Motivation: is it a Skill, a Feeling or a Trait?

Motivation drives us to achieve things, and it’s also what helps us get up and keep going even on our worst days. Motivation doesn’t let us stop taking steps towards our goals, even when all we want to do is give up. We fall down and stay there for a while, but if we are motivated enough, then we don’t give up.

But what is motivation? Is it a skill? Maybe a feeling or an emotion? Or could it be a trait? How do you decide what motivates you and why does it keep coming and going?

When people look at motivation, the concept can be hard to grasp, because it isn’t an exact science. There is no magic recipe that you can follow to get more motivation, and there is no direct answer to why people are motivated, either. Some people have lots of it, and can always get more, while others’ supply is limited and will always stay that way.

But why is that, and can it be changed?

In order for us to understand what makes us motivated, we need to look at its several aspects. What does motivation do exactly? Except, this time, we reversed the question, by looking at feelings, emotions, traits and skills in turn, listing a few things they do for us and trace them back to motivation. Many of the characteristics are similar, and motivation shows elements of all four.

Once you read through this list, you will find that the characteristics and main factors behind motivation are a combination of the characteristics of emotions, feelings, traits, and skills. So, the answer is that motivation is all four. Motivation is a skill, a trait, a feeling, and an emotion, and if we treat it as such a complex notion, increasing it becomes easier as well.

So many times we say that ‘I feel motivated’, or talk about ‘motivational skills’ that it became common knowledge, but unfortunately, it also slipped through the cracks. Because it’s too obvious, we don’t question these things too much or too often. We think of motivation as its own abstract thing, with no relation to anything else we know.

And as such, we place motivation on a pedestal, making it sound like it’s something unfathomable, unattainable. Well, it’s not, and if we break it down to small fragments, it will be easier to understand. In order to find motivation and sustain it, we need to look at it as a feeling, an emotion, a skill and a trait, then combine them into one.

Let’s look at the list of characteristics for each definition first to get a better understanding of our own motivation, where it comes from and how we can maintain a constant flow of it in our everyday lives.

Is motivation a feeling?

In the first instance, we are going to look at how motivation could be a feeling, by examining three of the most common characteristics of feelings. What are feelings exactly, but more importantly: what do they do to us? Is it similar to what motivation does?

What happens to you when you are feeling sad, happy, angry? How do you react? Do your feelings drive you forward, or hold you back?

It’s important to mention here that as well as looking at what happens when we feel something is as crucial as looking at what happens if we lack those feelings. When it comes to motivation, we often describe the state it gets us into if we don’t have it, so, to understand it, we need to look at how a lack of feelings can show similarities, making us react the same way.

– A feeling is an emotional and mental state

When we are talking about how we feel, we often describe the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual state we are in. We can feel tired, happy, hungry, angry. Feelings are our reactions to the outside or inside forces that are telling us we need to change.

For example, if you win the lottery, your feelings will range from being shocked and excited to be happy and overwhelmed. There is always a trigger that sets the feelings in motion, and then there is often no turning back.

Certain people react to certain events differently. Feelings can be unique to the person, but there are similarities between the same feeling in different people. If two people are in mourning, for example, one might cry a lot, while the other one will keep a journal.

 We all deal with our feelings in different ways, but that doesn’t change the fact that everyone has gone through similar reasons to feel sad, angry, upset, happy, etc.

So, let us translate this into motivational terms:

Motivation is a reaction to an inside or outside force telling us to change (which is equivalent to the definition of feelings). If you think about it, why do we have motivation in the first place? It’s supposed to help us achieve our goals and dreams (inside force), or it’s there because we need to do something, like pass an exam (outside force) to achieve our dreams.

We all feel motivated in different ways, but there are similarities in the types of motivations we have and the reasons behind them, which is also similar to how our feelings work.

– Feelings evoke a physical reaction

When you feel sad, you will most likely cry, lash out, or seek solace. Either way, the way you feel dictates the things you do. Some days you feel like you can conquer the world, while other days it’s difficult to get out of bed and put on clothes.

Motivation works the same way. It evokes a physical reaction from us. We often say that motivation is nothing without action, but it’s true the other way round as well. Our actions are nothing without our motivation. If you think about it, when you have a goal, but you aren’t motivated, your actions will reflect that.

You might have a list of things to do to achieve those goals, but instead of taking the right steps towards them, you end up standing in the same spot. But if you have enough motivation, then things are much easier.

Motivation, just like our feelings is a clear beacon that shows us the right way.

– A feeling as an idea or belief

Our feelings stem from either an inside or outside call for change, or a belief or an idea we have. For example, if you believe in God, you will most probably feel blessed and looked after. Yet at other times, when this belief is paired with an outside force (an accident for one), your feelings are changed.

When we have a sudden idea that we want to pursue, it makes us feel excited and hopeful. And that’s the same as what motivation does to us. Motivation is the belief that the goals are achievable, but even more so that you have the power you need to achieve them.

