Motivation: The inside story

How do we tend to give up so easily? How come it gets harder to start or continue with an activity, the longer we’ve had the not acted upon our intention to do so? In order to address this point, it is important to be familiar with a few fundamental aspects of motivation, which we will explain below:

The inside story

Motivation – a hormonal rush

All feelings we experience are the result of the interaction between different hormones. Motivation is no different. Dopamine and adrenalin provide us with motivation and make us wakeful and focused and increase our zest for life. At the same time, levels of hormones with negative effects (such as cortisol) fall.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

In the first instance we distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, beside many gray areas and intermediate stages. Intrinsic motivation describes our internal compulsion to do something, whether simply for the fun of it, or out of interest or a challenge. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is inspired by the desire to achieve a goal to earn a reward, gain an advantage, avoid a disadvantage or as a result of a sense of obligation in response to external pressure.

The boundaries are fluid

As these forms of motivation are idealized versions, they are rarely encountered in their purest form, particularly when you consider that it is often difficult to separate the underlying motive from the behavior. The boundaries are fluid: the challenge is to work out where the balance lies! It is obvious that intrinsic motivation is the more powerful of the two kinds. Nevertheless, extrinsic motivation is an extremely powerful tool that you can draw on when the internalized need to do something is less strong. Studies show that people who have feel both intrinsically and extrinsically rewarded experience the greatest levels of success and satisfaction.

Why do we lose sight of our goals?

Primary vs. secondary rewards

One problem is that the reward for doing sport or making a improving your diet is not immediately obvious, but instead becomes apparent over time. On the other hand, relaxing on the couch or eating a fatty burger offers immediate satisfaction. Compared to things that promise us short-term satisfaction, we perceive the rewards of long-term goals as secondary while acutely aware of their greater value to us.

Limitations through negative feelings

It is precisely because we are so conscious of the damage caused by harmful behavior, we feel guilty and place ourselves under further pressure. Negative emotions of any kind raise our stress levels and in turn reduce our motivation even further, leading to a mental block. The more often we feel this way, the greater the influence these feelings have, giving rise to the familiar vicious cycle. That is why we think it would be better to put things off until such time as we are more motivated. However, we regularly over-estimate the amount by which our motivation levels will increase in the future. In fact, the opposite is true: as each day passes, our motivation diminishes a little further.

The decisive question is however always the same: what can I do about it?  How do I stick to my good intentions? In our article about motivational strategies you’ll receive lots of useful tips that will help you to stay on the right track for now and over the longer term.


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