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The Need for Achievement


Explanations > Needs > Achievement

Need | Example | Related to | Discussion |  So what?




We have a need to complete challenging goals, to achieve things we may once have doubted that we could achieve. This includes mastering individual skills and becoming expert in given topics.

In order to achieve, we will often put in significant effort over a longer period and make compromises in other parts of our lives.


A person sets life goals in getting published and speaking to large audiences. This motivates them to study and develop skills that gradually gets them noticed. Eventually they become recognized as a public expert in their area of knowledge.

A teacher challenges their class to write a powerful and moving essay. The students become excited by the possibility and produce some excellent work.

A manager makes sure she recognizes and praises people who have clearly achieved beyond their target performance goals.

Related to




The sense of achievement is typically felt as a buzz of happiness that is proportionate in intensity to the effort and obstacles that were overcome in achieving.

When we are challenged (or, importantly, challenge ourselves), we may focus strongly on completing the challenge in order to gain the sense of achievement. This is related to a general need for closure, where we are able to mentally let go of things that no longer need our attention.

The need for achievement is driven, to some extent, by the need for a sense of control, as both the journey and the achievement can only be gained through control of our environment. Achievement in particular is evidence that we can influence what happens around us. Achievement can also boost our sense of identity as our achievements help define our self-image.

The sense of achievement can be gained just from a personal sense of satisfaction. It can also be enhanced when we are praised by other people, especially those whose views we respect.

Maslow effectively includes achievement as a part of self-actualization, where we seek to achieve what we are capable of achieving. Transcendence is also related to achievement, although not all achievement causes people to change. More directly, Murray's Needs specifies achievement as a need. As a derivative, McClelland's Acquired Needs Theory includes achievement as one of only three key needs. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi found that happy people often challenged themselves and gained their happiness through the subsequent sense of achievement.

So what?

To motivate people (and yourself), you can offer them a stimulating challenge that will stretch them. Show your enthusiasm for this and how you will work with them as a part of a dynamic and supportive team.

You can also challenge people by daring them, implying that if they do not achieve the goal then they are somehow inferior. Daring can also turn a chore into a game.

See also

Challenge, The Need for Transcendence, Goals, Praise, Murray's Needs, McClelland's Acquired Needs Theory


Csikszentmihalyi (1990)

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