Motivation, just like feelings, is based on the belief that everything is possible, and that we are the masters of our own fate.

– A lack of feelings

Now, it’s important to mention what happens when you lack certain feelings. These are feelings you are expected to have. Just like motivation, the lack of these can cause major harm and stagnation.

For example, when a loved one dies and you shut the feelings of grief, anger, sadness, and mourning out of your life, numbing yourself to the pain, you are in denial, disrupting the natural flow of events.

Of course, we don’t always do this consciously. Sometimes we lack certain feelings because of circumstances that are out of our control. Either way, a lack of feelings often leaves us without any goals, and a lack of motivation does the same.

When we aren’t motivated, we don’t want to do much. And when we don’t go through the feelings and emotions we are supposed to go through, then we are in limbo, losing track of the big picture.

Is motivation an emotion?

Motivation: is it a skill, a feeling or a trait?

Okay, so motivation can definitely be classed as a feeling. But what about emotions? Can motivation be both? We often don’t differentiate between feelings and emotions, classing them as one, but there are several important factors about both that help us define motivation further. So, let’s have a look at the four most common factors that describe emotions.

– Emotions direct our attention

While feelings help us react the right way to situations and events, emotions are what grab our attention in the first place. In a way, they precede feelings, triggering them. But the most important factor here is their ability to divert our focus, which is exactly what motivation does for us, too.

When we are motivated, then our focus shifts from procrastination to action. Motivation, just like emotions, helps us notice the important events and factors we will need to achieve our goals. This could be an invitation, a letter, or a detail we would normally skip through.

Motivation is our compass when it comes to achieving our goals, the same way emotions direct our thoughts and feelings.

– Emotions guide our behavior

Emotions guide our behavior, even if we don’t always manage to decipher or understand them. Emotions operate more on the subconscious level than feelings do, kind of working in the background for us.

Motivation works in the background, too. We don’t always know consciously that yes, we are being motivated to paint, or take a job, or do things. It happens naturally and behind the scenes.

Our behavior reflects our emotions, the same way it reflects our motivation. And, as we know, our behavior changes our actions, so it all ties together. It’s a bit hard to grasp that motivation is both, therefore it works in the background as well as taking the lead and propelling us forward. 

But if we understand that motivation is bigger than any of its elements on their own and that it’s a combination of all these aspects, then we are halfway there to knowing how our motivation levels can be increased (but we will get to that point at the end of this article).

– Emotions result in change

Our emotions are the inner forces that tell us we need to change things. Again, working in the background, they are that nagging voice that tells us that things aren’t the way they should be.

Emotions help us find hidden connections, working closely with our subconscious mind. And so does motivation. If you think about it, how many times you weren’t sure whether the step you were about to take was right for you to achieve your goals or not, but you were still motivated to do it.

Motivation is there to evoke change, just like emotions do. And that change will eventually be for the better, even if you don’t know the reasons just yet. Remember, both emotions and motivation work in the background.

– A lack of emotions

When you don’t have the necessary emotions, nothing changes in your life. Emotions are our triggers to know when something is wrong, and the propelling elements to push us to take the necessary steps to change things.

But if they are missing, then change never happens and you get stuck in situations you aren’t supposed to be stuck in. The same goes for motivation. Our behavior will be off, taking us a few steps backward instead of taking us forward.

With a lack of emotions and a lack of motivation, we will walk past important events and miss life-changing decisions. What makes it worse is that we won’t even care that we missed out on our goals.

The good news is that this can be changed. Instead of trying to find out why you lack motivation, try to find out the root cause. Look at your emotions and your feelings, including those you lack. Especially those you lack. If you see a pattern there, you are halfway there to solving this problem.

Is motivation a trait?

You acquire your traits through several channels while you are young, and they are mostly there to stay. Some you inherit, while others you pick up at home, at school, from friends, etc. They are a part of who you are. But how do they relate to motivation? Let’s look at some of the characteristics of traits and see whether they are similar to those of motivation.

– Traits define your character

The traits you have, define your character, the kind of person you are. They are a part of you, and they have a certain effect on you and those around you.

You can have good and bad traits, which will then be complemented by habits as you go along, either moving them in the right or the wrong direction.

You can be smart, loyal, honest, and determined, or you could be the exact opposite. Traits are based on what you know when you are young, and they are often copied from the examples you see.

The same goes for motivation. The amount of motivation you have will define the kind of person you are. If you have a lot of it, you will be hardworking, reaching towards your goals. But if you don’t have it, you will become lazy and careless.

– Traits require high efforts to change

Traits are difficult to change. You might have heard the saying that a leopard won’t change its spots, and that goes for traits, too. Let us use smoking as an example – even though it’s a habit, it can originate from traits you acquired throughout the years. It’s extremely easy to start smoking (you buy a pack of cigarettes and a lighter), but getting rid of the addiction takes time, effort and it’s full of setbacks.

