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Theories and framework that explain human behaviours and productivity

Theories and framework that explain human behaviours and productivity
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There are a number of system of ideas that explain why we act the way we do and in fact how we can be guided to be more productive than ever in our actions because obviously, we all do perform an action or the other. But the question is how healthy, significant and productive the actions are?

All actions we are discussing right here right now are the productive, healthy and significant ones. We cannot all demonstrate similar actions, but we can identify the criteria and how to intensify our motivation to be genuinely and productively active and proactive to achieve our goals and be like or be better than our mentors, role models or any admired hero or individual.

Motivations are closely related to emotions. Our discussion on actions is directly linked to motivation. Therefore, our framework will centre upon motivations. Understanding this will go a long way in helping us direct the course of our life through our actions and being proactive. Motivation is a driving force that initiates and directs behaviour. Some motivations are biological, such as the motivation for food, water, and sex. But there are a variety of other personal and social motivations that can influence behaviour, including the motivations for social approval and acceptance, the motivation to achieve, and the motivation to take or to avoid taking, risks (Morsella, Bargh, & Gollwitzer, 2009).

Motivations are often considered in psychology in terms of drives, which are internal states that are activated when the physiological characteristics of the body are out of balance, and goals, which are desired end states that we strive to attain. Motivation can thus be conceptualized as a series of behavioural responses that lead us to attempt to reduce drives and to attain goals by comparing our current state with the desired end state (Lawrence, Carver, & Scheier, 2002). Now we see that how we feel within has a lot to do with our actions and how we can take control of these innate drives to be more active towards our goals.

There are distinct system of ideas and concepts that provide explanation on motivation, emphasizing actors that influence our behaviors and emotions. These theories will enable us to understand the innate processes that account for our responses (behaviours/actions). Having insight into this explanation will help us understand more about ourselves and others  which will increase our awareness and ability to make constructive choices when it concerns our behaviors.  The following are some of the important theories that explain the reasons we act the way we do.

Instinct theory

Instinct theory suggests that behaviour is motivated by automatic, involuntary, and unlearned responses. Instincts are innate, automatic dispositions to respond in particular ways to specific stimuli (Douglas & Peggy 2008). Yes, our rudimentary actions may be best explained by this theory. Sometimes we do things and we wonder how we got to do it, this is because of our innate tendencies transferred by our parents, which were as well transferred to them by past generations (Charles Darwin).

Therefore when there are cues, the instincts are activated to guide us on what to do. To make the best of our instincts because they most times serve as guide to reveal our true purpose to us, the best way to allow for effective communication is to always stay conscious and always fill our thoughts with constructive values, also we need to consider if performing the instinctual act will reflect the basic action criteria (BAC) discussed above.

Drive Reduction Theory

Like instinct theory, the drive reduction theory of motivation emphasizes internal factors, but it focuses mainly on how these factors serve to maintain homeostasis (Freedman, 1982). Homeostasis is the tendency to make constant adjustment to maintain body temperature, blood pressure, and other physiological systems at a steady level, or equilibrium; much as a thermostat functions to maintain a constant temperature in a house (Douglas & Peggy 2008)

According to drive reduction theory, any imbalance in homeostasis creates a need, which is a biological requirement for well-being. In responding to needs, the brain tries to restore homeostasis by creating a psychological state called drive; a feeling that prompts an organism to take action to fulfil the need and thus return to a balanced state. For example, if you have had nothing to drink for some time, the chemical balance of your bodily fluids will be disturbed, creating a biological need for water. One consequence of this need is a drive-thirst-that motivates you to find and drink water. After you drink, the need for water is met, so the drive to drink is reduced. Homeostasis is a tendency for physiological system to maintain stability through regulating the bodily functions by continually adjusting to relative changes.

In other words, drives push people to satisfy needs, thus reducing the drives that have been created. There are two types of drives. Primary drives stem from biological needs, such as the need for food or water. People do not have to learn these basic biological needs or the primary drives to satisfy them (Hull, 1951).

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Other drives, however, are learned through experience. These learned secondary drives motivate us to act as if we have unmet basic needs. For example, you may learn to associate money with the ability to buy things to satisfy primary drives for food, shelter, and so on, having money becomes a secondary drive. Having too little money then motivates many behaviours—from hard work to stealing; to obtain more funds. You may exhibit fighting response to the drive of anger or feelings of hurt, you may associate playing with friends when you feel bored, you may engage in reading when you have that drive to pass etc. The secondary drives have been associated with basic drives. Just like some of us may decide that our anxiety or unhappiness will be ended when we have boyfriends/girlfriends or that we will have social acceptance when we conform. Social acceptance has been associated with our security. The behaviours we exhibit depend on drives we have; how much we understand those drives and our past experiences; how we have learned to respond to those drives in the past.

Responding to our drives unconsciously or using stale values or tactics often cause us persistent distress, that is often activated by counterfactual thinking, yet we feel less able to control our situations. Learning and practising acquired knowledge and skills are effective antidote and solutions to all our problems and deficiencies.

To responsibly and effectively respond to drives, we must stay mindful and consider that the actions we are engaging in to respond to the drives meet BAC.

