What Are the Major Sources of Motivation?

Knoji reviews products and up-and-coming brands we think you'll love. In certain cases, we may receive a commission from brands mentioned in our guides. Learn more.
What is internal and external motivation? Are motives internal or external?

Motivation comes from several different sources; some of these sources are internal, while others are external. Internal motives push a person toward a desired goal, a preferable outcome. External motives pull the person toward to goal or incentive they wish to obtain at the end of the task. Motivation relies on biological and psychological variables (Deckers, 2010, p.8). For example, a man who is trying to lose weight to regain his health is motivated by an internal desire to feel well and happy. The incentive, or end goal, is that once the weight has been lost, he will be fit enough to take up tennis, a sport they enjoyed many years ago before gaining extra weight. “Motivation is the impetus or reason for doing the behavior; it initiates the action” (Deckers, 2010, p. 7).


The environment also plays a significant role in motivation. The value of an end goal is an environmental variable on motivation. The removal of undesirable consequence is a great motivator. People will be motivated to behave in a way that helps them to avoid unpleasant repercussions, and to behave in a manner that will lead them to achieve a goal that they do want. “Environmental variables refer to those characteristics of incentives and goals that have the ability to attract or repel”, (Deckers, 2010, p 9).

Emotions and Evolutionary Motivation

The past affects the behavior of people who are motivated to do certain things. This evolutionary perspective suggests that the need to advance in some way, or to preserve life, is motivation for particular actions or behaviors to occur. Similarly, emotions determine what action or actions may be necessary to achieve and end goal. If a person feels safe and content, he could become oblivious to his surroundings and become complacent, thereby placing himself in danger. On the other hand, if he becomes fearful, he will be “moved to engage in an entirely different set of behaviors, such as to withdraw in order not to incur harm. The behaviors differ because the goals of anger and fear differ” (Deckers, 2010, p. 14).

Motivation in the Workplace

Interestingly, a person who is driven by internal sources will have little regard for monetary compensation in the workplace. This type of individual is far more inclined to consistently produce high quality work based solely on intrinsic motives, and will take reward in form of recognition and/or promotion (incentive) rather than cash. Unfortunately, this trait is often used for financial gain on the employer’s behalf, although instances of this selfish disregard do not happen as frequently as one may suspect. For those who are driven by end results, the external stimulus, namely cash, may or may not produce substantive results, or those results may diminish over time until additional compensation is offered to prompt further productivity.

More Motivations

There are other ways to look at motivation that include:

Extrinsic motivation: This is being motivated for external rewards. External rewards can include financial gains, benefits, rewards, raises at work, and avoid getting fired. This means that you are motivated to do good to get financial rewards like a raise or just keeping your job.

Intrinsic motivation: The journal of Contemporary Educational Psychology defines intrinsic motivation as doing “an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separable consequence.” In other words, being motivated because something makes you feel good, like going for a run, or helping others. Internal motivation is usually for your own gain mentally, like running better day, or doing great for your own mental or physical benefits.


Family: Having a family can be a huge motivational factor. Once you have kids, you really are motivated to do well for your family’s benefits. A recent study conducted by the Academy of Management Journal found that those that work in a mundane job, doing the same tasks day after day, might lack both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, but they certainly have family motivation, to do well for their family.

I think we can all look at our own lives and find the different motivations we all have in different areas of our lives. And it is possibly to have all types of motivations at different times of our lives and different situations.


Deckers, L. (2010). Motivation: Biological, psychological, and environmental

      (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.