4 Theories To Help Understand Your Needs, Wants, & Motivations In Life

Originally posted on Celi-chan In Wonderland Blog, October 25th, 2017

We all have needs. Keeping ourselves fed, regularly relieving our bladders and bowels, and living comfortably under a roof is pretty much enough to satisfy our basic needs. But of course we know that there is more to life than just satisfying our physical desires. People have needs that are emotional and psychological too. We have wants, dreams, expectations, and the need to strive for something more.


But why? Why do people strive for more? Why do we want to have more, be more, or do more than we’re already doing? Or on the other hand, why don’t some people feel these needs? Or seem to lack motivation? How does someone get motivated?



What Are Needs & Motivation?

Before answering those questions above, lets try to understand what needs and motivations are. Our needs and motivations give purpose and direction to our behaviors. And when needs go unmet, there’s a noticeable adverse effect that causes a person to act or feel distressed, dysfunctional, and unhappy. There are many many many many different theories that examine the reasons behind our motivations, what their purpose is, and how they work. But I’ll only go into a few to give a sense for why we do, and need to do, what we do, or strive to do.



Intrinsic & Extrinsic Motivation Theory

When someone is INTRINSICALLY motivated they have a desire to explore, analyze, and challenge their capabilities. They aren’t entirely focused on an end goal or reward, the striving to satisfy that need/goal is the reward itself. Like the journey being more important than the destination.

Someone who is EXTRINSICALLY motivated is the opposite. They are driven by external factors and focus on the specific steps and actions required to reach their goal and obtain their reward. With this in mind, intrinsic motivation isn’t better or worst than extrinsic motivation, they both have their usefulness and should be applied as a situation demands.



Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The next theory on motivation comes from MASLOW’S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS, which kinda looks like a pyramid. 

Photo by dullhunk

At the base of the pyramid is our PHYSIOLOGICAL needs. Needs that we satisfy to ensure our basic survival. Which means eating food and drinking water regularly in addition to expelling waste.

The tier above this is our needs for SAFETY & SECURITY. This includes some form of shelter to keep the weather and outside world away from us. It also includes financial security, job security, and adult things like health insurance.

The third tier of the Hierarchy is our need for LOVE & BELONGING/AFFILIATION. This includes our desire to relate to others within our family, to make friends, and to love someone and be loved in return

Next is our need for ESTEEM, or the need to be respected by others and ourselves.

And Finally at the top of the pyramid is our need for  SELF-ACTUALIZATION. This is the need to realize one’s full potential, to be the best possible you there could ever be.

Now,  this hierarchy represents more so of which needs we look to satisfy first, usually before moving on to the next tier. But that being said, it isn’t really necessary to satisfy, for example, your need for security before satisfying your need for belonging; you can of course experience all these needs simultaneously, which motivates you to behave accordingly.



Expectancy Theory

This next theory is often used for motivation within the workplace, but I think it can also be applied to everyday life. Expectancy Theory is the process in which a person selects one behavior over another and why/how this decision is made in relation to their need/goal. There’s a fancy little formula that helps to explain it.


  • Motivation is the amount that a condition or external forces motivates an individual
  • Expectancy is the perception that effort will result in performance
  • Instrumentality is the perception that effort will be punished or rewarded
  • Valence is the perceived amount of reward/punishment resulting from performance

This formula could help determine:

  • How you think about your needs
  • What motivates you and to what extent you are motivated
  • How much effort you are willing to put forth to satisfy your need/goal
  • Whether or not you feel your need/goal is worth the effort to attain an outcome



Temporal Motivation Theory

Finally, this theory incorporates many other past theories of motivation, including expectancy theory, and emphasizes time as an essential motivator. Here’s another fancy equation, which states:

                                        Expectancy x Value

Motivation=            ——————————-

                                  1 + Impulsiveness x Delay

  • Motivation: desired outcome
  • Expectancy: probability of success
  • Impulsiveness: reward associated with outcome
  • Delay: time to realize outcome (timing of rewards/punishments, or deadline)

This formula could help determine the significance of deadlines on dynamic attention allocation; meaning that perceived motivation to do an activity increase as the deadline for that task draws closer.

Example: A student is given 2 months to write their final paper which counts for a significant portion of their grade. The student could spend some of their free time researching and writing the paper as the semester goes on or spend that time socializing and wait until the last week before the paper is due to start writing it. The reward of doing research earlier on is not immediate, therefore motivation to do so is lower than socializing. But as the deadline for that paper draws closer the motivation for writing it surpasses the motivation to socialize.




For Next Time . . .

Now that we have a system of reference in mind for how our needs affect our choices, we can better understand how to make better choices that satisfy more than just our basic needs. There were many other theories that I researched like self-determination theory, but left those out to keep this short and simple.  So hopefully this information can help you with satisfying your needs and realizing your motivations.  In the next part of this article I will be going over ways to get motivated. So keep a look out for that!


Photo by Bull Gator


Thank you all so much for reading. If you enjoyed this article or have other suggestions or insights on this topic leave a comment below! Or feel free to share it on your preferred social media platform!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *