8 Most Popular Theories of Motivation in Psychology to Reach Your Goal

Research on human behavior has been going on since the very beginning of time to identify why people behave the way they do and what is the concept behind their behavior. One of the most fascinating human behaviors is motivation. But to understand this behavior we need to know – what is motivation and what are the types of motivation in psychology

The simple answer to what motivation is can be given by a single sentence- “It is the force that compels us to respond to satisfy our needs or to reach towards our end-goal.” But it is not possible to understand motivation, its types, with a single sentence. This is why several theories exist to provide you with the knowledge of motivation. 

In this article, I am going to discuss this topic more vividly to help you understand more about this human behavior with the established theories. So, if you truly want to grasp the concept, I strongly recommend you go through this article as I assure you it will benefit you greatly.

What is Motivational Psychology?

As we all are different, our views towards life also vary. This is why motivational psychology took place and there are so many theories based on it. Because motivation also varies from person to person depending on their state of mind, their approach towards life, etc. So, motivational psychology demonstrates why and how this variance takes place. 

It is the study that shows us how people are motivated by their surrounding factors like- environmental, psychological, and biological variables. 

What are The Theories of Motivation in Psychology?

Motivational theories are divided into two groups. One is content theories and the other one is process theories. Content theories mostly focus on providing information on what motivation is, whereas process theories provide information on the occurrence of these motivations. At first, let’s go through some of the content theories, and later we’ll jump into process theories. 

Content Theories

1. Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s theory of hierarchy needs is one of the most recognized theories. In this theory, Abraham Maslow elucidated motivation based on the satisfaction of needs that are organized in a hierarchy order. This theory states that we are motivated by dissatisfaction. Because fulfillment or satisfaction doesn’t inspire us towards achieving our goal, discontentment does.

For a meaningful existence, we all must have some needs. We must feel unfulfilled. Otherwise, we won’t feel the need to get up as there won’t be any purpose in doing so. So, to feel motivated there must be an absence of satisfaction so that we feel motivated to work towards achieving contentment. 

Maslow tries his best to make people understand his theory by building up a period of all human needs. The components of this period can be classified into 5 components.

Physiological Needs: Physiological needs represent the requirement of water, air, and food. Once you fulfill these needs, you don’t feel motivated by these. Then you move on to the next component.

Safety Needs: After being satisfied with physiological needs, people start working towards feeling safe. They feel motivated to achieve protection and shelter to feel satisfied with their safety needs.

Love & Belonging Needs: Having no affection or the feeling of not belonging can affect one’s well-being skeptically. So, after fulfilling our safety needs, we feel motivated to find friendship or to form any kind of long-lasting affection.

Esteem Needs: Then comes the need for being respected by others. To fulfill this need, we tend to search for validation and appreciation from others. 

Self-actualization: Self-actualization need is at the highest level of this hierarchy pyramid. This is the need of wanting to achieve one’s goal. People feel this need their whole life as achieving a self-actualization state is extremely difficult.

2. Alderfer’s ERG theory

Alderfer’s ERG theory is the expanded version of Maslow’s theory. He states that, when the lower needs are fulfilled, people put less focus on them and move on to higher needs. But when the higher needs are fulfilled, they try and pursue them even more. But if our lower needs anyhow backslide, we tend to go back and start working on achieving the satisfaction of those needs.

3. McClelland’s achievement motivation theory

McClelland explained motivation with a different approach. He went farther from satisfaction and stated that only one superior intention can exist and be noticed in a man’s behavior during a certain period. He said that extrinsic factors cause the need for power, achievement, and affiliation. These are the three needs that McClelland identified as the motivations for humans.

Achievement: To show their competence, some people are motivated by achievement. As a result, they like working on different tasks to gain credit or appreciation for all the work they’ve done. But the downfall of this kind of drive is the fact that they like doing all the work and taking all the credit rather than being a team player.

Affiliation: People that get motivated by affiliation are the ones who want acceptance and the feeling of belonging from the people around them. They follow all the social norms and don’t skip any chance of socializing with others. This is actually a very nice way of leading one’s life if that person is not in any managerial position. If he is, then he’ll have a hard time giving people honest feedback.

Power: According to McClelland’s theory power can be of two types- personal power and institutional power. People that are motivated by personal power try to control the lives of others whereas the people who are motivated by institutional power try to control the activities of his/her employees for the betterment of the institution. But this need can negatively affect a person’s professional relationships.

4. Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory

This theory is also known as Herzberg’s two-factor theory. This theory focused on motivating employees and also came up with two sources of achieving job satisfaction. He debated that, as every human has a need for growth in personal life, job satisfaction, being based on that can be influenced by motivation factors. And by growth in personal life, he meant- responsibility, recognition, advancement, etc.

On the other hand, people can also face dissatisfaction with their job due to deficiency needs. As might not be happy with their- salary, company policy, professional relationships, supervision, etc.

Process Theories of Motivation

5. Reinforcement theory

The reinforcement theory is the most popular and renowned process theory of motivation. This theory is based on the motivation factor driven by human behavior. This theory dignified positive reinforcement which provides a person with his/her requirements only in return of good behavior. He announces positive reinforcement to be the booster of the required behavior. 

6. Adam’s equity theory of motivation

According to Adam’s equity theory of motivation, we feel more motivated when we are treated and rewarded equally. It proposes that whenever we contribute towards something, we tend to compare our contributions with other’s contributions and then also compare the amount of appreciation we are receiving for the same amount of contribution. If both parties are not rewarded or appreciated equally, we feel demotivated. 

