Motivation has been defined by SDT (Self Determination Theory) as: how to move oneself and others to act. We could also put it slightly differently: How do we best connect to what has the power to move us?’ I mean: how do we become ‘moved’? Or, what makes something ‘moving’? We could even ask: how do we ignite the flame of inspiration that has the power to motivate us?

In summary: there are basically  two forms of motivation: intrinsic (springing from within) and extrinsic (springing from without). Extrinsic motivation means: getting rewards, having incentives, avoiding punishments etc. Often it is about fear. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is about being motivated by an inner source which is alive and active.

Many years of research has shown that external rewards and punishments decreases the person’s intrinsic motivation. This is true in companies,  in schools and  in  personal life. Too much control and too little autonomy prevents people from learning how to make  responsible judgements. This is not emotionally intelligent, it suffocates empathy and moral imagination and it undermines practical wisdom.

These kinds of counterproductive trends have been carefully examined in Barry Schwartz’s book Practical Wisdom, and to a lesser degree in his popular TED talk on the subject.

We may conclude the following: it is motivating to experience that we have the autonomy to make our own choices and decisions.

A second factor in motivation, is what the Hungarian postive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi has called ‘flow’. If we have too little challenge, then we get bored, whereas if we have to much challenge, then we get anxious and our motivation starts to suffer. Flow happens when the level of challenge is between theses two extremes. Flow is an experience of peak motivation.

In addition to the motivation we can achieve through flow, we have a basic need to belong – to be a part of a bigger network of people in which we feel recognized and valued. This is the third authentic source of motivation. If belonging to a group is not at the expense of our need for basic autonomy (1st source of motivation), then it can be very motivating.

Finally, we feel a sense of accomplishment and meaning when we are able to engage in activities that contribute to the well-being of other people. It is highly motivating to give something to others, to make a meaningful contribution to those around us.

These are the four basic sources of motivation.