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Motivation Cycle: Definition, Stages, and Effects

The motivational cycle refers to the process where a need motivates a person to take action. This chronological cycle has four stages: need, drive, incentive, and reward. The motivational cycle is a framework that helps us understand how people become motivated and maintain that motivation to achieve their goals.

Motivation drives our actions and decisions, shaping how we pursue goals and overcome challenges. Understanding the motivation cycle is crucial because it helps us grasp why we do what we do. It reveals the steps we take to start, keep going, and either achieve our goals or stop trying.

By understanding how this motivation cycle works and influences behavior, psychologists can find better ways to help students learn, improve workplace environments, and guide personal growth.

Key Takeaways:

  • The motivation cycle involves activation, persistence, intensity, and termination stages, guiding individuals through goal pursuit and achievement.
  • Various factors, including personality traits, social influences, and task characteristics, can influence the motivation cycle, shaping individuals’ levels of effort and commitment.
  • Understanding and addressing these factors is crucial for fostering and sustaining motivation across different contexts, ultimately enhancing performance and well-being.

Stages of the Motivation Cycle

The motivation cycle follows four basic stages:


In the initial stage of the motivation cycle, a person experiences a need they want to fulfill. As described in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, these needs can encompass basic and more complex needs.

Basic physiological needs, such as food and water, can motivate action. Other needs, like security, love, recognition, and fulfillment, can also be important in the motivation cycle.


After identifying a need, a person forms a drive to fulfill that need. A drive is the energy required to propel a person to take action to achieve their goal. 


Both external and internal factors can influence drives. Your emotions, for example, are an internal factor contributing to your drive. External factors, like rewards and incentives, can also play an important part.


A person achieves the goal at the final stage of the motivation cycle. This may involve fulfilling the need (such as having a glass of water if they are thirsty) or receiving the reward they were seeking (like getting a prize for completing a task).

The motivation cycle is a continual process. As new needs arise and change, the cycle begins anew.

Components of the Motivation Cycle

Motivation includes several important components that play a role in the motivation cycle:


This stage involves the initial spark that ignites motivation. It could be triggered by internal factors such as needs, desires, or external stimuli like rewards or incentives. During activation, individuals become aware of a goal or desired outcome, prompting them to initiate action.


Once a need has activated the motivation cycle, individuals must sustain their efforts over time to progress toward their goals. This stage involves maintaining focus, overcoming obstacles, and persevering despite setbacks or challenges.

Persistence is crucial for staying committed to the goal until it is achieved or abandoned.


The intensity stage refers to the effort and energy invested in pursuing the goal. It involves channeling resources and focusing attention on the task at hand. The intensity of motivation can vary depending on factors such as the perceived importance of the goal, personal values, and the presence of external rewards or consequences.


The termination stage marks the end of the motivation cycle, where individuals either attain their goal or discontinue their efforts. If the goal is achieved, individuals may experience feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment. However, if the goal is not reached or is no longer relevant, motivation may diminish, leading to the termination of the cycle.

Termination also involves reflecting on the outcomes and experiences gained throughout the motivational journey.

Factors Influencing the Motivation Cycle

Motivation is a complex process influenced by many factors that can shape and impact each stage of the motivation cycle. Understanding these factors is essential for understanding how motivation can vary across individuals and situations. 

Here are some key factors that can influence the motivation cycle:

Individual Factors

Personality Traits

Individual differences in personality, such as extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness, can significantly shape motivation. For instance, individuals high in conscientiousness tend to be more persistent and goal-directed, while those high in extraversion may seek out social rewards and stimulation.

Beliefs and Values

Personal beliefs and values influence what individuals perceive as important or worthwhile goals. For example, someone who values academic achievement highly may be more motivated to study and excel in school compared to someone who prioritizes leisure activities.


Self-efficacy, or belief in your ability to succeed in specific tasks or situations, strongly influences motivation. Individuals with high self-efficacy are more likely to set challenging goals, exert effort, and persevere in the face of obstacles.

Social and Environmental Factors

Social Norms and Expectations

Social influences, such as peer pressure, societal norms, and cultural values, can shape motivation by influencing acceptable or desirable behaviors within a given context.

Support Systems and Resources

The presence of supportive relationships, mentors, and access to resources such as educational opportunities or financial incentives can enhance motivation by providing encouragement, guidance, and tangible support.

Reinforcement and Feedback

Positive reinforcement, such as praise or rewards, can increase motivation by reinforcing desired behaviors. Conversely, negative feedback or punishment may reduce motivation if perceived as undermining autonomy or competence.

Situational Factors

Task Characteristics

The nature of the task itself, including its complexity, relevance, and autonomy, can influence motivation. Tasks perceived as meaningful, challenging, and aligned with personal interests are more likely to elicit high motivation levels.

Environmental Conditions

Environmental factors such as access to resources, time constraints, and physical comfort can impact motivation by either facilitating or hindering goal pursuit. For example, a noisy or distracting environment may decrease motivation and concentration.

Applications and Implications of the Motivation Cycle

Understanding how motivation works can help us in many areas of our lives. 

In Educational Settings

In school, knowing about the motivation cycle helps teachers create lessons that are interesting and help students learn better. For example, teachers can give students choices about what they learn or set goals to reach. This makes learning more enjoyable and helps students do better in school.

In the Workplace

Understanding motivation can make employees happier and more productive at work. Employers can assign challenging but achievable tasks and offer support when needed, making people feel valued and helping them do their jobs well.

For Individual Goals

For individuals, knowing about the motivation cycle can help them reach their goals. By setting clear goals and finding ways to stay motivated, like getting support from friends or breaking tasks into smaller steps, people can accomplish more and feel good about their progress.


It is important to recognize that the interaction between individual, social, and situational factors shapes the motivation cycle. This highlights the importance of considering multiple influences when seeking to understand and enhance motivation in various contexts. By addressing these factors, educators, employers, and individuals can create environments and interventions that support and sustain motivation over time.


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Vu, T., Magis-Weinberg, L., Jansen, B.R.J. et al. Motivation-achievement cycles in learning: A literature review and research agendaEduc Psychol Rev, 34, 39–71 (2022).