How the Levels of Development Help Us Understand Motivation


I created The Levels of Development to help people of all ages understand the difference between external motivation and internal motivation. While it’s true that technically all motivation is internal, often external factors prompt us to take action. This is the case for both adults and children. Knowing why you’re doing something is important for decision making, acting responsibly, and ultimately reducing stress.

So let’s quickly review The Levels of Development. As with any hierarchy of levels, the most advanced or highest level is placed at the top.

Levels Of Development

LEVEL D – Democracy (highest level)

  • Develops self-discipline
  • Demonstrates initiative
  • Displays responsibility
  • Does good because it is the right thing to do
  • The motivation is INTERNAL.

LEVEL C – Cooperation/Conformity (Note: Most people live their lives at this level.)

  • Considerate
  • Cooperates
  • Complies
  • Conforms
  • The motivation is EXTERNAL.

The two lower Levels of Development refer to BEHAVIOR and are NOT acceptable.

LEVEL B – Bullying/Bossing

  • Bosses others
  • Bothers others
  • Bullies others
  • Breaks laws and makes own standards
  • Must be bossed to behave

LEVEL A – Anarchy (lowest level)

  • Absence of order
  • Aimless and chaotic
  • Absence of government
  • This level is characterized by chaos, being out of control, or unsafe.

The Difference Between Level C and D Motivation

At this point, a common question is “What is the difference between Level C and D? They both seems like good ways to operate.” And you’re right! They are both acceptable ways to live. In short, Level C is expected behavior. Level D is voluntary behavior. In other words, the feeling you get when operating on each level is very different. Here is an exercise to help illustrate my point.

Read the two scenarios and then reflect on you FEEL after each.

Scenario one (what’s the motivation?):

You walk into a meeting room and see a chair is on its side. I tell you to pick it up and place it under the table. You do it. How do you FEEL after doing the task?

Scenario two (what’s the motivation?):

You walk into a meeting room and see a chair is on its side. My back is to you as I am writing something on the whiteboard. You see the chair on its side and take the INITIATIVE to pick it up and place it under the table where it belongs. How do you FEEL after doing the task?

Point: People will never get the feeling of satisfaction from Level C (cooperation/obedience—first scenario) that they will get from the second scenario, Level D (Democracy, which is inseparable from responsibility.)

Tip: Use the Levels of Develop to understand the different motivations we all have. The good feelings emanating from Level D motivation—taking the initiative to do the right thing just because it is the righting to do—will always be more satisfying than motivation at Level C (obedience). Strive to always act on Level D so you can model that behavior to others.