15 Motivating Factors

Why do you do what you do? Researchers have been studying motivation for years. Several motivational theories exist. Some specifically correspond to the workplace environment. However, any of these theories can be applied to personal motivation outside of the office.

Each theory includes motivating factors. These are the elements that drive humans to want to perform well.

To understand motivating factors, you need to have a grasp of what motivation means. Motivation is the process of spurring people to take actions that guide them toward their desires, needs or goals. Some synonyms for motivation include:

  • Initiative
  • Drive
  • Ambition
  • Enthusiasm
  • Sense of purpose
  • Inspiration
  • Incitement

When you’re motivated, you move forward, usually toward something important to you. Sometimes, you’re motivated to do things for other people, but the actions that you take reward you as well.

Motivation suggests that you’ll continue to take action regardless of fear, obstacles, and challenges. However, it’s different than determination. Determination is the strength to persevere. Motivation is the initial impetus that gets you going. But you can re-spark your motivation every time you face a challenge so that you continue to propel toward your goals.

The Myths of Motivation

You might think that setting goals, trying your best and visualizing success should motivate you to achieve what you want. But Psychology Today says that these are not enough to get you going and keep you determined. Before we delve into what motivates you, let’s consider what is not a motivating factor.

Why Goals Aren’t Motivating Factors

In fact, one big myth is perpetuated by motivational speakers and internet resources. That’s the tale of the long-term study that involved the Yale Class of 1953. As the story goes, researchers asked graduates whether they had goals for the future.

Only three percent of the class had written down their goals. When the researchers followed up 20 years later, they learned that those individuals were earning more money than the other 97 percent of students combined.

Unfortunately, no one has been able to find the source of that study. It appears to be a fabrication that has proliferated among consultants and coaches. Big names such as Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins have cited the study, but no one can produce evidence that any students in that graduating class even completed a survey of that nature.

That’s not to say that goals aren’t important. It’s just that goals alone may not be stimulating enough to keep you moving forward.

Setting a goal is not enough to accomplish it. Anyone can come up with a plan. Lots of people do. However, many people don’t stay motivated to see it through to the end.

You have to take consistent action to realize your objectives. The difference between people who take action and those who don’t is motivation. The elements that contribute to those individuals’ drive are motivating factors.

Why Trying Your Best Isn’t a Motivating Factor

Have you ever heard that you should simply try your best if you want to succeed? Even the most valiant attempts don’t guarantee that you’ll come out on top. That’s because you have to be motivated to undertake, and striving for your best performance isn’t always the best motivator.

Edwin Locke and Gary Latham are two psychologists have studied goal-setting theory for decades. Their research concludes that goals have to be specific to be achievable and motivating. Trying your “best” is not very specific. There’s actually no way to measure and quantify what your “best” entails.

When you set out to try your best, you can come up with all kinds of reasons that your best in a particular moment isn’t representative of your full potential. Moreover, Locke and Latham have found that setting out to give something your all isn’t very motivating. You’re likely to stop short of your goal. If your objectives aren’t specific and challenging, you’re likely to do just enough.

Why Visualizing Success Isn’t a Motivating Factor

If goals and the sheer will to perform optimally aren’t motivating factors, then surely, visualization can keep you going. Highly successful people, from Jim Carey to Oprah, have touted visualization as a tool that has been essential for their success.

The brain doesn’t discriminate between real and imagined experiences. Therefore, if you can picture yourself working on the actions that you need to perform to achieve success, you’ve done some practice that can help you in the real world. Athletes do this as part of their training. Musicians can learn pieces of music just by imagining themselves playing each note.

Visualization can help you on your way to success, but it isn’t inherently motivating. In fact, the wrong kind of visualization can kill your dreams. Evidence shows that indulging in fantasies about future success can actually drain your energy and predict poor achievement.

When you lose energy, you look for shortcuts. You put in less effort. Instead of doing the work, you do what’s convenient.

Therefore, visualization isn’t always motivating. It also doesn’t necessarily help you achieve your goals. You have to use the tool correctly to make it effective.

Picture yourself doing the work. Then, feel free to imagine yourself succeeding. It’s the effort and action that allows you to get ahead. No matter how much visualization you do, you still need the motivation to move toward your objectives in the real world.