The longer you have a certain trait, the more difficult it is to change it, and the same goes for motivation. The longer you live on lower motivational levels, the harder it gets to increase them, because that becomes all you know.

Of course, traits aren’t impossible to change and neither is your level of motivation. But it takes time and you need to be patient with yourself. 

– You inherit your traits

You inherit your traits from your parents because you involuntarily mimic their behavior and their traits. You also acquire them from people around you. Some traits you get while playing with friends, copying their behavior, while others you learn from teachers.

Having said that, you will have your own traits, too, ones that are unique to you. Nobody is an exact copy of their environment, but it greatly impacts our behavior and the traits we keep for ourselves.

Motivation can be inherited as well, as it can depend on outside factors. For example, if your parents are always trying to achieve more, reassuring you that everything is possible, then motivation will come easier for you because it will be a natural part of your life.

But if you are faced with rejection all the time, you are already swimming against the tide when it comes to increasing your motivation levels (and they will be quite low naturally). So, just like traits, motivation can be acquired at a very young age, too, and later on that level isn’t that easy to change.

A lack of traits

This is a tricky question. When you lack certain traits, that means you will lack everything those traits would trigger. For example, if you lack honesty, then you will also lack the desire to be honest.

The same goes for lacking a sense of being hardworking. You simply won’t have the desire to do more, and you will be happy with things the way they are. When it comes to a lack of motivation, the same can be said. You will stop caring about your goals.

Your traits form the basis of your motivation, so, if you don’t have them, you don’t have motivation. But, on the other hand, if you don’t have the motivation, you can still have those traits. That’s the least worse of two bad situations because then your motivation can help you acquire those traits.

Yes, traits can be acquired later on as well, but it takes a lot of time and conscious effort. There are certain skills that can help you speed up the process.

Is motivation a skill?

Motivation certainly shares characteristics with feelings, emotions, and traits, but could it be also a skill? For us to decide that, let’s look at what skills are and how they differ from traits.

– You can learn how to do it

Skills aren’t necessarily there when you are born. They are developed through time. Some skills are based on your instincts and they don’t need to be learned (like breathing and swallowing), but others are acquired by mimicking others.

Skills are relatively easy to learn, and you can have as many as you want. As opposed to traits, you can select the skills you want to learn and they don’t take as much time or effort as traits do. You will find that some of them are easier to achieve, while others aren’t that natural to you.

Motivation is quite similar in a way. You can learn how to be more motivated, and with constant practice, you can master the craft. You can be skilled at being motivated.

– Practice makes perfect

When it comes to skills, practice is the key. No matter how good or bad you are at it, if you keep going, there is a good chance you will get there in the end. 

The same goes for motivation. The more you practice it and make it a part of your daily routine, the more you will excel at it. Just like skills, motivation can be learned and practiced. And the same way your skills can help you achieve your goals, motivation can, too.

– Some people have more than others

When it comes to skills, it’s not only down to how hard you study to acquire them. It isn’t a competition, either, where you need to compare your skills to other people’s all the time (even if it feels like you do).

The thing is that unlike you are training to win a race, your skills are only relevant to you and you alone. True, if you are applying for a job and someone else is more skilled than you are, they will probably get the job instead of you, so there is some sort of competition.

However, with enough time, energy, and motivation, you can get to that stage as well. Just remember that whatever happens is meant to be, and those people were where you are as well at some point.

When it comes to motivation, you don’t need to compare yourself to others, either. They might have more or less motivation than you do, but you need to remember that their journey is different than yours, too.

They might not have as much time as you do to achieve their goals, or, on the contrary, they might have more. But that’s okay. You need to focus on your own motivation and your own goals in order to achieve them.

– A lack of skills

A lack of skills is a dangerous thing, but so is knowing a bit of everything, but not enough. When you don’t have skills, but you still want to do something that skill is required for, you might end up making mistakes. And normally that’s a part of the learning progress, but that depends on the circumstances.

The same goes for motivation. If you don’t have it, you are bound to make mistakes on the road towards your goals. And, depending on the mistakes you make, they might derail you completely.

So, what is motivation, and how to increase it?

All in all, motivation is abstract, which normally cannot be understood on its own.

If we look at all its aspects, we will find that it contains elements that remind us of traits, skills, feelings, and emotions. If we look at it, not as one complex thing but break it down into four segments, it will be much easier to increase it.

Finding the root cause of our lack of motivation is key here. Is it because you lack the emotion behind the motivation? Or is it a trait you need to acquire to have enough motivation?

Either way, if we look at motivation as a combination of feelings, emotions, traits, and skills, our approach to it changes as well. It’s always easier to fix something we know how to fix then try to find a solution for something we don’t even understand. It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

So, to increase your motivational levels, you first need to find out which aspect of your motivation is missing. We aren’t saying it will be easy or a quick process, but it is possible and very much within your reach.

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