7. Vroom’s expectancy theory

Vroom’s expectancy theory suggests that people feel motivated to work towards their goal only by expecting the outcome they desire. According to this theory, two conditions need to be fulfilled for a person to feel motivated- one is the belief that their efforts will result in success and the other one is that they will be rewarded for their success. These two conditions are believed to make people more motivated and productive.

He uses three variables in this theory that he believed to be important. Those are- expectancy, valence, and instrumentality. Expectancy is the thought of working harder for better performance and instrumentality is performing well for better rewards. And valence desire to achieve the reward.

8. Locke’s goal-setting theory

Locke’s goal-setting theory is a widely applied theory that focuses on goals to be the main influence on behavior. This theory involves- setting a goal that is not only challenging but also achievable. Because if your goal is too hard, or too easy to achieve, or if it is unrealistic then you won’t feel motivated to work towards it. It also involves the below-mentioned facts-

This theory defines goals to be measurable and specific. So that you can be clear of your goal and also be able to assess your progress towards achieving it. It is vital to be committed to your goal because without commitment you won’t be motivated to work hard to achieve it. It is also important that your environment provides you with the necessary support elements like- moral support, encouragement, etc. 

But it is important to keep in mind that too much pressure can affect you in a negative way as it may result in bad performance or dishonesty. 

What Are the Types of Motivation?

We all are different types of people. Our thought process, our way of seeing life, our needs, everything is different from one another. Therefore, in order to motivate someone, it is important to know and understand their background, their requirement. Without having any knowledge about them, you cannot help them by motivating them. 

There are mainly three types of motivation. Before motivating someone successfully, it is necessary to know the similarities and differences between these three types. Because not everyone responds to one specific type of motivation. Some may respond to intrinsic type, and some may respond to financial motivation, as we are all different with different motivational requirements. 

So, let’s go ahead and know about these three types of motivations more vividly. 

  • Positive motivation & negative motivation

Positive motivation is the type of motivation where you appreciate every little progress the person makes. You need to recognize his/her contribution and reward him/her with acknowledgment and applause. This way, that person will be motivated to keep doing the good work and will also be encouraged to do better. 

Moving on to negative motivation. It is the type of motivation where you motivate a person with the fear of retribution. It is not always a good method as for some people this may result in poor performance and misbehavior. But sometimes it also works perfectly. For example, in an office environment when an employee is given the fear of demotion or layoff, he/she is highly motivated to do better to avoid such circumstances. 

  • Intrinsic motivation & Extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that comes from an internal source. It is the motivation that a person gets whenever that person is feeling a desire to do something that will result in his/her favor. For example, you have a headache and now you have the urge of getting yourself a coffee, as a result, you are now motivated to make yourself get a cup of coffee that’ll help you get rid of your headache. 

Extrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that comes from an external source. It is the motivation of doing something that is monitored by an outside authority. Even though the work you’ll do by being motivated will, of course, do you good, it is not the motivation you are getting from within. For example, getting motivated to achieve the employee of the month award, or working hard to get a bonus.

Basically, in the case of intrinsic motivation, you achieve satisfaction even while doing the job, whereas, in the case of extrinsic motivation, you get satisfaction after completing the task. 

  • Financial motivation & non-financial motivation

Financial motivation is where a person is motivated with fringe benefits, salaries, and wages, retirement benefits, bonuses, etc. This kind of motivation is fully linked with monetary rewards.

In the case of non-financial motivation, there’s no connection with money. It is the type of motivation that a person feels in order to satisfy his ego, out of responsibility, and self-actualization. 

What Are the Components of Motivation?

Now, I am going to go through the main components of motivation. There are three main components that I am going to focus on. These are- activation, intensity, and persistence. Let us go through each point to understand these more extensively.


Our first component is activation. What is activation? Activation is the decision that leads you to perform a task or to behave in a certain way. Activation is one of the key components of achieving your goal. You can always think about doing something, you can always think about achieving your goals. But will this thinking take you any closer to your goal? 

No, it won’t. Because to achieve your goal, you’ll need to start working towards it. You need to decide and start approaching it, otherwise, the end result will be zero. So, the first component of motivation is activation. For example, you can always think about learning how to dance, but you’ll only be able to dance once you start taking classes. Without taking this decision, you won’t be able to achieve your goal.


Intensity means being focused on achieving your goal. Goals cannot be achieved within a day or two. It requires time. Some may take a few months to achieve and others may take years to achieve. So, the intensity is a very important component of motivation. It helps you keep your concentration on your goal and pushes you towards achieving it. 

Remember the example I’ve given before of learning how to dance? Now you have decided to start learning it. But it will take time, right? You obviously don’t think you can be proficient in dancing within a few days, do you? This is where the component intensity comes in. It will help you stick to the lessons until you reach the level of expertise that you wanted. Without intensity, it might be hard for you to get to your end goal. 


New challenges can be hard. Whenever you plan on moving towards your goal, you’ll be faced with many obstacles. Because achieving goals is never easy. But do you stop when you face difficulties? Or do you make every effort to knock those barriers down? Of course, the latter. This is why you need persistence. Because it helps you face every challenge with confidence and strongly pushes you towards your goal.


We all feel the need of being motivated every now and then. Because what is life without the motivation of doing good? So, motivation plays a vital role in our daily existence. Without motivation, life becomes dull and depressing. This is why gathering knowledge about motivation and understanding its importance, has become a necessity for our existence. 

In this article, I have talked about the types of motivation in psychology, as well as given you enough information on different theories of motivation to help you understand the necessity of it and to give you, ideas on how to motivate the people you are surrounded by. 

I hope this article was of help to you and wish you always stay motivated for the betterment of your life. 

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