Theories of Motivation

If goals, effort, and visualization aren’t enough to motivate you, what is? Different researchers and psychologists have come up with various motivating factors.

Hertzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

Psychologist Frederick Hertzberg developed the motivation-hygiene theory in the 1950s. This theory applied specifically to the workplace, but you can adapt it for personal use.

Hertzberg proposed that the following two factors affect motivation:

  • Motivators – Intrinsic elements that encourage workers to perform well and boost satisfaction
  • Hygiene factors – Extrinsic elements that, when not present, cause employee performance to suffer and reduce satisfaction

Let’s start by discussing hygiene factors. These are not necessarily motivators. They’re elements that must be in place to maintain a satisfactory and motivational work environment. When these fundamentals aren’t up to snuff, morale, motivation, and satisfaction suffer.

Hygiene factors include:

  • Company policies
  • Supervision
  • Relationships
  • Work conditions
  • Compensation
  • Security

This explains why money isn’t inherently motivating. A decent salary doesn’t make people work hard. On the other hand, a low wage might cause employee performance to deteriorate. Therefore, some level of compensation must exist for employees to want to show up for work every day. But you need more than a fat paycheck to inspire optimal performance.

Hertzberg’s Motivating Factors

Hertzberg argued that motivating factors improve someone’s desire to take action. They also add to life and job satisfaction. They differ from hygiene factors in that they’re usually related to an internal desire or feeling. They’re also difficult to quantify. Finally, the absence of motivating factors doesn’t necessarily reduce satisfaction.

In other words, these elements will motivate you, but you can still be happy if you take them away. You can apply this to real life by imagining a workplace scenario. Motivate employees by incorporating motivating factors into their experience. Prevent them from becoming dissatisfied by making sure that hygiene factors are up to par.

Now, let’s look into Hertzberg’s motivating factors in more detail. They include the following.


People need to take pride in what they do. They must feel as though their work is meaningful and rewarding.

If achievement motivates you, you don’t mind putting in some effort. You’re usually a high performer, believe in merit and are rewarded by accomplishment instead of external incentives. However, you may have a fear of failure that prevents you from taking big risks. Still, low-risk projects aren’t challenging enough to motivate you.

Psychologist David Clarence McClelland developed the Achievement Theory of Motivation, which highlights this element as a motivating factor. People who are motivated by achievement tend to set goals related to mastery or performance. While mastery goals are intrinsic, performance goals are extrinsic. They’re associated with a desire for positive outcomes or the avoidance of negative outcomes.

The need for achievement can negatively affect your motivation if you don’t think that you’re going to be able to perform well. In those cases, you won’t put in any effort so that you don’t threaten your self-esteem.


Advancement is a somewhat extrinsic motivating factor. In the workplace, chances for promotion spark better job performance. Advancement opportunities let people demonstrate their skill and mastery.

Clear career paths improve motivation. They also give people tangible goals to work toward.

But the definition of advancement differs from person to person. In some organizations, you can advance laterally. In others, you must move up the ladder. However, one study showed that only 37 percent of North American companies give their employees a recognizable career path. Only 25 percent of employees in that study stated that their supervisors offered advancement opportunities.

How can advancement be motivating in your personal life? Consider the goals that you set for yourself. Perhaps becoming a parent or having another child is a sign of advancement. Maybe you want to take a yoga certification training or be able to run a 5K.

Take some time to consider what advancement means to you. Write it down so that you can use it as a motivating factor.


To reach your full potential, you have to be self-motivated. You also need to be able to control and regulate your own life. This explains why people who love what they do are more motivated than those who are just trying to boost their bank account.

Those people are more likely to be self-starters and require less micromanaging. However, if someone meddles with their independence too much, these individuals may not be motivated at all.

People who are motivated by autonomy need the freedom to do work that they enjoy. They are fully inspired when they can direct their life. They need to be able to choose what they do and who they do it with. When they gain this independence, they think more creatively.

Autonomy applies to companies as well as personal life. If you manage people, you need to trust them if you want to them to remain motivated. The same goes for your friends and family members. Have you ever seen a parent micromanage their child? That child may not develop self-regulation skills. Moreover, that young person may seek out extrinsic motivators.

