Published on July 27, 2021

What Is Achievement Motivation And How To Use It

What Is Achievement Motivation And How To Use It

“You can do it!” “Keep going!” “You got this, don’t quit!” These were just a few of the exclamations of support from others that I could barely make out as I struggled to finish one of the toughest workouts I had ever done. Everyone else from class (including a very pregnant woman) had finished, and all eyes were on me. It was early on in my days of CrossFit, and I was still figuring it all out. I didn’t yet know that everyone waited around and watched until the last person was done. It was part of the community support that they provided one another when times got tough.

For me, the cheers of others encouraged me as I grind out rep after rep knowing that each one was counted toward my total score. CrossFit, like many other sports, is measured in various numbers to indicate success, such as weight, time, reps, and so forth. These barometers provide a standard of excellence that athletes live or die by. Trust me, it’s that serious to many of them as I would soon find out.

Not long after this day, I realized that many of the athletes I worked out with (myself included) were driven by a special kind of motivation. This was something that came naturally for me as I came from a competitive sports environment. Plus, I coached my business clients around motivation daily. Still, I knew that there were greater forces at play here, so I decided to examine things under a microscope. It was then that I came across a term I was unfamiliar with: achievement motivation.

What Is Achievement Motivation?

Considering that the concept of achievement motivation may be unfamiliar to you as well, here’s a brief definition to help you understand.

Achievement motivation is defined as the need for achievement and is an important determinant of aspiration, effort, and persistence when an individual expects that his performance will be evaluated in relation to some standard of excellence.[1]

In the case of my workout, I was pushing myself to get the best possible score, knowing it would be measured against all other athletes and written on the board for everyone to see.

While the dictionary definition may provide more context, you still may be wondering, what is achievement motivation and how does one use it?

Let’s take a deeper look to help you not only understand it better but maybe even get a leg up in your workouts and other areas of your life.


Atkinson’s Achievement Motivation Theory

The concept of achievement motivation dates back to the forties where various works on success and failure along with ego-involvement provided the early foundation for what would become John W. Atkinson’s Achievement Motivation Theory (AMT) in 1966.

AMT explains the integral relationship between an individual’s characteristics and their need to achieve something in life. It also takes into account the kind of competitive drive a person has to achieve and set goals. For me, this was the drive to put up a good time in the workout. Other examples you may relate to are how you perform at work, school, or even a local bowling league.

In all cases, there are various forces at work. An essential component to note is the presence of internal and external factors, which play a role in motivation. The theory explains that the motivation one has to achieve something in life is closely governed by these factors.

Some examples are:

  • Internal: willingness, determination, punctuality, personal drive
  • External (also known as environmental factors): pressures, expectations, targets (All of these are set by relevant organizations, members of the family, or society.)

In the case of my CrossFit workout, the parameters of a time and reps measurement were set at the beginning of class. Thinking back to the workout, I can tell you that there were internal and external factors at work.

First, I was both willing and highly determined to finish. This internal drive was extremely motivating for me in the situation given that I had committed to finishing from the start, and I was not going to quit.

Second, all other athletes present had finished, and having everyone waiting on me was an uncomfortable place to be. This provided the added pressure I needed to keep moving.

All in all, both the internal and external factors gave me the “kick in the butt” I needed to finish.


Other Influential Factors

Apart from the factors mentioned above, various other factors also have the potential to influence and interact with your achievement motivation, especially in a setting with others such as CrossFit. Some can be categorized as internal and others external, but they all intertwine and can play a part.

Your values, educational background, cultural background, external support from the organization you are a part of, awards, the celebration of accomplishments, recognizing success, providing constructive feedback, and helping one grow by providing the proper support mechanism are all equally important and play vital roles in achieving the required motivation.

The old saying that “we are a product of our environment” is definitely true when it comes to achievement motivation.

Another thought that comes to mind as I read this list is that I can clearly see why CrossFit is so popular. It provides almost every one of these influential factors in a welcoming environment. This example shows us the power of the external components.

Achievement Motivation Success Depends on You—Or Does It?

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “Sure, I can agree that the outside world has an effect on me, but I make my own choices. I’m motivated from within.” Yes, this is true. We all make our own choices and are driven by our internal emotions.

We are emotional beings who occasionally think and not the other way around. Here is where you have to take a step back and consider what your typical motivators are in a given situation. Are you typically driven more by intrinsic or extrinsic motivation? Here’s a refresher on those two pieces of the puzzle in case you’re not familiar.

Extrinsic motivation – an external incentive to engage in a specific activity, especially motivation arising from the expectation of punishment or reward.

It sounds like, “I really want that promotion to make more money.” You are driven by the external reward of money.


Intrinsic motivation – an incentive to engage in a specific activity that derives from pleasure in the activity itself rather than because of any external benefits that might be obtained.

It sounds like, “I’m going to work really hard to get that promotion so I can be more fulfilled at work.”

You are driven towards the achievement of a promotion by your persistent hard work.

