The words 'desire' and 'motivation' often appear in different kind of sentences for (what I assume is) grammatical reasons, but I have a really hard time separating them as concepts.

When we talk about desire or motivation it seems like we ultimately are talking about why we act; we are seeking some kind of explanation of our actions and without desire or motivation there will be no action. We act because we desire/are motivated by X.... What motivated you / what desires caused you to do that? Do you desire x / are you motivated by x?

It can be a physical (causal) explanation, e.g. the increase in dopamine drove me, it can be a design explanation, e.g. humans are 'designed to' pursue sugar, fat, sex etc, or it can be an intentional explanation, e.g. I work hard because I want money.

It might feel like an explanation is sometimes about desire and sometimes about motivation but are we really talking about any conceptual difference?

Please help me sort this out.

A side point (about MY definition of a value)

I understand that we can value something without being motivated by it. But a value to me is just a type of belief i.e. a belief about what we desire or should desire. Hopefully our values correspond to our desires; our values can influence our desires over time, but believing we value something does not automatically make us act accordingly; we have to make it emotional if we want something to drive us to action i.e. if we want something to motivate us / be a desire.

Wordnet says that desire is "the feeling that accompanies an unsatisfied state" or "an inclination to want things". The first definition I would say describes a force of motivation i.e. the two words refer to the same phenomenon (the feeling which causes the action), the second definition describe a phenomenon which is either a force for motivation or what I referred to as a value.

  • 1
    Many things can "motivate" besides desire: Fear, anger, loyalty, religious fervor, civic duty, even habit.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 13, 2015 at 19:24

10 Answers 10


Your desires are things you want, while motivation is your reason for performing a given action. You can be motivated by your desires ("I want to buy a new car, so I should save some money!"). Here, your desire is "a new car", and the action you take is "save some money". Your motivation for saving money is your desire to buy a new car. Technically, almost everything you do could be said to be motivated by desire ("I don't want to starve to death, so I should eat a sandwich"), but I wouldn't say they're the same thing. Just because someone wants something to happen doesn't mean their actions will reflect that.

  • Do you define 'desire' the same way I define 'value'? Or what is then the difference between a value and a desire?
    – Kriss
    Jul 25, 2013 at 5:07
  • That's another question (yours was about the difference between desire and motivation), but a value is something you think is important. It's not necessarily something you want as much as it's something you do. "I wish I could tell people the truth" would be a desire, perhaps, while "I won't ever tell a lie" would be a value. Jul 25, 2013 at 13:05
  • I would say that 'I won't ever tell a lie' is a policy. Which is I guess a type of value; a value about what actions you find important or beneficial. But surely there are values about states e.g. I like ice cream, I think having a lot of money is important, democracy is good, etc. (I asked about values because I define 'a value statement' the way you seem to define desire i.e. if you want something you think it is important.
    – Kriss
    Jul 26, 2013 at 14:01
  • The desire is the desire of the other. [Lacan: Le désir, c'est de désir de l'autre]. And you may not realize that at all and not even have direct access to it. The other is not "I". Motivation is easily accessible.
    – Lambie
    Oct 11, 2018 at 17:10

Desire is free floating

to wish or long for; crave; want

Motivation is focused

the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way

Desire is what we want, and motivation is what prompts us to act.

When motivation exists, it is necessary that desire has preceded it, but the mere presence of desire does not mean that motivation will follow.

Gee, it would be nice to be able to do out dancing [desire].

I want to go dancing, so I better take lessons and earn a few buck to pay the cover charge! [motivation]

  • Do you define 'desire' the same way I define 'value'? Or what is then the difference between a value and a desire?
    – Kriss
    Jul 25, 2013 at 5:09
  • No. Value means consider (someone or something) to be important or beneficial. The things you desire may or may not be important or beneficial. The things you consider important or beneficial, you may not want.
    – bib
    Jul 25, 2013 at 10:52
  • I don't mean to be argumentative. Your answers are clear and they have helped me. But, can we 'long; crave; want' something without at least subconsciously feeling that it is important or beneficial to us? (i.e. desire = value) alt. if desire is necessary for motivation is it not then impossible to separate them? Traditional goal setting assumes that we desire the outcome and should do our best to find motivation for the journey. So the separation of desire and motivation seems common. But not until we desire the journey (on some level) will we take action. (i.e. desire = motivation) hmmm
    – Kriss
    Jul 25, 2013 at 12:32
  • @Kriss I often crave things that are not good for me overall. Does overeating give momentary "beneficial" feelings? Yes, but I don't really value the overindulgence. But we are now deeply into philosophy/psychology rather than language.
    – bib
    Jul 26, 2013 at 13:04
  • This is what I mean. We often crave/desire things that we don't value and we take action, hence we are motivated. We can do things we value even if we don't consciously desire to do them, but we wouldn't say that we are motivated. Therefore motivation and desire only seem to refer to different things when we use desire as a synonym for value i.e. to describe some important or beneficial state. (it is hard to separate language from philosophy since you want to know exactly what you are referring to when using a particular word and whether it is something real or just poetry :).
    – Kriss
    Jul 26, 2013 at 13:56

I think of desire as being something you reach for in the distance; something you want to be or want to have. Desire is like the prize dangling on the string in front of you; you desire to reach it.

