In every adventure, there is always an end goal, like finding a treasure or defeating a villain, that drives the hero to begin and endure their journey. Motivation is the feeling at the beginning of an adventure that inspires a hero to complete an adventure to achieve a goal. Human motivation is the driving force behind all voluntary behaviours, and although not all voluntary behaviours, like fighting a fire-breathing dragon, may result in finding a lifetime worth of treasure, there is always a resulting reward. To put it simply, the adventure started by a motivation can be described as “seeking” for an outcome through behaviour that will result in your “liking.”
What motivates us?
As humans, we carry-out countless voluntary behaviours on a daily basis. While some behaviours may be related to bigger, more important decisions in our life, most of our daily behaviours give us small bouts of pleasure, and go completely unnoticed. For example, eating when you’re hungry at lunch to saving money to for a big purchase are examples of daily motivations that many of us can relate to. Our behaviours can be motivated by numerous factors, but ultimately, we are motivated to act by two main factors: external and internal motivating factors.
Extrinsic motivations are factors in our environment, like a project at work or a Facebook notification, that drive us to act on them. We might be motivated to complete a project at work to get paid, or click a Facebook notification to make sure we’re not missing out on a fun event. To give an example from one of the greatest movie adventures, Up, the hero, Carl, is motivated by the threat of demolition and the fear of losing his home to attach his house to balloons and fly away. By acting on these extrinsic motivations, Carl is rewarded with a sense of relief and security.
Intrinsic motivations can be more difficult to define or measure. They usually come from within us and are derived from feelings of enjoyment, personal interest, or preference. Going back to Up, Carl is motivated by his love for his wife, Ellie, to fly his house to the fabled “Paradise Falls,” where Ellie has always dreamed of visiting. By acting on this intrinsic motivation, Carl is rewarded with a sense of accomplishment because he was able to help his wife achieve her lifelong dream.
How much is enough?
Now, not everyone is willing to mount their house to thousands of balloons and fly away to “Paradise Falls.” This is because rewards from motivated behaviours have varying values. Usually, for someone to be motivated enough to act, the reward must be valuable enough to warrant the level of difficulty or effort of the action required. For most people, arriving in “Paradise Falls” is not a large enough pay-off to warrant the journey of transporting a house by balloons, and therefore, most people would not be motivated to go on Carl’s adventure.
Essentially, there must be balance between the level of difficulty to seek a reward, and the amount of pleasure the resulting reward can provide.
Where does motivation come from?
The question is, why are we even motivated to do anything in the first place? You might have heard of dopamine before : it is a chemical in the brain that is generally associated with feeling pleasure. In fact, dopamine is one step ahead of us when we seek pleasure-producing outcomes. Before we even act to seek pleasure, dopamine is released into the motivation centre of our brain, the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Is it this this release of dopamine in anticipation of pleasure that motivates us achieve a goal, and drives us to pursue an adventure.