When you add these into the mix, the picture becomes a bit clearer. Your experience may differ from situation to situation, but you will typically have an affinity towards one over the other.

Success Vs. Failure

Another key aspect is the concept that achievement motivation stems from two separate needs. One is the motivation to achieve and is related to one’s desire to accomplish successful goals, and the other is the motive to avoid failure.[2]

Some individuals are hesitant to take on the responsibilities of having to accomplish goals or employ in activities because they are afraid to fail. The motive to avoid failure includes worries about the consequences of failing, self-criticism, and diversion of attention, accelerated heart rate, or nervousness, which can all lead to poor performance.

In contrast, those who feel the need to achieve successful goals are more motivated to persist at goals they know they can accomplish, which means that your achievement-oriented behavior is influenced by the strength of your tendency to achieve success.

The success vs. failure driver can be seen in competitive environments all across the world from your local CrossFit gym to the Olympic games. Just listen to the post-event interviews, and you will hear the clues that indicate which was the driving force within the athlete. I personally enjoy listening to the accompanying music played in relation to the event, such as “All I Do is Win” by DJ Khaled or “Loser” by Beck. The music always shows how the outside world viewed the athlete or event, which takes us back to the power of the external factors.


These are especially prevalent in areas where performance is evaluated as attention is drawn to the determinative role of extrinsic motivational tendencies on what appear to be achievement-oriented activities. This means that it may be difficult to tell whether the driving force is extrinsic motivation or achievement motivation.

Is It Really Achievement Motivation?

At this point, you may be slightly confused and wondering if achievement motivation really exists or if it’s just other types of motivation in disguise. Trust me, some of these components may muddy the waters a bit, but there is one over-arching principle that will sway your belief in achievement motivation.

According to Achievement Motivation Theory, a person’s need to achieve something and the reason behind his/her overall motivation to achieve a certain goal, more often than not, comes from within and is strongly related to the individual’s need for power and affiliation.[3]

Said another way, yes, you do make your own choices and your desire for control is what drives these choices.

I bet your as happy to hear that as I was. The key to remember is that achievement motivation stems from an emotional place.

In my example above, it was my emotion that drove me. My competitive drive, masculine pride, and desire to not be humiliated all motivated me to achievement no matter how small the achievement was and believe me it was small. I don’t know which memory is stronger in my mind, the difficulty of the workout, or seeing my four rounds being written at the bottom of the white board as the lowest score of the day.

I put the achievement motivation to good use, though. It wasn’t too long before I started beating everyone and finishing on top—well, almost on top. The very pregnant lady keep kicking my butt all the way until the day before she delivered. Guess you can’t win them all, but you can be motivated to try!

Learn More About Motivation

Featured photo credit: Garrhet Sampson via



[1] Achievement Motivation
[2] Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development: Achievement Motivation
[3] Marketing91: Achievement motivation theory

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Rick Ornelas

Rick Ornelas is a professional coach, speaker, and author of 12 Hours of Heaven; Lessons for a Better World. He teaches men and women to unlock their amazing potential and change the world around them.

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Published on September 27, 2021

What Is Incentive Motivation And Does It Work?

What Is Incentive Motivation And Does It Work?

We’ve all needed a bit of inspiration at some time in our lives. In the past year or two, that need most likely has grown. Who hasn’t been trying to shed those extra pounds we put on during the pandemic? Who hasn’t felt the need to fake a little enthusiasm at joining yet another Zoom call? Who hasn’t been trying to get excited about trekking back into the office for a 9 to 5 (longer if you add in the commute)? Feeling “meh” is a sign of our times. So, too, is incentive motivation, a way to get back our spark, our drive, and our pursuit of the things we say we want most.

In this article, I’ll talk about what incentive motivation is and how it works.

What Is Incentive Motivation?

Incentive motivation is an area of study in psychology focused on human motivation. What is it that gets us to go from couch potato to running a marathon? What spurs us to get the Covid vaccine—or to forgo it? What is it that influences us to think or act in a certain way? Incentive motivation is concerned with the way goals influence behavior.[1] By all accounts, it works if the incentive being used holds significance for the person.

The Roots of Incentive Motivation

Incentive motivation’s roots can be traced back to when we were children. I’m sure many of us have similar memories of being told to “eat all our veggies” so that we would “grow up to be big and strong,” and if we did eat those veggies, we would be rewarded with a weekend trip to a carnival or amusement park or playground of choice. The incentive of that outing was something we wanted enough to have it influence our behavior.


Growing up, incentive motivation continues to play a major role in what we choose to do. For example, while we may not have relished the idea of spending years studying, getting good grades, pursuing advanced degrees, and graduating with sizeable debt from student loans, a great many of us decided to do just that. Why? Because the end goal of a career, a coveted title, and the associated incentives of financial reward and joy in doing something we love were powerful motivators.

One researcher who believes in the power of incentive motivation is weight management expert, co-author of the book State of Slim, and co-founder of the transformational weight loss program of the same name, Dr. Holly Wyatt. Her work with her clients has proven time and again that when motivation fizzles, incentives can reignite those motivational fires.

