Lance Armstrong was one of the most unexpected wins of the Tour de France, and the world was no less than surprised to see him zoom the finish line like a gust of wind, mounted on his bicycle and armed with his cycling gear. He had fought a war of his own before he had the chance to even consider fighting at the Tour de France. The day Armstrong won, half a million people saw what true motivation and spirit looks like. 

Merely 33 months prior to the tournament, Armstrong was given a bane that could have taken away his entire career as an athlete. He was told that he had testicular cancer. If that wasn’t enough to simmer down his fire, the 12 tumours and two lesions snuffed out the last surviving embers. The doctor told him that he had only a 50% chance of surviving the treatment. 

Nonetheless, Lance Armstrong began his ascent up a chain of gruelous chemotherapies and surgeries. You’d think that multiple surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy, each only a month apart, would force him to submit to circumstance, but this was a champion we’re talking about; there is no giving up with them. He still pushed himself to the brink, training everyday despite being in agonizing pain and rode 20 to 50 miles every day. 

A miracle happened: Lance Armstrong was cancer free. The cancer was gone. He had won one battle, and now, he had to move on to preparing for the next. Armstrong picked up right where he had left off, training rigorously to make it to one of the biggest cycling tournaments in the world. 

Armstrong’s win at the Tour de France became a testament of unmatched will and determination to the entire world and left not only the people, but also psychological experts in absolute awe. What made Armstrong keep his resolve? How did he build up a will this strong? Where did his motivation bubble from? Was it the fear of losing his reputation? Was it his desire to be a winner? Was it the thrill of competition? Was it another long-term goal?

Psychologists have burned the midnight oil to figure these answers out for us, and they employ the concept of motivation for it, the factors that guide and enthuse the behaviours of humans and other living organisms. Motivation is a complex concept, harbouring biological, genetic, social and cognitive aspects, and hence, it can be looked at from various perspectives and approaches.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Instinct Approach: The first thought that comes to mind upon pondering over the concept of motivation, instinctually, is instinct itself. Motivation in its most basic sense comes from an innate ability to pursue that which you desire. It is as simple as feeling hunger and getting out of the situation you are invested in to grab a bite. There are sets of behaviours that humans and animals are programmed with at birth itself. These motivations are energies that help us direct behaviours in a particular direction. Sex, curiousity, hunger, thirst, security, love, nurturing, and so many more instincts are all forms of motivation, but these basic motivations do not define certain subjective behaviours that people choose to act upon. Eating disorders are not about hunger and rape isn’t about sex. 

Drive-Reduction Approach: The instinct theory was later rejected and in its place came the Drive-Reduction theory. First, let’s talk about what a drive is; A drive is a motivational tension or arousal that energizes behaviour to fulfill a need. This theory refers to human behaviour that concurs with the procurance of a requirement which is motivated by the drive to fulfill the lack of that particular biological requirement. My biological drive could be thirst while fulfilling that need for water by getting myself some becomes a motivation driven act. You have primary drives (Hunger, thirst, sleep, sex, internal homeostasis etc.) and secondary drives (need for achievement, security, success, etc.). 

Arousal Approach: This approach goes a step beyond Drive-Reduction. According to this theory, every person always attempts to maintain a certain balance of stimulation and activity. Drive-Reduction said that an individual continues to quench their needs no matter the extent of those needs, no matter the intensity of the desire to achieve that fulfillment. Arousal Approach on the hand talks about how we maintain a sense of equilibrium, a state of internal and external homeostasis. So, if my stimulation and activity levels rise above my threshold, my motivation or drive tone down a bit and the process of prioritization will begin. I will not keep myself hungry for days just because I have a lot of pressure coming in from work. Flip the coin and we have the mind balancing drive and motivations when they are running way too low. I will create stimulations and not wait for an environmental trigger to control my motivations. I will go read that book when I feel like I am too bored. I will go listen to that instructive podcast because I am tired of reading through my notes for my assignment. My drives and motivations will manage their direction and extent automatically. 

Incentive Approaches: We must have all heard about incentives in a corporate setting of a workplace. Extra work will get you a little brownie stacked on top of your income. This, in itself, is a motivation inducing technique, because, come on, who’s gonna say no to a little extra dinero? The basic goal is to work enough so as to make sure that you at least make up for your salary that will fulfill our basic needs, but such incentives, these extra brownie points, pose as external goals that drive certain behaviours. This is exactly what the incentive approach talks about. It is a motivation that stems from the drive to achieve external goals, or incentives. We don’t require any internal cues to drive these behaviours. We don’t need hunger to order a sizzling chocolate brownie after stuffing ourselves to brim, we want it, and that makes all the difference. You don’t have to be successful with a big company and a 10,000 crore net worth, you want it. 

Cognitive Approach: Say, you have two meetings tomorrow. One is with the owner of a local restaurant in your city and the other is with Mr. Ratan Tata. Tell me, which meeting would you spend hours preparing for? Which interview will motivate you to wear your crispiest suit and put on your best scent? Exactly. Cognitive Approach speaks exactly about these intentions. It suggests that the extent of our motivations and drives is a product of our thoughts, expectations and goals, our cognitions. I will study harder for a test that adds up to 20% of my grade than I would for a simple revision MCQ since the stakes in my mind are higher when it comes to the 20% graded test.

Remember I mentioned earlier about prioritizing certain goals and hence, driving our motivations in the direction of which we prioritize over the other? I have my boss calling on one side and a fire engulfing the stovetop on the other. Which will I tend to first? Of course, the fire! I need to direct my motivations towards saving my life before I even begin to think about what my boss will say to me for not responding to their call. Well, let’s talk about the hierarchy of motivational priorities! 

When I was 17, a special psychology lesson at school gave me an entirely new perspective on life. It gave me direction, how is it that I should visualize and perceive my future reality, what should I prioritize and what I shouldn’t, what comes first, what comes second, what comes last, everything, and I would like to share that little bit with you. I discovered Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 

Now, hold up. I know this sounds brainy and textbook-ey, but bear with me, please. I am going to offer you my perspective on life and its motivations and furthermore, our priorities. Sometime ago, I was listening to The Ranveer Show on Spotify wherein Ranveer Allahbadia interviewed my absolute favourite monarch (no binary adjectives, please), the most iconic LGBTQIA+ activist I know, Sushant Divgikar, aka, as we better know them, Rani KoHEnur. During the interview, they spoke about humanity’s privileges and motivations, and that brought out the mention of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where they spoke about how priorities, emotions and motivations lie in the very crux of a human’s self provision, how much is it that an individual has been able to hold their own, provide for themselves. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs simplifies this concept and explains it beautifully. 

Abraham Maslow created a pyramid which, from bottom to top, went from Physiological Needs to Self-Actualization. The bottom most level, signifying the most basic need that drives the most basic motivations, both bestial and humane, is fulfilling our Physiological Needs. These needs include food, water, sleep, sex and the like. Then comes Safety Needs. It encompases the need for a safe and secure environment, like a home, good surroundings, a safe neighbourhood, etc. After this is Love and Belongingness which is the need to obtain and gain affection from the various relationships in our lives. Above that is Esteem. Esteem is the need to develop a sense of self worth, be that through a job, or through school, or through interests and hobbies. The final and last step of this hierarchy is Self-Actualization. This is where questions of identity, self-fulfillment are answered. 

Self-actualization, the final step, cannot, under any circumstance, exist without the ones that come before it. You cannot ponder upon the question of self worth when you have no one to remind you of it in the form of loved ones. You cannot afford relationships if you yourself aren’t secure. You cannot strive for a safe haven until your basic needs aren’t fulfilled. If your basic needs are not satisfied, there is no existence. 

Here is where we must decide where our drives and motivations lie. Are you thinking of moving out to start your own life? Or maybe thinking of getting married? Have children? Think about this hierarchy and direct your motivations accordingly. You want to be independent of your parents, but do you have the means to feed yourself? You want to marry the love of your life, but do you have the basic security that you can share once you are married? You want to have kids, but are you internally sure that you are ready to raise an entire human being? Think about this and push your drive in the direction you see that you must move in.

Until next time…

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