Motivation is what inspires you to keep reaching for that desire, even when it's difficult. It's the fire lit beneath you, so to speak.

However, your desires themselves can be motivators, if simply the thought of reaching that point is what keeps you going.

  • Do you define 'desire' the same way I define 'value'? Or what is then the difference between a value and a desire?
    – Kriss
    Jul 25, 2013 at 5:10

In book 6 of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: “the origin of action—its efficient, not its final cause—is choice, and that of choice is desire and reasoning with a view to an end” (1139a31–32). The term orexis, translated here as “desire,” also may be translated as “motivation.” One reason that “desire” is more convenient than “motivation” as a standard translation for orexis is that it allows more easily for the precise specification of the object of a motivation-encompassing attitude—that is, of what is desired. Another is that the noun orexishas a cognate verb, orego, and both can be translated as “desire,” but not, of course, as “motivation.” Setting classical Greek aside, related points may be made about philosophical uses of the terms “desire,” “want,” and “motivation.” We can say that someone desires to swim today or, more naturally, that she wants to swim today; and we can say that someone has a desire to swim today or, less naturally, that she has a want to swim today. However, the expressions “is motivated to swim today” and “has motivation to swim today” are not only more awkward than their most elegant counterpart but also less precise. (Mele, 2003, p. 16)


Desire and motivation are linked, although I didn't find any references between the two in the few dictionaries I checked.

Obviously, if you desire #1 something, you are motivated #1b to achieve that goal. Whatever it may be; passing an exam, having a child, securing a good job, obtaining the latest iPhone etc. The desire pushes you to gain that object of "desire". But desires can be ephemeral in nature, short-lived and extremely frustrating too. Desires can cause angst, pain, jealousies, hardships, confusion and unhappiness. To desire something is not synonymous with having values #7. I can yearn to meet George Clooney in real life as much as I like but that doesn't mean I hold him up as an example to follow in life. Does it mean I am motivated to see him, not particularly. I am not crazy enough to believe that were we to meet then he would instantly fall in love with me. (I say that, but then again... ) But I do not actively act on my fantasies. Because my sexual object of desire is based on fantasy and not reality.

Consequently I could argue that fantasies #2 and desires are also inexorably linked together. An unrealistic desire is fruit of one's creative imagination, a fantasy. First we imagine the "prize" then we build our imaginary scenarios (e.g. if I won the lottery, all my problems would be solved) in our heads and then we consciously decide either to act on them or not. That in turn gives us the motivation to persist and encourages us to believe that the end result all our efforts and sacrifices will be rewarded.

In conclusion the difference between desire, (fantasy) and motivation

I have a really hard time separating them as concepts.

are connected to one other but they are not in symbiosis with one another nor are they synonymous in meaning. (Phew!)


I am not backing these up with references, just opinion:

Def 'desire' = the present level of wanting some target (physical or non-physical). e.g. of non-physical: desire of a certain ability.

Def 'motivation' = the present level of energy you are willing to spend in order to attain or move closer towards a specific target of desire.


simple words....basically there is no link between desire and motivation neurologically..but we try to link them through our thinking ability(ability to think and connect).and there is no rule that desire comes first and motivation comes next..coz,say,think that ur mind is stable without any desire,then u need some motivation to get a desire then,now tell me which is first, egg or hen kind of question..and the best approach to define the asubject is by example.let us think that THOUGHT HAS TO TRAVEL AND TRAVELLING PATH ,IMAGINE AS STEPS..climbing a step is DESIRE and the thought which holds one to climb that particular step is MOTIVATION.


Desire and motivation, I would suggest, are not the same thing. While a desire is felt initially in the present, it can be put on hold, so to speak, until motivation catches up with and matches desire. Desire is a goal that is felt in the present; motivation is the fuel to reach the goal in the near- or distant future. The gas tank of one's motivation can be full--to the brim, or it can be less than full--all the way down to empty.

In the following paragraphs I'll use as examples the desire to become rich and the desire to achieve a fitness- and/or body-image goal, but these are for illustrative purposes only. A desire may be generic, but the object of desire obviously varies from person to person.

Take the desire to be rich. The very thought of having oodles of money may trigger all kinds of fantasies within you. That does not mean, however, that your desire will trigger the release of motivational fuel. For all the people who entertain--however fleetingly--the notion of being rich, there will always be those who say, "I'm content to fantasize about being rich," and others who determine to be rich and who make it a goal and pursue it.

