Making Sure We're Talking The Same Language

In all things that must be explained by words, it is important to at least try to ensure that what the writer says, is what the reader is reading. Motivation Definitions was created here so that we could create a basline understanding of what we mean when we are talking about motivation.


"Understanding These Motivation Definitions Will Save You Business Planning Costs, Employee Turnover, and Promote Job Satisfaction."


"This is the Beginning of Real Effective Power to Change."  


People are motivated by many things, some positive others not. Some motivating factors can move people only a short time, like hunger, it will last only until you are fed. Others can drive a person onward for years.

When discussing motivation definitions we need to understand that the term 'motivation definitions' describes the 'emotional force' used to move people towards an action. People can impart these forces on themselves as 'Self-motivation' or on others as motivators. These then are the classical motivation definitions used by sociologists.

Most motivation definitions can be said to fall into one of three categories:

  • Fear motivation.
  • Reward motivation.
  • Attitude motivation.

There are other terms that may fall under motivation definitions but these are derivatives of these three. We will focus on them in this discussion. All others can easily be understood with the understanding of these three.

Why Understand Motivation Definitions?

The truth is that most people are looking for motivation definitions to understand how a person decides to act on a decision.

It is important to realize that it is not as simple as it may seem on first glance. If the thought is that with the right motivation a person may be convinced to act in a desired way, whether it be yourself or someone else, think again.

Motivation definitions often seem to fail to provide the real answers we are seeking because we all know examples of people who have plenty of 'motivation', but don't act on it.

When Motivation Seems to Fail

There are some times we can witness that even with the presence of strong motivation, individuals seem to not be able to achieve a goal. The perfect example can be seen by the fact that North Americans are getting dangerously overweight. We all are aware that common perception dictates that 'fit' people are seen as sexier, healthier, better mates, smarter, and more dynamic. There are very few people who would not want to be in this elite club

Those are very powerful motivations and yet...

...So many people do not eat healthy nor do they exercise to keep themselves in shape.

Clearly in spite of tremendous motivation, the action does not follow. The reason you can't find the motivation definitions to explain this is that the problem doesn't stem from the lack of motivation.

Let?s first examine the basics forces in our motivation definitions list, going from the most primitive to the more advanced forms of motivation. However, let's then make the mental leap to the real situation that motivation definitions don't seem to touch.


As far as motivation definitions go, This is an easy one to get a handle on. It's one of the oldest forms of motivation and one of the most certain situations.

Humans react to fear or threat in many ways, but those reactions can usually be divided up into the two categories of Fight or Flight. That is to say that when people are threatened they will either attack the threat or run away from it. This of course can be done physically or mentally.

For example: You go into an appliance store because your refrigerator just blew up this morning. A a salesperson comes up to you and asks you if you need any help. Of course your answer is; "I'm just looking". This is an example of fleeing.

If we do not run, we will face our foe and attack. Most day-to-day fears, however, are not caused by wild beasts or actual physical danger. Most fears today are intangible fears. The fear of losing a job, the fear of being embarrassed, the fear of making a mistake, etc.; these fears are not things that can be pointed at external to us. They are extremely powerful for the very reason that they are hard to find.

You can kill a lion that is attacking a village, but it is more difficult to kill a fear of the unknown, for the obvious reason that if it is unknown, how do you get to it


As a tool to motivate people, fear has many disadvantages. Fear based motivation causes resentment resistance and revenge. It is seen for what it is, an attack. By its very nature, fear is not sustaining or sustainable without negative consequences.

People who are motivated by fear will seek ways to extricate themselves from the situation that causes the fear. This will not always be done by fulfilling the desire of the 'motivator'.

People eventually get used to the things that they're afraid of or change the situation so they don't have to feel the fear. Most constants are canceled out after a while and many people have gotten used to living under threats. Fear motivation, then, eventually loses its capacity to influence.

Threatening someone that they will be fired if they do not do their job correctly may have an impact upon the person causing them to try to improve their performance. However, that motivation is based on external forces and it requires that someone always be there to impose the threat.

Because of these things, Fear motivation is the weakest force in our motivation definitions list and is reserved for the week and uneducated individuals who attempts to gain power by force.