“Eat more veggies, exercise, keep track of my weight: These things and more DO work, but bottom line, you gotta keep doing them. Setting up rituals and routines to put your efforts on auto-pilot is one way. And along the way, the use of both external and internal motivators helps keep people on track. External motivation sources are those things outside of ourselves that help to motivate us. They’re powerful, like pouring gasoline on a fire. But they may not last very long. Internal motivators are more tied into the reasons WHY we want to reach our goals. In my State of Slim weight loss program, we spend a lot of time on what I call ‘peeling back the onion’ to find the WHY. I think the internal motivators are more powerful, especially for the long-term, but they may take longer to build. They’re the hot coals that keep our motivational fires burning.”

Examples of Incentive Motivation

In the way of incentive motivation, specific to the external motivators, Dr. Wyatt challenges her clients to commit to changing just one behavior that will help them reach their weight loss goals. Clients must then agree to a “carrot” or a “stick” as either their reward for accomplishing what they say they will do or as their punishment for falling short. Those incentives might be something like enjoying a spa day if they do the thing they said they would do or sweating it out while running up and down the stairwell of their apartment building a certain number of times as punishment for not following through.


Whatever they choose, the goal must be something they really want, and the incentive must be something that matters to them enough to influence their behaviors in reaching those goals. Some people are more motivated by some sort of meaningful reward (a carrot) whereas, other people are more motivated by some sort of negative consequence or the taking away of a privilege (the stick).

Another example of incentive motivation is playing out currently with companies and government entities offering perks to people who get the Covid vaccine. Nationwide, offers are being made in the way of lottery tickets, cash prizes, concert seats, free admission to events and discounts for food, and even free drink at local restaurants and bars. The list of incentives being offered to the public to increase vaccination rates is pretty extensive and quite creative.[2]  These incentives are financial, social, and even hit on moral sensibilities. But is this particular incentive motivation working?

Remember that a key to incentive motivation working is if the individual puts importance on the reward being received on the ultimate goal. So, not all incentives will motivate people in the same way. According to Stephen L. Franzoi, “The value of an incentive can change over time and in different situations.”[3]

How Does Incentive Motivation Differ from Other Types of Motivators?

Incentive motivation is just one type of motivating force that relies on external factors. While rewards are powerful tools in influencing behaviors, a few other options may be more aligned with who you are and what gets you moving toward your goals.


Fear Motivation

In many ways, being motivated by fear is the very opposite of being motivated by incentives. Rather than pursuing some reward, it’s the avoidance of some consequence or painful punishment that sparks someone into action. For example, married couples may “forsake all others” not out of love or commitment but out of a fear that they may be “taken to the cleaners” by their spouses if their infidelities are revealed.

Another example wherein fear becomes the great motivator is one we’re hearing about more and more as we’re coming out of this pandemic—the fear of being poor. The fear of being poor has kept many people in jobs they hate. It’s only now that we see a reversal as headlines are shining a light on just how many workers are quitting and refusing to go back to the way things were.

Social Motivation

Human beings are social creatures. The desire to belong is a powerful motivator. This type of social motivation sparks one’s behavior in ways that, hopefully, result in an individual being accepted by a certain group or other individuals.

The rise of the Internet and the explosion of social media engagement has been both positive and negative in its power to motivate us to be included among what during our school days would be called “the cool kids” or “cliques” (jocks, nerds, artsy, gamers, etc.). We probably all have experienced at one time or another the feelings associated with “not being chosen”—whether to be on a team to play some game or as the winning candidate for some job or competition. Social rejection can make or break us.


Before You Get Up and Go…

Know that, especially during these challenging times, it’s “normal” and very much “okay” to feel a lack of motivation. Know, too, that external motivators, such as those we’ve talked about in this article, can be great tools to get your spark back. We’ve only touched on a few here. There are many more—both external and internal.

Remember that these external motivators, such as incentive motivations, are only as powerful as the importance placed on the reward by the individual. It’s also important to note that if there isn’t an aligned internal motivation, the results will more than likely be short-lived.

For example, losing a certain amount of weight because you want to fit into some outfit you intend to wear at some public event may get you to where you want to be. But will it hold up after your party? Or will those pounds find their way back to you? If you want to be rewarded at work with that trip to the islands because you’ve topped the charts in sales and hustle to make your numbers, will you be motivated again and again for that same incentive? Or will you need more and more to stay motivated?

Viktor Frankl, the 20th-century psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, and author of the best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is quoted as having said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” As important as external motivators like incentives may be in influencing behaviors, the key is always to align them with one’s internal “why”—only then will the results be long-lived.


So, how might incentive motivation influence you and your behavior toward goals? Knowing your answer might keep you energized no matter what your journey and help to further your successes.

Featured photo credit: Atharva Tulsi via


[1] Britannica: Incentive motivation
[2] National Governors Association: COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives
[3] verywellmind: The Incentive Theory of Motivation

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