In fact, determination is a synonym for motivation. They are both fuel, but motivation, I suggest, is "regular," whereas determination is "premium" (or high test).

Louis Tice of the Pacific Institute suggested that motivation is the act of throwing yourself out of order and then achieving order once again. I like that. In other words, the desire comes first, and then motivation. Motivation, in essence, involves saying to ourselves,

"I'm out of order now, but I'll achieve order once again by doing X, Y, and Z."

Some people neither desire nor fantasize about becoming rich. The notion doesn't even enter their minds. More altruistic than some others, they desire no more than to have their basic human needs met (food, drink, clothes and shelter--or maybe just the first two!). As far as wealth is concerned, their gas tanks are bone dry. Their version of being rich is to have satisfying relationships with a spouse, family members, and friends, and to be content in their chosen vocation. For these things, their gas tanks are full, or close to it.

Along with determination, some of the concepts that are almost always in the company of motivation and desire include:

  • Discipline

  • Endurance

  • Habits

  • Goal-setting

  • Commitment

  • Values

As for the desire to become fit and/or achieve a body-image goal, at one extreme are theorists who eschew the concept of motivation as fuel, and embrace discipline instead. As Joseph Brandenburg, a certified fitness instructor and co-author of Results Fitness says,

"Fitness isn't a matter of motivation, but discipline. Motivation is a feeling. Feelings come and go; you just can't count on them. Keystone habits, on the other hand, from something as small as making one's bed every morning to rising every morning at five to run a few miles, can develop discipline and structure in other areas of our lives."

On the other hand, Glen Getz, neuro-psychologist, marathoner, and writer on goal-setting says,

"Somebody could easily argue that you need to have motivation to be disciplined. Research shows motivation to be complex, and to say only discipline matters and motivation does not, is to oversimplify things. . . . Discipline is the personality trait component of motivation."

Admittedly, discipline can be a scary word, and too much discipline can be harmful when it causes us to overdo things, such as exercising too much or starving ourselves to achieve unrealistic goals. Only when there is congruence between our behaviors and our core values will self-discipline and quality of life go hand in hand; hence the importance of identifying what it is you value the most and what behaviors will aid you in achieving that value.

If, for example, being comfortable inside your own skin is a core value, even if according to the latest body-mass-index height-and-weight chart you happen to be overweight, why then should you care what another person's ideal BMI happens to be, assuming it's different from yours?

Finally, commitment can and will be tested once you set (and write down!) a goal. When challenges get in your face, as they inevitably will, for example, when a runner "hits the wall" six miles into her run, your having developed good habits, sensible pacing, and increased levels of endurance--all these will pay off if you simply hang in there.

To slip occasionally is not a disaster, particularly if you've developed the right kind of habits and are doing what you enjoy doing. One person's pain, after all, is another person's pleasure. Running is perfect for some; for others, it's tennis or pilates.

And while a workout buddy or a person with whom we have shared our desire, whatever that desire happens to be, can help keep us accountable, as certified personal trainer Kat Barrett says,

"In the end, you need to be your own best cheerleader."


Desire concentrates more on a longing for something to be in some way or on achieving something one may want, while motivation is the force that keeps you progressing towards, let's say a goal you have the desire to achieve.


Enjoyed reading so many answers on "Desire" & Motivation. If I say I had profound desire to deepen my understanding for writing, I joined a writers club and could able to write award winning articles.

  1. Desire becomes a force of motivation, I am attracted to my desire. Desire carries a sense of fulfillment & completeness.
  2. When we say motivation, the key ingredient is "sense of performance & achievement".
  3. Chances are motivation disappears and desire remains, So Motivation needs to be sustained, for which we require Faith and Patience. Motivation makes us effortful to initiate action.

Desire is free floating, where as Motivation is focused because it acts on desire. Desire can change with change in our thoughts, feelings and emotions. I feel desire is an outcome of our thought, feelings and emotions (our innate nature). Desire could be a purposeful with a sense of fulfillment. Motivation is an effortful actions with a sense of achievement; finally to experience sense of blissful satisfaction. We can say desire gives birth to motivation. I think Yin Yang or shiva (masculine) - shakti (feminine) principal means the same and applies here. Yin is desire and Yang is motivation and effort. Faith and patience is a lubricant for smooth functioning.

The most important fact is that we must differentiate between desire, need and want! It is important to connect with our own thoughts, feelings and emotions. Eminent Psychologist counsellors perform cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) the most successful therapy recognized by American Psychology Association and during therapy counsellors give prime importance to "to notice our own thought, feeling and emotions" writing them on the notebook. Then it is been analyzed in the sessions. CBT helps a person to connect with own thoughts, to create powerful thoughts aka connecting with the desire.

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