For every action we do, thing we say, or decision we make, we have a reason for doing so. Whether it’s a sudden urge to push through an intense gym workout or an impulsive itch to sit down and write a novel, motivation powers us to accomplish our desires. It is the process in the brain that stimulates action toward a goal. And while sometimes the only thing we’re motivated to do is reach across the couch for the remote, without motivation any challenges in life would be insurmountable.
Factors that Increase or Decrease our Motivation
Motivation is both intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is based on internal factors, meaning you choose to do something because it is personally rewarding. Extrinsic motivation is based on external factors, such as a need for food or shelter.
You can also think of motivation in terms of the how and why. It turns out that the parts of the brain that are active when you think about how you do things are completely different than the parts that are active when you think about why you do things. With any action or decision, the “how” is the mechanics and the “why” is the motivation. While the why might seem to outweigh the how, the two must remain connected to one another to achieve success. After all, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Effects of Motivation on Memory and Learning
Motivation triggered by rewards or positive feelings can cause the brain to improve in areas such as memory or learning. In a study conducted on reward-related brain regions, researchers presented subjects with symbols such as circles and squares that indicated an amount of money the subjects could gain or lose. Scientists found that reward anticipation activated specific brain structures in the region of the brain involved in the processing of emotions. Subjects were then asked to remember certain images or scenes, some worth $5 and some worth ten cents. Researchers found that subjects were far more likely to remember high-value images than low-value images. In other words, motivation has a direct influence on learning and memory.
Without an incentive, we wouldn’t have a reason to do anything that we do. Whether it’s money, health, or the pursuit of happiness, motivation is our drive. We see ourselves as we are and as what we can be, we see the world as it is and as we want it to be, and we create models of our future. This is called intentionality, and when we strive to make these changes, it’s called motivation. So next time you’re studying for a final exam, going for a run, or making that extra effort to get off the couch and get the potato chips, think about your how and your why and your brain just might surprise you.