Why humans do the things that they do -- specifically, what creates the drive for success -- has been a subject of scientific investigation for decades. The consensus is that everyone is motivated to achieve, albeit for different reasons. These reasons are collectively called achievement motivation and directly influence everyday actions such as going to work, practicing a sport or hobby, studying for an exam, attending college and even shopping.


Individuals are commonly influenced by intrinsic motives, which come from within based on the desire to perform well and based on the incentives. Such incentives include a sense of self-satisfaction achieved by doing a good job, the exhilaration of having completed a challenge and a sense of mastery.


Extrinsic motives are common and come from outside the individual. Very often, they are the result of a desire to meet society's standards rather than their own. Scott T. Rabideau of Rochester Institute of Technology says that “explicit motives are built around a person's self-image.” In her thesis on achievement motivation among athletes, Dr. Tammy Schilling of Texas Tech University refers to these motives as “social motives.” Task completion is motivated by the individual's desire either to prove that he can do it, or to secure a favorable impression. Individuals influenced by extrinsic factors usually place emphasis on how others perceive them.


Avoidance is a kind of motivation with which some people can identify. It offers stability and predictability in return for the performance of boring, rote or unpleasant tasks. Avoidance motivates individuals to complete such tasks to avoid unpleasant consequences. However, performing these tasks, can improve an individual's overall situation. For example, many office workers perform uninteresting tasks such as filing reports, making unpleasant phone calls and preparing complicated documents. If they perform these tasks up to standard, they get to keep their jobs. In some cases, if they perform the tasks well and long enough, a promotion or a raise could follow.

Universal Motivators

The need to achieve is part of the human condition. What motivates achievement differs from individual to individual, depending on factors like personality and self-esteem. In 2005, Matthew Weller of the "Los Angeles Business Journal" wrote that universal motivators include incentives, desire, a favorable environment and preexisting internal motivation. When any such conditions exist, achievement is likely to look more attractive, resulting in more effort on the part of the would-be achiever.