinsic motivation is temporary and is certainly not the gateway to success. On the other hand, demonstrating good self-discipline will allow you to develop good habits and have an increased tendency to stick to your goals. 

An article in the journal of Psychological Science by Angela L. Duckworth and Martin E.P. Seligman has some interesting points to offer about the link between underachievement and lack of discipline. According to them, some students fall short of their intellectual potential not because of their supposed innate inability but rather because of their failure to practice self-discipline. Furthermore, highly self-disciplined students were more likely to outperform their peers because of their consistent self-regulation. To read more about this study, check out this article: Self-Discipline May Beat Smarts as Key to Success – The Washington Post .

Self-disciplined students learn to be comfortable with delayed gratification, which is the best gift they can give themselves, as the road to academic success is filled with obstacles. Whereas, students who wait for a stimulus or external factors usually fall behind.


The locus of control

The ‘Locus of Control’ is essentially the degree to which you believe you have control over your life. People who have an external locus of control believe that factors out of their control affect their behaviour whereas people who have an internal locus of control believe that their own actions affect the outcomes. This concept is very similar to extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. The only difference is that your locus of control is actually what determines your motivation. Having an internal locus of control will lead you towards achieving intrinsic motivation. 

In a study conducted at Columbia University, we find out how having an external locus of control affects behaviour. 412 fifth-graders engaged in several activities, and their behaviour in those activities was monitored. After completing the activities, some children were praised for their intelligence while some children were commended for their effort in the activities. This acknowledgement was given regardless of how they performed in the activities. In the second round, the activities were more challenging, and this is where we really see a difference in behaviour. Children who were appreciated for their intelligence were more vulnerable to setbacks and were afraid of failure while the children who were praised for their hard work were more persistent in solving the activities and performed much better than the former group. In addition, the children who were told they are smart were less likely to enjoy their activities and were observed to take upon easier tasks. They were dependent on the compliments they were going to receive which shows that they had an external locus of control and were driven by extrinsic motivation. To learn more about the findings of the study, you should read  Praise Children for Effort, Not Intelligence, Study Says – The New York Times . 

From this scenario, you should take away the fact that having a strong dependence on factors around you will make you feel less encouraged to take on a task. Focusing on yourself and actively working on your actions will help you have an internal locus of control, resulting in intrinsic motivation.


The Perfect Combination

Keeping all the aforementioned arguments in mind, it is safe to say that the winning key to achieving your goals is combining self-discipline and intrinsic motivation. Discipline will help you form healthy habits, which are aligned with your aims in life. But it is also important you have an affinity for the habits you adapt to because that will help in fueling your intrinsic motivation. So when deciding which habits you would like to implement, it’s essential to think about how you will find enjoyment in this activity. So while extrinsic motivation often gets you started, the combination of self-discipline and intrinsic motivation will prevent you from giving up. 

In conclusion, those who believe that their locus of control is internal will continue to make choices and take actions based on their belief that they have greater control on the outcomes. Such people will take active decisions to initiate behaviour, consistently put in effort towards their plans and maintain continuous concentration and vigour into pursuing their goals. If you are struggling to reach your full potential, you should stop relying on ‘motivation’ and actually take action! The path to success is full of barriers and you may stumble, but with self-belief and discipline, you can conquer your problems and reach for the stars!


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Published: DD Month 2023
Last Updated: DD Month 2023
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