How to Motivate a Human—The Definitive Guide (Part I)

Humans and avocados

Vasco Brazão
Aug 11, 2017 · 26 min read

The Challenge of Motivating Others

Hello, Self-Determination

Three Basic Psychological Needs

If you put a rooted avocado pit in a pot of earth it will probably grow into a tree, because it is in the nature of avocados to do that. It happens naturally. But not all pits become trees; some shrivel and decompose. They fail to thrive because the climate is inadequate, or the necessary nutrients are lacking. They need sun; they need water; and they need the right temperature. Those elements do not make trees grow, but they are the nutriments that the developing avocados need, that are necessary in order for the avocados to do what they do naturally. (Deci & Flaste, 1996, p. 98)

Intrinsic, Extrinsic, Motivation, Shmotivation

Motivation simply means to be moved to act, but what moves people to act varies greatly from person to person and from situation to situation. People can be moved to act by external rewards and punishments, by internalized pressures and standards, or even by values and interests. (Ryan & Moller, 2017, p. 215)

Supporting and Thwarting Intrinsic Motivation

Organismic Integration

Perhaps that is the secret. It is not what we do, so much as why we do it. — Tyrion Lannister’s thoughts (Martin, 2000)

Differentiating extrinsic motivation: here’s a simple graph to help you remember the four ‘categories’.

How to Motivate a Human: What You Should Know

The fullest representations of humanity show people to be curious, vital, and self-motivated. At their best, they are agentic and inspired, striving to learn; extend themselves; master new skills; and apply their talents responsibly. That most people show considerable effort, agency, and commitment in their lives appears, in fact, to be more normative than exceptional, suggesting some very positive and persistent features of human nature.

Yet, it is also clear that the human spirit can be diminished or crushed and that individuals sometimes reject growth and responsibility. Regardless of social strata or cultural origin, examples of both children and adults who are apathetic, alienated, and irresponsible are abundant. Such non-optimal human functioning can be observed not only in our psychological clinics but also among the millions who, for hours a day, sit passively before their televisions, stare blankly from the back of their classrooms, or wait listlessly for the weekend as they go about their jobs. The persistent, proactive, and positive tendencies of human nature are clearly not invariantly apparent. (Ryan & Deci, 2000, p. 68)


Vasco Brazão

Written by

I love psychology, and I love writing about it. Archive of my posts and the Medium Psychology Highlights: