The psychology of success and understanding motivation are crucial aspects of human behavior that have fascinated psychologists for decades. Motivation is the driving force behind our actions, guiding our behavior toward achieving specific goals.

You see motivation is a complex concept, but one that can be broken down into two main categories: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to internal or inherent rewards associated with an activity, such as enjoying the process of completing it or feeling proud of oneself after doing so. Extrinsic motivation is triggered by external rewards, such as receiving money or recognition from others.

The most common extrinsic motivators are those involving monetary gain; however, there are other types of external incentives that can also be used to drive us toward achieving certain goals. For example, fear can be an effective motivator because it prompts us to take action in order to avoid negative consequences.

To comprehend the psychology of success, we need to delve into the theories and factors that influence motivation.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow, a prominent psychologist, proposed the hierarchy of needs, which suggests that people are motivated by a series of needs that can be arranged in a pyramid. At the base of the pyramid are physiological needs like food, water, and shelter. As these needs are satisfied, individuals seek to fulfill safety needs, followed by social needs (love and belongingness), esteem needs (such as recognition and self-worth), and finally, self-actualization, which is the realization of one’s full potential.

According to Maslow’s theory, we are driven by our need for self-actualization to accomplish great things and become who we want to be. It’s easy to see how this theory would inspire us all to reach our goals—and it also makes sense that if we’re not pursuing our dreams right now because we’re focused on other things (like family), then once those other things are taken care of we’ll be able to focus on what we really want out of life.

Expectancy-Value Theory

Have you ever been in a situation where you really wanted to do something, but you also felt like it wasn’t worth your time? You know, like when you’re at work and your boss asks if you can take on another project. You think about how much more work that means for you and how much more time it will take away from the work that you actually enjoy doing. So even though it would be kind of cool to get some recognition for doing something extra, the actual reward isn’t enough to make up for all the extra effort.

This is where expectancy-value theory comes into play. It suggests that an individual’s motivation is influenced by two key factors: expectancy and value. Expectancy refers to the belief that effort will lead to successful performance, while value represents the importance or attractiveness of the anticipated outcome. Motivation is highest when both expectancy and value are high.


Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to accomplish a task successfully. The higher an individual’s self-efficacy, the more motivated they are to take on challenges and persevere through obstacles. Building self-efficacy often involves mastering smaller tasks before tackling more significant challenges.

In psychology, self-efficacy is often defined as having confidence in your ability to accomplish a task. For example, if you believe that you can do well on an exam, then your self-efficacy is high. If you don’t feel confident about taking the exam, then your self-efficacy is low. Self-efficacy has been shown to have a big impact on motivation and performance—if you believe that you can’t do something, then chances are good that you won’t try very hard at it.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort you feel when you realize that your actions and beliefs don’t match up. It happens when you do something that’s not in line with your beliefs or values, or when you hold a belief that isn’t supported by your actions. In order to reduce this discomfort, you can change either your behavior or your attitude about what you did.

For example, say you’ve decided to start eating better because it’s important to you to be healthy and fit. But then you go out and have a slice of cake at a friend’s birthday party. You might feel uncomfortable because it feels like you’re not living up to your own standards. If this happens often enough, it could make it difficult for you to stick with your plan going forward—but if instead of giving up, you reevaluate why eating cake makes sense for YOU personally and decide that it’s OK for someone who wants to be healthy and fit occasionally eat cake? Then this experience may actually end up helping motivate YOU to stick with YOUR personal goals!

Social Motivation

Social factors play a large role in our motivation to work, and this is true for both ourselves and others. We are social beings, and as such, we are motivated by the desire for approval, affiliation, and a sense of belonging within a group or community.

The desire for approval is often tied closely to the need to be liked. This can manifest itself in many ways: wanting your boss’s approval so you can get a raise or promotion; wanting your partner’s approval so they don’t leave you; or just wanting other people’s approval in general. In each case, we have an internal need to be accepted by others.

Affiliation is closely related to the desire for approval. Affiliation refers to our desire for social interaction—to be part of a group that shares common interests with us. We might want to join a sports team because we like playing sports; or we might want to join an online community because we enjoy reading about certain topics or interacting with like-minded people online.

Belonging refers specifically to feeling as though one belongs in some kind of group or community: whether it’s a religious organization, a sports team, or even just among friends at work.

Understanding these psychological theories and concepts can provide valuable insights into what drives human motivation and, in turn, contributes to the psychology of success. By recognizing the factors that motivate individuals, we can better support and encourage their pursuit of personal and professional goals.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief introduction to the psychology of motivation.

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