Fear is categorized as a motivation definition by virtue of its primal effect on all animals including humans. You will never see a book on training pets that would advocate its use.

It's not fit for animals, kids, employees, nor yourself, so don't use it!


Number two on our motivation definitions list is Reward motivation. This could also be called incentive motivation. It is a promise that if something is carried out, there will be a reward paid upon its completion.

Buying yourself a new suit for getting your taxes done before the deadline is an example of individual reward. When an individual rewards themselves it is a way of saying "I did a good job", and is in a sense a personal recognition of accomplishment.

It is almost as if you take the place of your own parent by treating you to something nice because you've been a good boy or girl. It works, because it reminds us of what it was like to have our behavior approved by our authority figures.

An example of this as a business motivation would be...

...The Bonus!

The famous 'Christmas Bonus' was created by companies to induce extra motivation in employees to continue to push their efforts right into the New Year.

The 'Bonus' becomes a good example of the eventual failing of incentives as a long term means to motivate someone. How? Try not paying the bonus in a year that performance was merely 'satisfactory', and then observe the riot that ensues.

Incentives Become Expected

Incentives lose their luster after a while, and rather than motivate, becomes a base-line expectation. Those companies that rely on incentive motivation as their primary form of motivation will find that they have to do more and more, for less and less!

That is not to say that incentive motivation doesn't have a place in business. Just keep in mind that it is not the most effective long-term mover of people, and use it for short-burst shots in the arm.


An eagle will always choose flying over walking! Why? Because that's what an eagle does. You don't talk them into it, and you can't scare them out of it. An eagle is as an eagle does. That's what attitude motivation is all about. Going after what is in your heart. For companies it's letting people do what they do best in a way that the company benefits from as well.

What can be more motivating than living your life like it was meant to be. Most people never entertain that idea because the house, the kids, the job, the....comes first. What eventually happens is that the individual becomes distant from who they are.

The distance Between Where You Are and Who You Are is Measured in Stress.

Attitude means 'how you lean.' The gauge that measures the bank of an airplane is called an Attitude Meter. It measures which way the plane is leaning with respect to the horizon. Your attitudes are an expression of what you lean towards with regards to your ideas and your values. These attitudes become corporal, literally residing in your body tissue.

That's why body language experts can tell if a person is 'exaggerating the truth'. Your words reflect your thinking, but your body reflects your attitudes. (See Body Language) The greatest form of motivation is doing something because of who you are. Of all the motivation definitions, Attitude motivation stands at the top as the most powerful.

Companies seem to have difficulty with this one because by its nature, you can't treat everyone the same. In fact the differences are celebrated.

For a detailed examination of how to tap into attitude motivation in the workplace, read over our Employee Motivation page. The difficulty with attitude motivation is that, though it is much more powerful than fear or incentive motivation, using it in the workplace often means being able to see past many people's actions in order to look at who they really are.

Just like a child who will act up and appear to be disobedient when it is lacking attention, we as adults do not always show our best behavior when we're not going after that which makes up who we are.

In our society we have not been encouraged to be who we are. We have rather been more encouraged to fit in with the crowd. Society seems to love sameness and we seek to find those traits that are common with the most amount of people. Often, those traits that make a person special and reflects their greatest talents, goes unnoticed, even by the individual themselves.

The motivator has to have an idea about what makes the person click, or at least provide the environment where the employee can seek to develop their own goals and ambitions. The trick then is to mesh individual and company goals such that when the employee is the fulfilling their own goals they are also fulfilling the goals of the company.

Internal vs. External Motivation

It should be obvious by now that with the three motivation definitions given, the first two, that of fear and reward motivation are external motivations while the third motivation definition; Attitude motivation is the one true internally driven motivation.

The allure of the external motivation 'techniques' is the control that they exert on the individual. Empires and religions were built almost exclusively with them. Unfortunately most were destroyed by them as well.

On our page: Employee Motivation we delve into the specifics of employee motivation. You will be able to identify how these motivation definitions itemized here come into play.

The Most Important Thing About Motivation is Never Listed in Motivation Definitions...

It has been said many times that people do things to either "Gain a benefit or to avoid a loss."