Optimal Arousal Theory

Optimal Arousal Theory accounts for other wide range of motivated behaviors that were not accounted for by Drive reduction theory. Consider curiosity, for example, some of you just enjoy to know about new things, explore, and enter environment that is complex and full of novel objects (Loewenstein, 1994). And most people, too, can’t resist checking out whatever is new and unusual. We go to the mall opening, watch builders work, surf the Internet, and travel the world just to see what there is to see. People also go out of their way to ride roller coasters, skydive, drive race cars, and do countless other things that do not reduce any known drive (Zuckerman, 1996).

In fact, these behaviours create an increase in arousal—the body’s general level of activation. Arousal is reflected in heart rate, muscle tension, brain activity, blood pressure, and other bodily systems (Deschaumes et al., 1991; Plutchik & Conte, 1997). It is usually lowest during deep sleep, but arousal can also be lowered by meditation, relaxation techniques, and various depressant drugs (which are destructive).

Increases in arousal tend to occur in response to hunger, thirst, stimulant drugs, and, as just mentioned, stimuli that are intense, sudden, new, or unexpected. Because people sometimes try to reduce their arousal and sometimes try to increase it. Some psychologists have suggested that motivation is tied to the regulation of arousal.

Specifically, optimal arousal theory suggests that we are motivated to behave in ways that keep or restore an ideal, or optimal level of arousal (Hebb, 1955). Too much arousal can hurt performance, as when test anxiety interferes with some students’ ability to recall what they have studied. If we don’t regulate our emotions we may engage in destructive behaviours, or our health may be impaired due to the excessive secretion of the associated hormones.

To engage in significant, healthy and productive actions, you must consider the BAC before you engage in a behaviour that helps you increase or reduce your arousal. As we have been mentioning, it is substantial that you discover who you are and find meaning to your existence this makes it easier to relate the criteria to your actions as those actions must be in connection to your purpose. This theory may be used to explain why people commit suicide, some people have no idea what to do because they do not consider the BAC, they have tried possible ways in the past, but because it didn’t work, they resorted to suicide. We should never wait until the problem becomes aggravated or leads to serious medical/psychological conditions before we engage in healthy and constructive behaviours.

Incentive Theory

Instinct, drive reduction, and arousal theories of motivation all focus on internal processes that prompt people to behave in certain ways (Douglas & Peggy, 2008). The innate processes are very effective in achieving peak success and for our personal development and health. Being self-motivated is key to happiness, success, good health, peace and constructive social functioning.

In contrast, incentive theory emphasizes the role of external stimuli that motivate behaviour. According to this view, people are pulled toward behaviours that offer positive incentives and pushed away from behaviours associated with negative incentives. In other words, differences in behaviour from one person to another or from one situation to another can be traced to the incentives available and the value a person places on those incentives at the time. If you expect that some behaviour (engaging in community service) will lead to a valued outcome (getting awards or gaining social recognition or worthy income), you will be motivated to engage in that behaviour. The value of incentives can be influenced by inborn physiological factors such as hunger and thirst, as well as by cognitive and social factors that gain their power through learning.

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As an example of physiological influences, consider that food is a more motivating incentive when you are hungry than when you’re full (Balleine & Dickinson, 1994). As for cognitive and social influences, notice that the value of some things; such as rice, dress, attending ceremonies, or drinks—isn’t  necessarily determined by hunger or safety but by what our culture has taught us about spirituality, health, or attractiveness. Perhaps you have also noticed that what early drive reduction theorists called primary drives reappear in incentive theory as unlearned influences on an incentive’s value. Secondary drives reappear as learned influences on the value of incentives.

For example, because you don’t get to feel safe or happy in your neighbourhood, the best incentive that will motivate you must relate to that. Someone who has trouble passing an exam will appreciate incentive that addresses that, a person who has no food or clothes will be more motivated by things that offer or potentially offer that, a person who is feeling sad or insecure will be more motivated by opportunities that address such needs. The companies and other people who exploit us use this tactic, they find our weakness and provide means to fill the void by offering their friendship, products or services, we are then compelled to act in ways they want because they are offering what we need at the time. Just like many political leaders do, they keep making us vulnerable by not providing necessary infrastructures and opportunities to make us feel more competent and less needy/vulnerable, so when it is election time it is easy to lure the thugs and many of our parents to do unhealthy things by giving them what they desperately need such as food, position, money etc.

Some developers/companies also do this by creating things that are addictive because they are aware that many humans are insecure and are so desperate for happiness. Meanwhile our happiness and quality of life are dependent on engaging in actions that clearly express our life purpose by considering the BAC which gives meaning to our lives. Using products etc. is not bad but it must be used to further facilitate our growth such as learning through the internet etc. Condoms are to be used by couples who do not want children, alcohol has its benefits but must be used moderately by people who are of the age. Using things constructively depends on how mindful and conscious we are when making choices and decisions about actions to take.

