What is Motivation?

What Is Motivation
Motivation is profoundly important to the human condition yet much of what has been written about it (in popular circles) does not seem to define it well. In fact, in some instances not only is it inaccurate it’s downright negligent. Would you believe that the most popular definitions of motivation are “one-sided” and are blind to a bigger picture? Can you understand why such errors in understanding can be the cause of a lot of people’s dissatisfaction and frustration in their lives?

Popular Definitions of Motivation

Commonly motivation has been defined as:

  1. “the psychological process that gives behavior purpose and direction” (Kreitner, 1995)
  2. “a predisposition to behave in a purposive manner to achieve specific, unmet needs” (Buford, Bedeian, & Lindner, 1995)
  3. “an internal drive to satisfy an unsatisfied need” (Higgins, 1994);
  4. “the will to achieve” (Bedeian, 1993)
  5. “the inner force that drives individuals to accomplish personal and organizational goals” (Bedeian, 1993)

Based upon the above definitions as well as all material written to expound on these definitions we would be lead to believe that all motivations stem from the existence of unsatisfied or unmet needs or to simply achieve our goals.

But how would you explain the motivation behind such things as going for a walk in the park, daydreaming or many other so-called trivial activities that we daily engage in? For that matter, how would you describe the motivation behind the statement: “I just need to be me”?

This illustrates the overall difficulty that exists with trying to define what motivation truly is. Part of the reason is that it is not easy to language something that is abstract in nature and therein lies the problem.

The Best Definition of Motivation

The best definition of motivation we have found so far is this:

“Motivation distinguishes the sufficient reason of Becoming, of Knowledge, of Being and of Action.”

– Arthur Schopenhauer (19th Century Philosopher)

In other words, the outward, observable effects “of Becoming”, “of Knowledge”, “of Being” and “of Action” are established by having adequate reasons determined by motivation.

We didn’t say it would be easy, but at least based upon that definition we can now begin to lay a foundation to work from and provide a truly accurate definition of motivation.

The Two Sides of Motivation

First off, not all motivations are created equal. It is their source from where they are generated that dictate their nature.

Your identity, while providing a sense of wholeness and singularity is actually two separate functions of the mind working in concert. One side known as your “Synthetic Mind” is designed to interact with and make sense of the physical world that we perceive through our five senses. While the other, your “Authentic Mind”  is designed to engage the abstract world of ideas and meaning.

Together these two domains function synergistically to make up who you really are. They also determine the nature of your motivations.

Typically, motivations that are generated by your “Synthetic Mind” relate to physical events and circumstances (of becoming, of knowledge, of action) for example:

  • when you act to protect yourself or a loved one from physical or emotional harm (action)
  • when you feel the need to become knowledgeable about something (knowledge)
  • when you desire to improve yourself or break a bad habit (becoming).

Motivation generated by your “Authentic Mind” is abstract in nature (of being) and springs forth from a single solitary need: To express your unique identity to the world.

In essence it is declaring: “I exist, I am unique, I matter and make a difference“. In fact, we spend most of our lives expressing various states “of being” all driven and motivated by this Authentic side. (For more detailed information about the Authentic and Synthetic mind see: Birth of the Real You)

Becoming aware and accepting this distinction of our two minds, allows you to shift your attention and focus to the appropriate side in order to initiate and establish real and sustained change in your life.

About the author

CEO of Authentic Systems, Degree in Philosophy from University of California, Berkeley.
11 Responses
  1. Beth

    My friend told me about your site. I’m glad I took her advice and headed in your direction. After reading this, and other posts, I find myself very drawn to your information. I don’t feel on too many websites!

  2. John Voris


    Thank you for your comment.

    Feel free to write me on any issue posted here.

    We price ourselves in speaking as “real” as possible.


  3. Deborah Spagnuolo

    So which is better, to be motivated by the Authentic self, knowing you’re a success, or the synthetic, becoming successful?

    1. John Voris

      The Authentic Self is the primary motivator establishing the direction of your life.
      The Synthetic Self is the secondary motivator establishing how you will comply with that direction.
      Without the Synthetic, your Authentic would never be realized and without the Authentic the motivating energy required by the Synthetic would not be absent.
      This is a good question but the answer is more complex.
      If you have any more, don’t hesitate to ask.

  4. Richard Saunders

    Love the article. Motivation is a passion of mine, in fact it is my profession! You are right it is only really possible to experience motivation when we are true to ourselves and with ourselves.

    1. Jonathan Rogers

      If you are referring to the idea of monetary incentives designed to get employees motivated, it has little importance. It has been proven many times over that monetary incentives simply do not have the desired effect. Daniel Pink did an excellent job in revealing this point in his book “Drive”. Motivation (true, inner motivation) is never about the money. To prove it to yourself all you have to do is look into your daily activities. Do you require monetary compensation for the things in life that you are truly passionate about? In environments were people are allowed to be themselves and have full self expression you will find them happily offering their time, energy and resources freely. For more information on the subject you may want to take a look at the article: “Employee Motivation in the Workplace”

    1. John Voris


      This approach to motivation is usually found in the Western view of psychology and misses the richness of the human experience. As I write this, I have no fear nor sense of achievement. These terms are polarities of two very different dialectics and cannot explain the wide expanse of motivation.

      I write this as an expression of my inner Identity. This is what motivates my every action, existing well beyond “fear” and “gain.”

  5. Mahi

    it means that only our brain is included in motivational system. m i right?
    Actually i have to prepare my assignment on Motivational system…
    so please guide me

    1. John Voris


      There are biological and cognitive fields of motivation: While our bodies are motivated by neural observable systems, our minds live and die motivated by invisible and abstract states.

      Western science is compelled to find motivation exclusively connected to brain states, while European psychology dismisses this approach and focuses on what it means to be human.

      The brain is like the old tube television sets. If a tube responsible for the audio blew out the television would go silent, just as brain damage can impair brain function. However, the tube is not responsible for the spoken dialogue in the I Love Lucy show: brains states cannot impose meaning on external objects.

      Hope that helps

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