If you don’t fully trust someone, try giving them choices. Doing this helps them develop autonomy and makes them feel as though they’re in control. With a child, you might offer the option of carrots or crackers for a snack. Giving choices allows everyone to have some control over the situation without treading on anyone’s independence.

Autonomy is an especially motivating factor for students. In a society where accountability and standardized testing are important, educators may feel as though they must be authoritative. However, giving students developmentally appropriate choices surrounding work that interests them is one of the best ways to make them responsible learners.

Thinking about how you can support an employee, student or child instead of controlling them allows you to offer them a sense of autonomy. When people take ownership over something, they’re motivated to take action.


That brings us to responsibility, which is linked to autonomy. Responsibility implies more than control; it suggests accountability. Responsibility is especially motivating when your duties are meaningful and mesh with your skills and values.

People need to feel as though their capabilities are used well. If you don’t have enough responsibilities, you’ll be too bored to be motivated. The ideal amount of responsibility is challenging without being overwhelming.

Personal Growth

Growth is vital in the office and your personal life . But growth usually involves change, and change can be scary. Therefore, if the change isn’t related to self-development, you might not be motivated to leave your comfort zone and go after it.

If you’re feeling blah, stuck in a rut or experiencing a midlife crisis, you may want to turn your attention to your personal or professional growth. Reflect on where you were 1, 5 and 10 years ago. Write down how you’ve grown since then. Doing this exercise may help you see that you’ve been growing all along and give you the confidence to continue pursuing your development.

Here are some other activities to spark your motivation surrounding personal growth:

  • Write down your bucket list of goals. Feel free to fantasize here. This doesn’t have to be realistic; it just has to be inspiring.
  • Write down the 10 activities that you enjoy the most.
  • Journal about what your life would look and feel like if it turned out exactly as you hope. Then, list the things that already exist in your life that look and feel like that. You may have to get creative. For example, perhaps you’d love to live on the beach. If you currently live an hour from the beach, write that on your list. This helps you notice that you may not have as far to go as you think to achieve the growth that you want.
  • Do something that scares you or you’ve never done before every week.
  • Write down and track your goals.


In general, when people know that they are valued, they’re more likely to give their best effort. People who seek fame are motivated by recognition. But you don’t have to want to be famous to be recognized for your work. Praise and appreciation go far in motivating people.

Praise is free, and it’s easy to give. Yet half of today’s workforce is unsatisfied with the level of recognition that they get for their work, both from other team members as well as management.

Recognition doesn’t just enhance your individual motivation. It:

  • Boosts productivity
  • Improves teamwork
  • Enhances your focus
  • Reduces stress
  • Diminishes absenteeism

More than 80 percent of people say that recognition is more fulfilling than other rewards or prizes. About 76 percent of employees find praise from peers to be important, while 88 percent say that recognition from supervisors motivates them.

Recognition is as important in your personal life as in your professional life. William James said, “The deepest principle of human nature is a craving to be appreciated.” While that holds true more for some people than others, everyone likes to feel appreciated, and being appreciated is a powerful motivator.

When you do something nice for a loved one, you expect gratitude in return. When you clean the house every day before your spouse comes home, you’re more likely to continue if you feel appreciated.

Recognition is so easy to give. Try offering it more to your friends, family, and colleagues. You might notice that they praise you more in return, sparking your motivation.

The Work Itself

The work itself can be an important motivating factor. People want to be challenged, engaged and fulfilled. If the work doesn’t check off these boxes, it won’t be as motivating.

That’s why you’re likely to procrastinate when it comes to tedious tasks, such as doing data entry or laundry. However, you might be motivated to prioritize an especially simple task when your other to-dos demand more effort.

When thinking about what intrinsic value the work has, you can relate it to any of the other motivating factors. If doing the work will bring you recognition, advancement and a sense of achievement, it’s going to be more motivating than work that doesn’t satisfy those requirements.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Before Hertzberg came up with his Two-Factor theory, Maslow coined the Hierarchy of Needs theory. The motivating factors in this theory differ from Hertzberger’s because Maslow believes that all motivation stems from the desire to satisfy these needs. He also categorizes the needs sequentially, whereas Hertzberger’s theory doesn’t indicate that you have to have one motivating factor before another.

