How Motivation Actually Works

By January 15, 2024 How To Get Motivated
How Motivation Actually Works

Have you ever wondered what fuels your drive to achieve your goals and tackle life’s challenges? What is the invisible force that pushes you to strive for more?

In this article, I will discuss how motivation actually works. At the end of this article, you will find a link to another blog I wrote, How to Get Motivated, where I reveal ten simple exercises you can use – any time you want – to increase your motivation!

Motivation is the invisible yet powerful force that drives us to achieve goals, follow our dreams, overcome challenges, and pursue our passions. But what ignites this drive, and how can we harness it effectively? And more to the point, how does motivation actually work? 

Defining Motivation

Motivation derives from the Latin word “movere,” which means TO MOVE.  So, in essence, motivation is what MOVES us. 

Motivation is a mental and emotional force that drives people – you and me – to act towards achieving specific goals or fulfilling particular needs or desires. It’s an internal process that energizes, guides and powers progress and behavior over time. 

Motivation is influenced by external factors (known as “extrinsic motivation”), such as rewards or recognition, or internal factors (known as “intrinsic motivation”), such as personal satisfaction, curiosity, or the joy of doing something.

At its core, motivation answers “why” we do what we do. It’s a crucial element in setting and attaining objectives and plays a significant role in many aspects of personal and professional life, including education, career, health, and relationships. 

Understanding mechanics of motivation and how motivation actually works can pave the way to a more fulfilling life, whether in personal matters or professional endeavors.”

Internal & External Motivation 

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the drive within you, independent of external factors. It’s fueled by personal satisfaction, interest, or pure enjoyment from your activities.

When you’re intrinsically motivated, you engage in behavior not because of what you’ll gain from it externally but because you find the activity inherently rewarding. This could be the joy of learning something new, the sense of achievement from completing a challenging task, or the pleasure of engaging in a favorite hobby.

Intrinsic motivation is often linked to higher engagement, creativity, and persistence, as the activities are aligned with your values, passions, and interests. This form of motivation is sustainable and self-replenishing, as it feeds on your desires and curiosities.

Extrinsic Motivation

In contrast, extrinsic motivation is driven by external factors and your desire to earn rewards or avoid punishments. This type of motivation depends on external incentives such as money, fame, grades, recognition, or even negative reinforcements like the threat of punishment or criticism.

For example, a person may work extra hours to receive a bonus, study hard to get good grades so his parents don’t get upset, or exercise regularly to avoid health issues. While extrinsic motivation can effectively initiate your behavior and enable you to achieve short-term goals, it might not always lead to long-term engagement or fulfillment.

Your reliance on external rewards can sometimes diminish intrinsic motivation, and once the external reward or punishment is removed, your motivation to continue the behavior might fade. However, extrinsic motivation is crucial in many societal structures, such as workplaces and educational systems, where rewards and recognition motivate and direct behavior.

How Motivation Influences You

Understanding how motivation actually works includes looking at how motivation influences you in your daily life.  Here, let’s look at three ways in which motivation can propel you forward:

Direction of Behavior

Motivation plays a pivotal role in determining the direction of your behavior. It acts as a compass, guiding you towards specific goals and aspirations.

When you are motivated, your focus sharpens on activities that align with your goals, and you are more likely to ignore or avoid distractions that don’t contribute to these objectives.

For instance, if you’re a student motivated to excel academically, you’ll devote more time to studying and less to unrelated activities. Similarly, as a fitness enthusiast, you’ll prioritize workouts and healthy eating.

This targeted approach results from motivation clarifying what is essential and what isn’t, helping you channel your efforts effectively.

Intensity of Behavior

Your motivation level significantly impacts the intensity and vigor with which you approach tasks. High motivation often translates into greater energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to activities that lead you toward your goals. You’ll likely put in more effort, work harder, and be more thorough.

For example, an athlete with strong motivation will train more intensely than someone without motivation; this heightened energy and effort reflect the strong internal or external drivers pushing you to succeed.


Perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of motivation is its effect on your persistence – the ability to continue striving towards a goal despite obstacles, challenges, or setbacks.

Strong motivation fosters resilience, enabling you to overcome difficulties and maintain your efforts over time. When motivated, you’re less likely to give up in the face of adversity; instead, you view challenges as hurdles to overcome on your path to success.

