Skip to main content

What Is Motivation and What Motivates People?

Paul has been a language teacher and student. He has had experience motivating himself and his students.


Motivating a volleyball team

Motivating a volleyball team


Motivation is the key to success in life. Without any incentive or spur, it is impossible to accomplish anything. Sports teams that have won championships have had highly motivated players wanting their team to be the best. A successful businessman has had the drive, inspiration, and perseverance to overcome difficulties and grow his business.

In this article, I first define motivation and then introduce Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs that are important for human motivation. Next, based on my life experiences, I answer the question of what motivates people.

What Is Motivation?

What is motivation?

What is motivation?

What Is Motivation?

How many times have you heard a person say that you have to light a fire under them to get something done or you have to give them a stick or a carrot to reach a goal?

All of these approaches apply to motivation and motivating people.

Motivation has also been expressed by many people in various ways.

For example, the former general and President Eisenhower said, "Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it."

Elon Musk expressed it this way, "If something is important enough, even if the odds are stacked against you, you should still do it."

I would define motivation as a passion, impetus, or reason to accomplish something.

Maslow's Theory of Human Motivation

To understand human motivation, the American psychologist and philosopher Abraham Maslow introduced the concept of a hierarchy of needs in his paper, "A Theory of Human Motivation."

Maslow argued that all people are motivated to fulfill basic needs. Therefore, all of their actions are directed at that fulfillment.

Five levels of needs from lowest to highest are:

  1. physiological needs
  2. security and safety
  3. love and attention
  4. esteem as manifested by power and control
  5. self-expression or self-actualization

Each need is described below.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

1. Physiological Needs

All people need to eat, drink, sleep, excrete waste, and procreate for human survival. Is it any wonder then that people are motivated to find food and drink? The impetus to have bedrooms and bathrooms in homes is to satisfy the need to sleep and excrete waste. Finally, the need to procreate for human survival is evidenced by marriage and having children through sexual intercourse.

2. Security and Safety

Since early human existence, people have been motivated to have adequate housing and clothing. The earliest humans took shelter in caves to protect themselves from the weather and animals. Clothing has been worn to keep the body warm when the temperature is cold.

For safety, people have sought adequate shelter and lived in groups. Police and laws for society have been instituted for social interaction.

Scroll to Continue

3. Love and Attention

After people have satisfied their physiological, security, and safety needs, they are motivated to satisfy love and attention needs. As early as adolescence, most people are driven to belong to something or someone. Therefore, they will start dating and later after high school have partners or get married. Those who don't will devote their lives to a career.

4. Power and Control

After satisfying the first three general human needs, many people feel the need for power and control. In the family, this is seen by mothers and fathers controlling their children. Outside the home, people are driven to control their environment. Many are motivated to have the best home and some will have second homes in warm areas to escape the cold.

Many individuals are also driven to build up their position for feelings of self-esteem. They compete and strive to be the best at their work, in schools, and in their communities.

5. Self-expression and Self-actualization

Self-consciousness and self-realization are the highest levels of human needs. Many people experience these needs in their later years. They are concerned about their legacy and don't want to be easily forgotten after passing through life. Many elderly become religious, caregivers, and donate to charity.

Personal Experiences of How People are Motivated

In my life, I have observed how and what motivates people and myself. All are included within Maslow's hierarchy of needs. These motivational needs include:

  1. sex and procreation
  2. love and attention
  3. power and control
  4. safety and security
  5. reward and punishment
  6. self-actualization

Examples of each follow below.

1. Sex and Procreation

Sex is one of the major motivational needs of most young people, especially males. As early as the onset of puberty, many boys are driven to have sexual intercourse with females and also males if they are gay. Sometimes, if a male cannot achieve sexual satisfaction with a consenting partner, he will resort to rape.

After marriage or finding a partner, the motivational need of sex is for both enjoyment and procreation.

One of the reasons some of my friends and I got married at an earlier age was for steady sex. We got tired of searching for willing partners or seeing prostitutes.

2. Love and Attention

Love and attention motivates many people to make important decisions in their life. When I was a young man in the 1960s, many of my high school and college classmates had steady girlfriends. They had already fallen in love and married their sweethearts after either high school or college.

I didn't have a sweetheart until I met my first wife in Taiwan in 1971. After two years of separation, I was motivated by sex, love, and attention to return to Taiwan in 1973 and get married with Mona.

3. Power and Control

Power and control are related to esteem needs. This is seen most often in the form of competition as a motivational need. It can easily be seen in the workplace, in schools, and in communities.

In the workplace, employees strive to be better than co-workers for promotions and power in the office.

In schools, students work harder than classmates to get better grades and scholarships. Outside of the classroom, there is competition in all sports with the goal of being number one and winning a championship.

In communities, some citizens are motivated to campaign in civic elections with the hope of winning an office which has its power of control.

I am currently enrolled in an online Thai language course with other learners. We all get points for answering correct questions. The website every day will list learners and the number of points they earn. If I don't see my name as number one with the most points, I am motivated to keep learning and answering questions correctly until I am number one.

4. Safety and Security

Most people are motivated by safety and security needs in finding suitable housing. Since there is a lot of crime in inner cities, many people have moved to the suburbs and rural areas. Also, since the beginning of Russia's invasion of the Ukraine, many Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries like Poland and Hungary for safety and security.

5. Reward and Punishment

One of the most common ways of motivating people is by reward and punishment.

Children are motivated to obey their parents with the promise of receiving an allowance if they are good.

In schools, students study and work hard with the goal of getting "A"s or being on the honor roll.

Also, the reward for getting covid innocuations is knowing that if you should contract covid, it will not put you in the hospital or kill you.

Punishment is also a motivational force used in the home, school, and community. For example, if children don't obey their parents, they could be denied use of smartphones or other use of entertainment.

In schools, students who don't get good grades could be denied participation in sports or other extracurricular activities.

Finally, in the community, if you don't follow laws, you can expect to be fined or imprisoned.

6. Self-expression and Self-actualization

After many people reach their 60s and 70s, they are concerned about their legacy and life after death. This motivates them to be caregivers, religious, and donate money to charities.

Many of my friends do volunteer work in teaching, caring for hospice patients, and in other community services.

I have known many people who have become very religious in their later years. During the last five years of his life, my father became a born-again Christian.

Since 2011, I have been writing articles on the website Hubpages. The purpose of many articles is to encourage my readers to embrace moral values in their lives. Other articles are educational.

I also have been working to record my family's legacy through genealogy research.

In this article, I have only listed the important things that motivate people. There are certainly many others.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Paul Richard Kuehn

Related Articles