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The function of motivation

We usually think of motivation one-dimensionally, considering only the amount of motivation. People are usually considered either motivated or not.

It may be more helpful to think of motivation in terms of dimensions rather than categories that are either present or absent.  Motivation has two main functions. Firstly it has a direction function: it helps us choose from options and keeps the action as intended. Secondly it has an intensity function, as reflected in, for example, a person’s level of enthusiasm or involvement. The direction and intensity functions provide the evidence from which we work out a person’s motivation. 

We can often think some people have no motivation but there is no such thing as an unmotivated person. Everyone has a motivational mindset, but some have a more positive focus than others. Motivation has a dark side as well as a light side and much of our behaviour is motivated by powerful negative forces, such as anger, revenge, fear and guilt. The common belief that some people have no motivation betrays the same misunderstanding in Cherie Blair’s assumption that ‘suicide bombers’ have ‘no hope’, when clearly, in their own terms, they have a great deal of hope.

Copyright: Alan McLean, 2006


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