All of Hertzberger’s motivating factors are higher-order requirements. According to Maslow, you need to satisfy the lower order needs before you are motivated by those on a higher tier.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs includes the following motivational factors in sequential order.


Physiological needs are those that you must have in order to survive. They include food, water, and shelter. These can be adapted to professional life, though. On the job, you need an income that covers your expenses, somewhere to work and a way to get there.

If you don’t have these things, you’ll be motivated to achieve them. Therefore, if you’re not making enough money, you might be motivated to look for another job. However, you may not be motivated to seek out new relationships until you satisfy this need. But Maslow claims that sex is a physiological need. You may look for physical connection even if you don’t want to get involved in a long-term bond.

An important physiological need is homeostasis. That means that your body maintains its vital operations, such as blood pressure, temperature and blood glucose level. This explains why you might not be able to concentrate on your work while you’re hungry. At that point, you’re more likely to be motivated by food, which will balance your blood sugar levels.


Physical, emotional, and economic safety is next on the list. Safe working conditions and a salary that allows you to feel financially secure are important here. If you don’t feel safe at work, you won’t be motivated to take on projects that promise recognition or growth.

The same goes for your personal life. You need to feel safe in your surroundings before you’re motivated to realize your higher-order potential.

Love and Belonging

These social needs prevent you from feeling isolated or depressed. Everyone wants to feel as though they belong—to a family, tribe, team or group. You need to both give and receive affection and love to fulfill this need.


Esteem is similar to recognition as a motivating factor. It involves self-esteem as well as receiving praise and appreciation from others. You’ll be motivated to take on a role that puts you in a reputable position once your physiological, safety and social needs are met.


Self-actualization is the desire to be all that you can be. This involves a series of more subtle needs, such as:

  • Unity
  • Uniqueness
  • Fairness
  • Balance
  • Harmony
  • Meaning
  • Completion
  • Truth
  • Autonomy

If you’ve satisfied your lower-level needs, you may be motivated by these higher-order concepts. In fact, many people who seek out intense experiences are operating at this level. Maslow calls these peak experiences and identifies them as crucial for self-actualization.

When you’re having one of these experiences, you’re in a flow state. You’re no longer worried about what you’re going to get out of the experience, and you feel awe, wonder, and amazement.

Being self-actualized allows you to do an activity for its own sake. It’s similar to Hertzberg’s motivating factor of the work itself. However, when you’re in a flow state, you’re involved in this balanced, wonderful activity because you have gotten to a point where you can appreciate, not because the activity itself is particularly incredible.

Are There External Motivating Factors?

Most of the motivating factors—other than hygiene factors and Maslow’s lower-level needs—that we’ve described here are internal. You produce them within your being. They may be linked to external triggers, but no one can make you feel that way. They explain why self-motivation is the most effective type of motivation.

However, there are some extrinsic motivating factors that induce some people to take action. These include:

  • Financial rewards – These can produce fleeing motivation, but they’re not long-lasting motivators.
  • Peer pressure – Related to recognition and love and belonging needs, this may be the reason that people take up certain hobbies, work on specific projects or schedule their day a certain way. If the resulting activity doesn’t produce benefits, peer pressure may not be an effective motivator.
  • Punishment – Fear of negative consequences can make some people take action. However, fear-based motivation isn’t an ideal long-term strategy. Finding positive motivation from within helps you stay driven .

If you’re feeling unmotivated, external motivating factors can give you some momentum. However, researchers have found that extrinsic motivators weaken autonomous motivation. If you’re already self-driven, there’s no need to seek out a prize. While external factors can often provide the kick in the pants you may need, intrinsic motivation is far more powerful.


Different people are motivated by various factors. Your life experience, surroundings, and needs play a part in which motivators are going to influence you the most.

If you’re seeking motivation, bring your attention to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Which levels are being met? Which do you have to work on in order to move up the ladder? If you’re a leader of some kind, consider the ways that you can incorporate motivating factors into your team’s experience.

Looking at motivating factors as you work to achieve your goals can help you take consistent action. Adding the missing elements can often keep you focused on the result and move accordingly.

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