Motivation, whether for ourselves or through motivating others, must satisfy the question: "What will be gained or what loss will it prevent in the person being motivated." We can surmise that a loss is something to fear, and a gain is something desirable.

From the motivational perspective then, whether it is to motivate ourselves or others, the question that must be asked of the activity is:

"What will it get me or them, or what will it stop me or them from losing."

The one crucial thing that is rarely mentioned in the discussion of motivation definitions can be summed up inThe Self Image Paradox:

The Self Image Paradox is a concept that is covered in my book; "Through the Door!": A Journey to the Self?2010

The Self-Image Paradox

  • Every gain elicits a change in a person's life.
  • That change is also measured against the values all your self-images have.
  • If the gain causes a change in the individual that is counter to a self-image, that self-image will see the net gain as a loss.
  • In spite of the desire the individual has to accept the change, the self-image will attempt to thwart the gain.

Read That Again and Make Sure it Makes Sense to You.

This is so important, we will recap it again:

Every gain, every time something happens to you that is positive changes your life. Winning millions of dollars in a lottery when you've been 'getting by', changes your life in a big way.

What is not changing automatically is whom you see yourself to be. Consequently, and this is very important- If the change, (no matter how good it is), seems contrary to the way your self-images see you, then your self-image will actually see the change as potentially harmful to you!

In spite of how much you're happy with the change, your self-image will try to undo the change.

Look at how many people who have won lotteries and two years later were right back where they started from. The 'winner' in those cases were the self-images.

Now of course not everyone who won at lotteries lost all their money. Only the ones who had self-images that:

  1. Are allowed to drive the bus called your life.
  2. Believed that the gain was somehow a net loss and therefore tried to stop it from happening.

This is the key reason why motivation itself often fails. It is not a lack of motivation, rather it it is a self-image that is strongly motivated to keep the status Quo. Motivation definitions then should always be related to the status of the self-images.

Here is another more in-depth example:

All of his young life, John Doe heard his parents say that most people can't be trusted, and that people are always trying to get your money away from you. He could readily see that his parents had a strong dislike for charity canvassers, salespeople, the tax department, and basically anyone with whom they had to exchange money for goods or service.

John Doe grows up and gets a job selling life insurance. He strongly believes in insurance and has taken the sales courses and has gone to the motivation talks. In spite of this his sales lags behind many of his colleagues, even those with less dedication

The one thing John Dole learned when he was younger, and it has been protecting him to ever since it the one idea that:

"If you ask for money for something people won't like you and they will see you as the dregs of society."

Very few people on this earth are not strongly motivated to be liked. The billions of dollars spent on advertising each year is based on the premise that is a product can make you look more attractive and likable to others, you will buy it. It is indeed a strong motivator.

If you believe deep down inside that selling something equals being a person no one should like, than clearly motivation will be at work, but it will be heavily directed at keeping you from losing an advantage that one of your self-images has come to believe in.

"Understand that in this situation, the more the 'motivation' to change the situation, the greater the self-image will fight your attempts to change it."

If you spend your time and money trying to:

Get Over Your Fears

Build Up Your Courage

and yes: Get Motivated...

...You fall into the delay trap that your Self-Images have set for you.

While you're doing all of those things,

What aren't you doing...

That's right, your not yet moving forward. In the meantime, your Self-Images will think of other things to do to keep you from actually, making those extra sales, taking the new job, asking that person out for a date...


Here at Methotology, we have designed our 'motivation training' to deal with the Self-Image Paradox directly. By addressing the cause rather than the effects of inaction, indifference, fear, procrastination, guilt, and all the myriad reasons why people don't move ahead, we get people moving towards their goals faster and with greater determination.

For companies we have an in-house training and electronic follow-up package that produces results. We measure performance so you will know exactly what impact we have had on your people.

To request more information fill out the form and we will contact you at the briefest delay. click on:

Beyond Motivation Definitions to Paradox Training

For Individuals:

If you are an individual looking to get ahead in your own business, you can make sure that you get the best investment of your time and money by reading "Through the Door!": A Journey to the SelfThis will save you countless of hours and money by making the changes in your thinking that will have the greatest impact on your actions.