Obstacles that prevent us from taking actions

  • Ignorance: The lack of self-awareness and awareness about what needs to be done or how to do it prevent people from acting. Sometimes people make uninformed decisions on relying on stale information or values, which make their actions less productive. This can bring about frustration due to the lack of results or feeling of fulfilment after completing huge tasks or a significant milestone. This accounts for many factors, including having a wrong mentor/role model, fixating to conventions that are inhibitory and stale. Lack of skills and relevant knowledge slows people down in their actions.
  • Laziness: A person who is addicted to comfort zone will spend the most time doing nothing and may be forced to finish tasks at late hour to meet up with deadlines. This may bring about less standard results, which could further discourage us.
  • Lack of resources: Poverty and lack of other relevant resources could prevent people from acting out their wishes or ideas as pointed out by Eric & James (2010). A person who has no book, food to eat, or opportunities may be unable to explore and bring his or her into reality. Time is also a significant resource; a person who is already occupied with a lot of things may not have the time to complete other tasks. This is where time management is very vital to our daily activities.
  • Lack of support: When we are mocked or neglected by our friends, families, neighbours etc. concerning an action or project we are working on, we may become demoralized or discouraged. This point was justified by Eric & James (2010) in their textbook on abnormal child psychology.
  • Procrastination: This is a very common habit. Shifting a task to later time when you can actually get it done now is a very dangerous obstacle that impedes actions and growth. We must learn to do things as soon as possible.
  • Stress: Being under pressure or experiencing situations that appear beyond our capacity at the time could inhibit our arousal (motivation) or even impair our functioning. Stress activates particular hormones within the body system that decrease the functioning of the neurons that influence our wellbeing, memories and productivity (Andreas 2005).
  • Health problem: A person who is suffering from physical or psychological illness may have no ability to get things done.
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Eradicating obstacles that impede our actions

  • Open-mindedness: You must be willing to learn more adaptive skills and acquire quality knowledge, as stated by Gordon Allport. In addition to that, you must be willing to unlearn those attitudes that are not serving you and your purpose. Be attentive in all situations and understand there is always more to learn. Be careful of what you learn, ensure its from a reliable source and it matches your goals. Seek knowledge and be committed to improving yourself through learning.
  • Time management: You must set realistic goals that align with your vision. Then you should prioritize your tasks in sequential order of their urgency. Don’t ever waste your time doing nothing. Ensure you are result and achievement-oriented. Always be time conscious and punctual
  • Self-discovery: This is the number one thing that must be done. Spend quality time reflecting on your purpose, listen to your intuition and harmonize it with your skills and knowledge then seek related problems to solve. Understand you are unique and you need to sacrifice and express love, truth and justice in all that you choose as your purpose (Carl Rogers).
  • Self Control: Being mindful is the only way to achieve this. Always delay gratification and be determined to achieve your set goals. You may, after every goal, compensate yourself. Be assertive and learn to say no to irrelevant requests and events. A study has shown that ability to delay gratification is a reflection of a developed executive function system.
  • Meditation/Exercise: Ensure to silence your thoughts more often to allow your core being to shine forth. Doing all of these will enable a prompt flow of energy within you. A theory such as gestalt theory, logotherapy, etc emphasises the enormous influence of adopting intentional awareness in our lives (William, 1997)
  • Always consider BAC in all your actions: This helps to assess the values of every action, thing and even people. This will help you to avoid irrelevant and toxic actions and people, and intensify your focus. Always avoid unhealthy relationships and peers.
  • Take care of your Health: Take enough rest, eat fruits and vegetables more, then exercise. Make sure you go for health care whenever you are experiencing psychological distress or physical illness before it escalates
  • Self-analysis: Do a critical review of your daily and weekly activities. Be attentive and responsive when people point out a weakness in you. Being responsive and try to make changes if there is truly a need for it. Create metrics or standard that will help you to measure your improvement and progress, to avoid doing things solely to gain external acceptance/approval.
  • Reflect leadership qualities: Take responsibility, be ready to sacrifice and be committed to your vision and goals. Be conscious of others and try to always reflect integrity that includes respect for all. Being patient means being stronger, the choice is yours, to be stronger or not.
  • Practise and reflect all relevant knowledge and skills. They give you the ability to develop adaptive and problem-solving skills.

A number of studies and psychological theories have in some empirical way proven that the above practices are effective in making an individual more productive and effective. Many people who have been recommended to adopt some of these practices reported impressive results on their productivity level.


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Balleine, A. & Dickinson A. (1994). Motivational control of goal-directed action.

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Hebb, D. (1995). Drives and the C.N.S (Conceptual Nervous System) Classics in the  History of Psychology. 62, 243-254. Retrieved from:

Jonathan, F. (1982) introductory Psychology. Toronto; Canada.

Lawrence, C. & Scheier, M. (2002). Control Processes and Self-Organization as Complementary  Principles Underlying Behavior. Sage Journal.

Loewenstein, G. (1994) The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and   Reinterpretation. Psychological Bulletin, 116 (1): 75-98. Retrieved from:

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Rogers, C. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A study of  a science. Vol. 3:  Formulations of the person and the social   context. New York: McGraw Hill. Retrieved from: 

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Rukayyah Abdulrahman

Rukayyah Abdulrahman

I am motivated by activities that involve solving problems that relate to human functioning, I love to learn, I am open minded and I love to explore.View Author posts

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