For instance, as an entrepreneur driven by a deep-seated passion for your business idea, you are more likely to persevere through financial challenges or market fluctuations compared to someone with weaker motivation.

These aspects – direction, intensity, and persistence – are crucial in how motivation molds your actions and decisions. 

By tapping into intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, you can significantly enhance your ability to achieve your goals, overcome challenges, and realize your potential. Motivation is more than just a desire to do something; it’s a critical component in how effectively and passionately you pursue your goals.

The Physical Aspect of Motivation: From Mind to Movement

While motivation starts in the mind, it doesn’t just stay there. 

Motivation is a dynamic force that drives our thoughts and emotions and channels down our nerves, invigorating our bodies with the energy and power to move and act. This physical dimension of motivation is crucial because it transforms our mental desires and objectives into tangible actions and real-world achievements.

Mind-Body Connection in Motivation

The mind-body connection plays a pivotal role in how motivation manifests physically. When we are motivated, our body releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, for example, to uplift our mood and increase our energy levels. This biochemical change bridges the gap between wanting to do something and doing it.

Consider someone who lacks motivation.

They might spend extended periods inactive, perhaps sitting or lying down, watching movies or a series for hours a day, aimlessly scrolling on their phone, and otherwise engaged in passive activities. This lack of motivation often correlates with a lower mental and physical energy state.

They might feel lethargic, unable to muster the energy to engage in even simple tasks, let alone pursue more significant goals.

Someone who lacks motivation is prone to procrastinate and put tasks off until the last minute when enough motivation finally gives them the energy to complete the task. 

Contrast this with someone highly motivated. They’re not just mentally active, planning, and strategizing; their physical energy is also palpable. They’re often on the move, engaged in various activities. Their day isn’t just filled with work or goal-oriented tasks; they’re also likely to be involved in physical activities like sports, gym workouts, hiking, or other active hobbies like golf. 

This phenomenon is evident in many successful individuals, particularly entrepreneurs. Their motivation to achieve in business often translates into an active lifestyle.

It’s common to see successful entrepreneurs starting their day with a workout or engaging in sports. This physical activity isn’t just about staying fit; it reflects their inner drive, a manifestation of their mental motivation.

Physical activity, in turn, creates a positive feedback loop. Physical exercises like running, weight training, or brisk walking can further boost mental motivation. This is due to the release of endorphins and other positive neurotransmitters during exercise, which enhance mood and energy levels, making it easier to maintain motivation.

Thus, motivation is more than a mental concept; it’s a holistic force that compels both the mind and body toward action. Understanding this mind-body link in motivation can be empowering. Engaging in physical activity can enhance our mental motivation and vice versa. 

Inertia & Momentum 

First, let’s look at the rule of inertia in the context of motivation.  The rule of inertia offers a powerful lens to view our struggles and successes in initiating and maintaining momentum toward our goals. 

Just as an object at rest requires an external force to set it in motion, overcoming the initial inertia in our personal and work lives calls for strategic motivational tools. Once in motion, celebrating each small victory keeps the momentum alive, making subsequent efforts less daunting and more fruitful.

For a deeper exploration of this concept and practical strategies to apply it, check out the comprehensive article titled The Law of Inertia and Its Application to Motivation, where we dive into the intricacies of this fascinating interplay between physics and human behavior.”

How to Get Motivated

Getting motivated is a crucial step toward achieving personal and professional success, and it often starts with simple yet effective strategies such as setting clear, attainable goals, celebrating small or big accomplishments, and engaging in activities that align with your interests are just a few ways to kickstart and maintain your motivation. 

As promised, here is a link to my article and video, How to Get Motivated, where I detail ten practical exercises you can employ whenever you need a surge of motivation or consistently keep your motivation levels high. These exercises are designed to be easily integrated into your daily routine, providing a constant source of inspiration and drive.

I hope that this article has helped you better understand how motivation actually works.  When channeled correctly, motivation is a dynamic force that can lead to profound personal and professional growth. 

I encourage you to explore and embrace the various facets of motivation, finding ways that resonate with you to stay consistently motivated. Doing so empowers you to reach new heights and realize your aspirations. 

Remember, your motivation fuels your journey toward your dreams, so keep it kindled and watch as your goals transform from distant visions into achievable realities.

Love, Jim