How motivation works

Have you ever wondered if there’s a universal structure that explains why humans do what we do and why we want what we want?  Is there any organization to the underlying force within us driving our behavior?

If you're familiar with Psychological theories, then you likely have heard of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.  He set out to study this very topic.  In studying human motivation, he developed a theory of 5 basic needs (or goals) that according to his research drive and influence almost all human behavior. 

In his famous paper, A Theory on Human Motivation, he claimed that in order to understand our motivations, we must look not just at our motivated behaviors, which is a nearly endless list, but at the goal under our motivations. In the end, he found only 5 underlying universal needs that encompass the goal of almost every behavior we could act out:

Need 1) Physiological health

The need for normal biological functions that sustain one's life, including but not isolated to hunger, rest, sex, and so on.

Need 2) Safety 

The need for an organized, safe, and predictable world where one can abide freely without the fear of harm, pain, lack, and danger.

Need 3) Love & Community

The need to belong and to both give and receive affection and love within a community.

Need 4) Esteem 

The need for a predictable and consistent positive view of oneself, for self-respect, and to be respected by others, as well as for achievement, adequacy, freedom, independence, recognition, attention, importance, and affirmation.  

Need 5) Self-Actualization

The need for Self-Actualization refers to, as Maslov said, the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, the tendency for one to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

A simple way to apply Maslov's ideas is to assess and reflect on what need might be motivating your goals, habits, and behaviors. 

According to Maslow, every behavior that you have is motivated by one of these five needs.