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Even the hardest of workers occasionally struggle with motivation. Whether you are facing writer’s block, a midweek slump, or a general decrease in your ambition, mixing up your motivational strategies can help improve your work ethic and revive your passion for your projects.

Below are eight tested theories of psychology that social scientists believe can help increase productivity and promote personal growth.


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper on the hierarchy of needs. According to Maslow, a person’s most basic needs had to be met before they could motivate themselves to achieve higher goals.

Maslow’s basic needs include:

    1. Nourishment and shelter
    2. Safety
    3. Support and belonging
    4. Esteem and confidence
    5. Self-actualization.

In addition, people must possess the desire to achieve. They must also believe that their work is important.

To guarantee that you are working to your highest potential, create for yourself a healthy environment that supports your general wellbeing. If you are hoping to motivate a child or loved one, prioritize their self-care. Similarly, if you would like to increase the productivity of your employees, ensure you are providing them with fair compensation and a sustainable work-life balance.


The Hawthorne Effect

Did you know that people work harder when they think someone is watching? According to research from Henry A. Landsberger, oversight from a boss or colleague encouraged productivity more than other environmental changes did.

In order to hold yourself accountable, situate yourself in populated environments when possible. You might also decide to collaborate on more passive activities, such as studying. If you prefer to work independently, keep a diary tracking your progress to compare with coworkers.


The Expectancy Theory

According to Victor H. Vroom’s theory, people will decide how to behave depending on the outcome they expect from said behavior. For example, a person will work more hours because they anticipate doing so will make them more money.

The expectancy theory takes into account the mental process behind making choices. It demonstrates the need for creating desirable rewards that relate directly to a person’s performance. If a person believes there is a positive correlation between their effort and performance, they will work harder.

Focus on setting achievable goals and creating incentives or commensurate rewards. If you are working with a student or employee, ensure these rewards are satisfactory for all involved.


The Reinforcement Theory

Perhaps the most well-known theory of motivation, the reinforcement theory states that the consequences of a behavior are the most crucial factor in a person’s motivation. According to B.F. Skinner, people form behaviors after performing specific actions and experiencing the consequences.

A consequence may be positive or negative. In order to encourage productive behaviors in another person, show your appreciation through praise or rewards. You might also reward yourself after sticking to a daily plan or accomplishing a work-related task.


Adam’s Equity Theory

Finding balance in one’s input and output is essential for increasing efficiency. When we compensate employees fairly for their work, they will more actively strive to improve.

Consider the current balance between your input and output to determine whether you are receiving the compensation you deserve. Additionally, make sure that what you are working toward feels valuable to you.


Locke’s Goal Setting

Locke claims that goals are our biggest determinants of behavior. Instead of working towards general outcomes, keep your goals specific and measurable. Setting attainable goals is more useful than striving towards unrealistic results. You might push yourself to achieve something just out of reach rather than something miles away.

Make sure that the goals you set for yourself are clear and measurable. Additionally, keep track of feedback or results for full transparency.


Growth Mindset Theory

Through studying students’ attitudes towards failure, Dr. Dweck developed the growth mindset theory. Dweck believes everyone has an underlying belief about their own intelligence that impacts their individual achievement.

Dweck’s theory relates to brain plasticity, which shows how practice can strengthen neural networks and spark new connections to speed up the transmissions of our impulses. As humans, we are able to grow through critical thinking, repetition, and questioning.

According to Dweck’s studies, those who believed they could improve their intelligence through increased effort achieved more than those with a fixed mindset. In other words, if you believe your brain can grow, you behave differently.

Make sure to praise hard work rather than intelligence. Additionally, use challenges and failures to your advantage as learning experiences.


Temporal motivation theory

Deadlines can have a major impact on motivation. According to Piers Steel and Cornelius J. Konig, efficiency increases exponentially as deadlines approach. Additionally, the more confident a person is that they will complete a task, and the more valuable they find that task, the stronger their motivation will be.

In order to improve your productivity and avoid procrastination, set timers and work uninterrupted for shorter periods of time rather than allowing yourself to dawdle.



Psychologists have spent decades studying human behavior in an attempt to understand what motivates us. Though there does not exist one universal method for productivity, motivational theories can help us understand our own approaches to work, as well as our reactions to success, failure, and procrastination.



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