The Motivational Cycle: Definition, Stages & Examples

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  • 0:04 Motivation
  • 0:45 The Cycle of Motivation
  • 1:57 Stages
  • 3:08 Examples of the Cycle…
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 15 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Where a person is at in the motivational cycle determines his or her progress toward personal goals. It is, in essence, the drive of life. This lesson reviews the cycle and its stages as well as offering examples of the cycle.


Have you ever noticed how some people have beautiful flower gardens surrounding their homes? Do you ever wonder why? It might be because some people have more time to devote to the upkeep of a garden. But even with plenty of time, some people still don't put the work in to have a nice flowerbed. Why?

Motivation! What motivates a person to do certain things? What is motivation?

Motivation is that which drives us to behave in certain ways. Motivation is a desire to achieve a need of some sort. The longed-for need can be anything from food to a nice car to show a person's status. The only constant is the cycle of motivation. Let's take a look at that more closely now.

The Cycle of Motivation

The cycle of motivation begins with a need, which causes a drive fed by the incentive of reaching the goal that fills the need. But that isn't a cycle; it's a path, a journey with a beginning, middle, and end. A cycle is never ending, like a circle. So why is motivation referred to as a cycle?

Abraham Maslow was the first psychologist to study needs that drive behavior. His hierarchy of needs is designed like a triangle with the greatest needs at the bottom taking up the most room in a person's life and the hardest to reach goals at the top. The process Maslow described showed that humans first and foremost are motivated to survive (food and water). After survival needs are met, they seek safety (shelter that can be protected).

Did you notice what happened? The first need or motivator is survival, but when that need is met, a person does not just stop being motivated. He or she moves on to the next need.

Maslow's whole pyramid of needs is as follows: physiological needs, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. As a person achieves his or her needs in one level, that person moves on to other needs and wants. It is a never-ending cycle.


Let's look at each part of the cycle more closely.

When we need something, it means we are not in harmony with ourselves. Something is not quite right. We have an innate sense of rightness, feeling balanced. When there is discord in ourselves (like hunger, fear, or want), we attempt to bring our systems back into balance by fixing the discord.

You can think of desire as the power source of motivation. It's like an energy coursing through the system trying to be calmed. You might describe it like tension. Until you are able to calm the tension, you will continue in a state of internal desire.

Incentives are like rewards or punishments that give us a clue if we are going in the right direction to calm the inner tension we feel from a desire. If we are going in the right direction, we are rewarded by a sense that the tension is calming. For example, if you are hungry and you eat an apple, you become less hungry and have less desire to eat more. If you're going in the wrong direction, the inner tension increases, spurring us to change our behaviors. For example, if you are hungry and go for a run, your body will be even more hungry and may shut down before you have completed your run.

When you have finally met a goal it means you have calmed the storm of desire and are in a state of balance again.

Examples of the Cycle of Motivation

Imagine you have been shipwrecked on a deserted island. You would certainly experience the cycle of motivation as you begin the process of making a life on the island, until you could be saved.

You may realize first that you are thirsty; you need water.

The desire to find water drives you to begin to search the island for a source of fresh water.

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