We could look at technical definitions of motivation:

A reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.

Desire or willingness to do something - enthusiasm.

Oxford English Dictionary

Or some of the key ingredients of motivation, such as:

  1. Importance
  2. Confidence
  3. Readiness

Or being “ready, willing and able”.

Motivation is the “why” – why we do what we do, what meaning we make of our intentions, actions and effort.

Motivation is very different from the “how” – the goals, resources, solutions and steps that might take us in the direction we wish to go.

In terms of supporting behaviour change, we need a good why before the how becomes relevant or likely to be effective.

The why is also a powerful source of energy and determination. If we want a tree to thrive and bear abundant fruit, we need to ensure it grows a good, strong, deeply anchored root system. If we want a house to be strong and offer us a home, it needs to have solid foundations.

Taking the time to explore and be curious about a person’s motivation can help to them to deepen their connection with what matters most to them.

Motivation is the foundation of our choices and actions, and the place we need to return to when things get tough or we face setbacks.

Motivation gives meaning to the hard work that is often involved in making positive life changes. Meaning can also help us to tolerate and survive suffering until we can get to a better place in life.

Discovering someone’s innermost motivations is to
discover who they are and who they want to be.

Helping someone to connect with what matters most is like helping someone to read their own compass, to know the stars that guide them. More profound than individual goals, it offers a map of where they want to be going in their life.

Viktor Frankl wrote one of the most powerful pieces of literature on motivation, Man’s Search for Meaning. A psychiatrist and survivor of the Holocaust he talks here with gentle humour about the importance of meaning and faith in young people.

Understanding what young people value – their meaning, hopes and dreams – isn’t just a part of the work we do with young people, it is the heart of the work.

"Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’."

Viktor Frankl