Category Archives: Daily Top Ten

Topley’s Top 10 – May 23, 2023

1. FAANG Revenue Growth

Source: Otavio Costa at Crescat Capital

2. Investment Grade Bond ETF

Not much changing….still well below 200 week moving average

3. U.S. Treasury Cash Situation

4. Private Equity and Private Secondaries 20 Year Growth

From Irrelevant Investor Blog

5. Private Credit $500B to $1.3T

6. Financial Stocks Bought and Sold by Hedge Funds in Q1

LPL Research

7. China Local Government Debt is $23 Trillion.

Bloomberg Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimates China’s total government debt is about $23 trillion, a figure that includes the hidden borrowing of thousands of financing companies set up by provinces and cities.

While the chance of a municipal default in China is relatively low given Beijing’s implicit guarantee on the debt, the bigger worry is that local governments will have to make painful spending cuts or divert money away from growth-boosting projects to continue repaying their debt. At stake for Xi is his ambition of doubling income levels by 2035 while reducing the gap between rich and poor, which is key for social stability as he seeks to rule the Communist Party for potentially the next decade or more.

8. Gallup Poll of Americans on Best Long-Term Investments

A Wealth of Common Sense Ben Carlson  Each year Gallup performs a survey that asks a group of Americans what the best long-term investment is among the following options:

  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Cash
  • Gold
  • Real estate

These are the latest results:

Great Full Read by Ben

9. College Seniors Want Flexible Hours.

Food for Thought: What do college seniors see as the most important benefit in their first job?

Source: Quality Logo Products

10. 3 Ways to Overcome Anxiety in Decision-Making

Want to make choices easier? Facing too many options creates unnecessary stress. Kevin Bennett Ph.D.


  • People should give themselves and others limited options when making decisions.
  • It might be less adventurous, but it helps to stick with what one knows and what has worked in the past.
  • Avoid regret by not obsessing so much over a decision that could turn out wrong.

Expect a series of follow-up questions when you ask the paint specialist for a can of green at your favorite hardware store: “Is this for interior or exterior?” “What material is the wall surface?” and “What shade of green?” So many choices! There are light green, dark green, lime, emerald, and olive, just to name a few. Seems like good business to offer so many options, right?

In the world of decorating, this may be so, but not everything in life is better with more choices. Here are three ways to overcome the anxiety of choice overload.

1. Minimize the options.

You want the latest technology, but there are so many options. You want the most delicious plates on a menu, but there are at least 20 entrees that look good to you. What about a movie tonight? OK, but there are so many apps for streaming that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Titan of industry Henry Ford once boasted that the customer could have a car painted any color as long as it was black.* The automotive industry has changed quite a bit since, but this was standard in the 1920s. It seems that previous generations faced fewer consumer product choices across the board. Television came of age in the 1950s at a time when viewers had a choice of three or four stations. That’s it. Because so many products and services were localized at the time, consumers had regular access to just one or two newspapers and a couple of clothing, book, and grocery stores. Options were even more scarce back in the distant ancestral past.

What to do? If your family wants to go out to eat and cannot decide between the various combinations of cuisines and specific restaurants, you can give them a list of limited options from which to choose. Essentially, you want to clear a path for them so they can manage the mental computations necessary to decide. Try this: We all want to go out to eat tonight, so let’s pick between restaurants A, B, and C. It’s much easier to manage a discussion about the pros and cons of three eateries vs. 37.

Making a decision by yourself? The strategy remains the same for a solo choice. Find a way to reduce the choice to two or three randomly selected options. For example, if you are putting together a takeout order, promise yourself you will pick from the first two restaurants you see on a delivery app, or that appear at the top of a Google search.

This is a practical parenting tip as well. Lay out three outfits on the bed for your 5-year-old and ask them to pick one. They will enjoy the autonomy that comes with making a decision, and it is good for healthy development.

2. Stick with what you know.

Choice overload, in the extreme, leads to analysis paralysis. When the number of options available pushes up against our limited cognitive resources, something has to give. Either we make poor decisions because we cannot possibly process all the new information adequately, we give up due to fatigue and decide blindly, or we simply feel overwhelmed and incapable of deciding. A time traveler stepping into today’s world from the distant past might be paralyzed by the dizzying array of sizes, colors, and models of everything. A world filled with so many choices has given rise to the concept of analysis paralysis.

Analysis paralysis refers to the state of overthinking or excessive deliberation that hinders decision-making. It occurs when individuals become so overwhelmed by the abundance of options or information that they struggle to make a choice or take action. Don’t be afraid to put the decision on pause and sleep on it. When you resume after a good night’s sleep, let your refreshed brain guide you to a more confident decision.

What to do? Stick with what you know. Good habits are shaped when dopamine and other reward-associated neurotransmitters in the brain see the activity as a positive one. The net effect, psychologically, is that the consistent choices you make over time are viewed as good ones by you. In other words, keep doing what you are doing because it’s working. In your food app, browse through the favorites section to help make your picks. Of course, there is an argument to be made for trying new things and stepping out of your comfort zone, etc., but we’ll save that topic for another day.

3. Don’t obsess over the wrong decision.

Regret is an unpleasant emotional state that features sadness and disappointment about negative outcomes or opportunity loss. Sometimes we feel regret after a voluntary action (an “act of commission” ): for example, breaking up with your boyfriend only to look back sadly on your choices years later. An “act of omission,” on the other hand, produces regret because we missed a chance when we should have taken it (e.g., talking to an attractive person, going skydiving, taking an extra week of vacation, etc.).

Intriguing laboratory data reveals that among bad outcomes, people regret acts of commission more than acts of omission. Most of us would feel distressed over losing out on a lottery jackpot after we had changed our numbers from the winning combination to some other pick. This would sting more than just losing on our first pick of numbers.

What to do? Don’t waver. Stick with your first choice, and once you’ve decided, commit to your decision. Do you really want to spend all that time and effort reanalyzing and going back and forth?

* Henry Ford’s statement, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black,” was made at a sales meeting. In his book My Life and Work (1922), he followed up with an observation, “I cannot say that anyone agreed with me.”

Copyright © Kevin Bennett, Ph.D. 2023

Topley’s Top 10 – May 22, 2023

1. Apple is Worth More than the Entire U.S. Small Cap Stock Index.

Barrons–But at some point in the past couple of weeks, depending on data providers, Apple’s market capitalization, at $2.76 trillion, topped the combined market cap of the entire Russell 2000RUT –0.62%  index of small-cap stocks.    And it gets worse. Today’s five biggest stocks—Apple, Microsoft (MSFT), Alphabet(GOOGL), (AMZN), and Nvidia (NVDA)—have a combined market cap of about $8.7 trillion, almost 25% of the S&P 500 cap and about 3.2 times the $2.7 trillion Russell cap.  That, says Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street’s U.S. SPDR exchange-traded fund business, is now larger than the five biggest stocks were relative to the Russell 2000 at the peak of the dot-com boom in 1999 and 2000.

Chart AAPL vs. IWM (small cap Russell 2000)

Al Root at

2. Apple and MSFT 14.1% of S&P….NVDA Trading at 29X Sales.

@Charlie Bilello

Here are the 10 highest Price to Sales Ratios in Nasdaq 100 today…

1.      NVIDIA $NVDA: 29x 

2.      Lucid $LCID: 18x 

3.      Intuitive Surgical $ISRG: 18x 

4.      Seagen $SGEN: 17x 

5.      DexCom $DXCM: 16x 

6.      Datadog $DDOG: 16x 

7.      Cadence $CDNS: 16x 

8.      CrowdStrike $CRWD: 15x 

9.      Verisk $VRSK: 15x 

10.   CoStar $CSGP: 14x

3. NVDA Earnings this Week….Right at Pre-Tech Sell Off Highs

4. Seven Months Without New Lows.

JP Morgan Private Wealth.

5. Budweiser Only Gets 30% of Profits from U.S. and Canada.

Andrew Bary Barrons

6. Mineral Mix in Average EV Battery

Capital Group

7. Price Per Sq Foot for Offices -30% 

Torsten Slok Apollo Group

8. The Greatest Wealth Transfer in History Is Here….Baby Boomers $78 Trillion

Source: New York Times

9. Largest Endowments in World Dominated by U.S. Universities.

The Largest Endowment Funds The largest endowment funds can be compared on a grand economic scale, in terms of assets.

To put it all into perspective, the largest 50 endowment funds represent over a trillion dollars in assets. Or for a more singular example, look at Harvard’s fund, which has an endowment greater than the entire GDP of countries like Serbia, Bolivia, or Slovenia.

Here’s how the top 50 rank.


Endowment Fund

Total Assets



Ensign Peak Advisors, Inc


North America


Japan Science and Technology Agency




Stanford University


North America


Harvard Management Company


North America


Yale University


North America


Princeton University


North America


MIT Investment Management Company


North America


Duke University


North America


New York University


North America


Columbia University in the City of New York


North America


University of Notre Dame


North America


KAUST Investment Management Company


Middle East


Emory University


North America


Johns Hopkins University


North America


Church Pension Fund


North America


University of Chicago


North America


Ohio State University


North America


Northwestern University


North America


Washington University in St Louis


North America


Penn State University, Office of Investment Management


North America


Notre Dame of Maryland University


North America


Cornell University


North America


University of Southern California


North America


Vanderbilt University


North America


University of Virginia Investment Management Compnay


North America


University of Tokyo




National University of Singapore




UNC Management Company


North America


University of Michigan Office of Investments


North America


General Authority of Awqaf


Middle East


Church Commissioners for England




J.Paul Getty Trust


North America


Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church


North America


Unitersity of Utah


North America


Brown University


North America


Kamehameha Schools


North America


Dartmouth College


North America


Hong Kong Jockey Club




Rice University


North America


The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust


North America


University of Pittsburgh


North America


Nature Conservancy


North America


University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation


North America


University of Rochester


North America


Virginia Commonwealth University


North America


Purdue University


North America


University of Miami


North America


University of Minnesota


North America


Caltech Investment Office


North America


Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City


North America

10. Late-Night TV RIP

Scott Galloway

Topley’s Top 10 – May 19, 2023

1. QQQ +25% YTD vs. Stock Buyback ETF PKW Negative

Buybacks were key component of bull market…Massive lag in the ETF vs. QQQ/SPY 2023

2-3. Stories Abound About End of Dollar This Year

25-Year Dollar Chart Still Strong

Currencies of smaller economies that have not traditionally figured prominently in reserve portfolios but offer high returns and stability— like the Australian and Canadian dollars, Swedish krona and South Korean won—account for three quarters of the shift from dollars.

There is good reason that other currencies do not yet qualify. They are either too small (Switzerland), operate under totalitarian regimes (Russia and China), or allow for protectionism (India).

Finally, a reserve currency needs to be market-based, free-floating and, most important, stable. That rules out cryptocurrencies that are prone to wild swings and live outside the regulatory system.

Dollar and Euro 80% of Reserves …other currencies too small.

There are no viable or readily available alternatives to the U.S. dollar being the reserve currency.

The Real Economy Blog JOSEPH BRUSUELAS,reserves%20held%20by%20central%20banks.

4. The S&P 490 -0.5% in 2023

 Jim Reid Deutsche Bank

We are strongly of the view that AI will change the world. The things we’ve seen from chatGPT and read about with regards to the technology suggests its going to be a game changer. ChatGPT was launched on November 30th last year and as you can see this closely coincides with the surge in the ten US mega-cap tech stocks.

Stocks associated with AI such as Nvidia (+108% YTD), and Microsoft (+30.6% YTD) have surged and have taken tech along for the ride (lower yields have helped a bit too). These ten are up +33.3% YTD and have helped the S&P 500 be +8.0% YTD so far. (Price only moves).

Many people have asked why equities aren’t pricing in a recession if people like us think it’s so likely. The main answer is two-fold; a) Equities tend not to fall much (if at all) in advance of a recession, but fall sharply in the first half of its arrival, and b) mega-cap tech has such a dominant weight in the S&P 500 that it can help the index march to a different beat.

However if you strip out these 10 mega-cap tech stocks, the “S&P 490” is actually -0.5% YTD. So those ten mega cap tech stocks have increased the return of the index by 8.5pp so far this year and have turned a potentially disappointing year into a very decent one for trackers and those who simply view the S&P 500 as a bellwether for global risk.

You could read this two ways; 1) that the “real” economy stocks are treading water and reflecting the risk of tougher times ahead, or 2) that the surge in tech is helping keep financial conditions from tightening as much as it should be on a cyclical basis.

If you believe the second point could it help avert a recession?

Doubtful in our eyes but it is something to keep an eye on. As discussed at the top we are very enthusiastic on the impact of AI on productivity in the years ahead. However this is likely to play out comfortably beyond the immediate cycle.

Next week my Thematic Research team are publishing an AI themed week with daily pieces on the subject from different angles. So please keep an eye out for that. I’ll highlight the first piece in my CoTD on Monday assuming the robots haven’t replaced me by then.

5. Commercial Real Estate Debt 2023 vs. Residential Real Estate Debt 2008

The stock of CRE debt outstanding today is significantly smaller than the stock of residential mortgage debt outstanding in 2007, see chart below.   As a result, this recession will be milder than in 2008, but it will likely be longer because the required correction in CRE prices will be spread out over a longer period.

Torsten Slok, Ph.D.Chief Economist, PartnerApollo Global Management

6. The Probability of Fed Easing Rates

Elizabeth O’Brien-Barrons

7. AGG-Bond Index

AGG rolling back over….rally stopped short of 2022 highs

8. April Retail Sales Positive After 2 Months of Negative Numbers.

The United States: April’s core retail sales topped expectations.

Source: The Daily Shot

Source: @WSJ

9. NYC Apartment Rents New Highs

Dave Lutz at Jones Trading HI JACK– New York apartment hunters are facing higher rents than ever before and having a hard time finding bargains anywhere.  The median rents on new leases in Manhattan, Brooklyn and northwest Queens reached records in April as confident landlords pushed up prices and cut down on incentives, according to a report by appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate.  In Manhattan, the median rent hit $4,241, 8.1% higher than a year ago and $66 more than the previous record set in March, the data show.  The Brooklyn median of $3,500 was up almost 15% from last year, while the median in the section of Queens that includes Astoria and Long Island City rose nearly 13% from a year earlier to $3,525.

10. A New Study Explains Exactly How to Spend Your Money to Maximize Happiness

Buying experiences rather than stuff helps. But this approach will squeeze even more joy out of your hard-earned money.


Can money buy happiness? Science has been puzzling over this question for decades and is still far from a complete, uncontroversial answer. What is clear from a huge number of dueling studies is that the relationship between income and happiness is complicated

Both common sense and research tell us that when you’re struggling financially, making more money leads to big boosts in happiness. The endless stress of poverty is, by all accounts, misery inducing (and it messes with your functional intelligence). But if you’re comfortable — previous research suggested above a threshold of $75,000 a year in income — more money seems to help only some people and some measures of happiness. 

All of which makes for fascinating science. But practically, where does that leave the average entrepreneur who wants to wring as much joy as possible out of every hard-earned dollar? While the science of whether earning more will make you happier may be in flux, recent research does offer simple guidance on how best to spend the money you do have to maximize your well-being. 

Is it experiences, or stuff? 

The most common answer to the question of how to spend your money for the most happiness is to focus on experiences rather than stuff. The thinking goes that we tend to get used to upgrades to our possessions–a bigger TV, a fancier car–fairly quickly, which means the thrill wears off quickly, too. Experiences like trips, classes, and activities with loved ones, however, leave us with memories that we can savor for the rest of our years. 

Not only that, but planning experiences brings us joy even before they happen. “The anticipatory period [for experiential purchases] tends to be more pleasant … less tinged with impatience relative to future material purchases we’re planning on making,” researcher Amit Kumar said at a symposium on the relationship between money and happiness. “Those waiting for an experience tended to be in a better mood and better behaved than those waiting for a material good.”

There’s nothing wrong with this line of thinking. Tons of evidence confirms that focusing on material wealth and possessions tends to leave people feeling empty and unsatisfied. Experiences are the better bet compared with more stuff. But a new study adds an additional wrinkle to the most up-to-date scientific advice on spending your money to maximize happiness. 

Actually, it’s all about goals. 

For the new study — recently published in the British Journal of Social Psychology — researchers asked 452 participants to describe a recent sizable purchase, excluding everyday expenses like bills. They were also asked to rate how much the purchase added to their life satisfaction and happiness and how closely it aligned with both their extrinsic goals (those that have to do with other people’s expectations) and intrinsic goals (those we chase for our own reasons). 

“The researchers found that, the more a purchase reflected people’s intrinsic goals, the more they thought it improved their well-being. In other words, the greatest well-being occurred when people spent money on something that was personally important to them,” reports UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center

Which isn’t to say the material goods versus experience factor was irrelevant. Experiences brought more joy than stuff. But bringing yourself one step closer to what you really want in life mattered the most. 

This finding has a very practical takeaway, according to one of the study authors, University of Cardiff psychologist Olaya Moldes Andrés. “She recommends pausing to think about the reason for our purchase, and what use we will get out of it. If we’re spending money on trying to impress people or project a certain image (in other words, extrinsic goals), the purchase may not actually be worth it,” sums up Greater Good. 

So, next time you find yourself in the pleasant position of having some extra cash to spend, take a minute to reflect on your goals. Figuring out what you want in life and how you can deploy your money to get you closer to that is the way to get the most happiness bang for your buck, according to the latest science.

Topley’s Top 10 – May 18, 2023

1. Debt Market View FAANG as Safer than U.S. Government Debt.

2. FAANG Rallies Right Back to 2022 Highs.

3. Cash to Debt Ratio Show Corporate Borrowers Maintaining Liquidity


4. The Risk On Chart of Year ..Bitcoin +64% YTD

5. Shopping Center Rents Record Highs

By Kate King WSJ

6. Retail Shopping ETF Still in Downtrend…RTH

7. Credit Card Debt not Getting Paid Down in Q1

WE O U $17T  The New York Fed recently released its first-quarter report on household debt, revealing that American households now owe someone a staggering $17 trillion.  The majority of that is tied up in home mortgages, with the remainder split across student loans, car loans and credit cards — with the latter (and smallest) of those 3 categories particularly striking.

Credit card debt remained at a record level of $986 billion, defying the usual trend of post-holiday debt reduction. Indeed, this is the first time in over two decades that credit card balances haven’t decreased in the first quarter — a period when many cut back on spending after the holiday period of October-December.All told, credit card debt rose 17% in the last 12 months, a potential sign that consumers are turning to credit cards to cope with mounting daily expenses as inflation continues to bite. Another concern is the rising delinquency rate, with ~4.6% of credit card debt transitioning into “serious delinquency” — where debt remains unpaid for 90+ days — up from just 3% during the same period last year.

Save to spendThis current situation stands in contrast to the pandemic, when US consumers, buoyed by stimulus checks and lockdown savings, managed to pay off $160bn of credit card debt between the end of 2019 and March 2021.

8. U.S. Commercial Real Estate Prices Turn Down in Q1….First Time in a Decade.

Bloomberg Rich Miller

9. Office Space-Is 50% the New (Metro) RTO?

The Big Picture by Barry Ritholtz

I mentioned a few weeks ago how much better Europe‘s return to office rate was doing versus ours: 90+% RTO, while the USA is ~60%. I cannot speak to Europe, but that U.S. number is an average across all regions, industries, age groups, etc. In some parts of the country, it is appreciably higher or lower; as you might imagine, it varies greatly.

The biggest drag? Big cities.  As Torsten Slok’s chart above shows, the biggest metropolitan employment centers run lower than the national average — which is about 50%. The range is surprisingly wide, from mids-30s to upper-60s: Austin,1 Texas is in the mid-60% range; San Jose is in the high-30%; San Francisco, D.C., and Philidelphia are low-40%. New York City, the biggest US metro center, is one of the laggards with an office occupancy rate of 46%.

Hybrid work models are now well-established. This leads Slok to ask a fascinating question: Is 50% the new permanent level in most metropolitan areas for RTO?

10. Odds of Premature Mortality

Scott Galloway According to the U.S. Surgeon General (an impressive man who makes you feel good about America): “Evidence across scientific disciplines converges on the conclusion that socially connected people live longer.” Social isolation is associated with a 29% increase in the risk of heart disease and a 32% increase in the risk of stroke. Put another way: loneliness kills.

Topley’s Top 10 – May 17, 2023

1. Margin Debt -35% from Peaks.

– margin debt tanked -35% off peak and -$330 billion
– greater than GFC peak to trough
– and 1.59% (% market cap) lowest since dot-com low

2. Fed Fund Rate Greater than CPI….This May Signal the End of Rate Hikes.

From Dave Lutz at Jones Trading Ryan notes Another clue the Fed is likely done hiking?  Fed funds rate > CPI YoY – Each of the previous 8 cycles could stop once this was in place.

3. Software ETF Still Bouncing Along Bottom

4. Biotech ETF Still in Range Near Bottom-IBB ETF

5. IPO Market Still Closed…IPO ETF Sideways

6. Walmart vs. Target

This chart shows Walmart performance vs. Target….straight up since 2021…50day thru 200day to upside.

7. Home Depot Chart.

HD closes right at 200 week moving average.

HD P/E Ratio..15x has been bottom of range since 2014 Macrotrends blog

8. Personal Savings Rates by Income

GMO Research

9. Drug Enforcement Administration Announces the Seizure of Over 379 million Deadly Doses of Fentanyl in 2022

WASHINGTON – As 2022 comes to an end, the Drug Enforcement Administration is announcing the seizure of over 50.6 million fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills and more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder this calendar year. The DEA Laboratory estimates that these seizures represent more than 379 million potentially deadly doses of fentanyl.

Fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat facing this country. It is a highly addictive man-made opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin. Just two milligrams of fentanyl, the small amount that fits on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially deadly dose.

“In the past year, the men and women of the DEA have relentlessly worked to seize over 379 million deadly doses of fentanyl from communities across the country,” said Administrator Anne Milgram. “These seizures – enough deadly doses of fentanyl to kill every American – reflect DEA’s unwavering commitment to protect Americans and save lives, by tenaciously pursuing those responsible for the trafficking of fentanyl across the United States. DEA’s top operational priority is to defeat the two Mexican drug cartels—the Sinaloa and Jalisco (CJNG) Cartels—that are primarily responsible for the fentanyl that is killing Americans today.”

Most of the fentanyl trafficked by the Sinaloa and CJNG Cartels is being mass-produced at secret factories in Mexico with chemicals sourced largely from China. In 2021, the DEA issued a Public Safety Alert on the widespread drug trafficking of fentanyl in the form of fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills. These pills are made to look identical to real prescription medications—including OxyContin®, Percocet®, and Xanax®—but only contain filler and fentanyl and are often deadly. Fake pills are readily found on social media. No pharmaceutical pill bought on social media is safe. The only safe medications are ones prescribed directly to you by a trusted medical professional and dispensed by a licensed pharmacist.

Just last month, DEA alerted the public to a sharp nationwide increase in the lethality of fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills.  DEA laboratory testing in 2022 revealed that six out of ten fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills contained a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. This is an increase from DEA’s announcement in 2021 that four out of ten fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills contain a potentially deadly dose.

In 2022, DEA seized more than double the amount of fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills that it seized in 2021. DEA also seized nearly 131,000 pounds of methamphetamine, more than 4,300 pounds of heroin, and over 444,000 pounds of cocaine. DEA is now providing a regularly updated counter at to track approximate amounts of fentanyl pills and fentanyl powder seized by DEA.

DEA has created a Faces of Fentanyl memorial to commemorate the lives lost from fentanyl poisoning. To submit a photo of a loved one lost to fentanyl, please send their name, age, and photograph to, or post a photo and their name to social media using the hashtag #JustKNOW.

10. Motivation: The Driving Force Behind Our Actions

By Kendra Cherry 

What Are the 3 Components of Motivation?

If you’ve ever had a goal (like wanting to lose 20 pounds or run a marathon), you probably already know that simply having the desire to accomplish these things is not enough. You must also be able to persist through obstacles and have the endurance to keep going in spite of difficulties faced.

These different elements or components are needed to get and stay motivated. Researchers have identified three major components of motivation: activation, persistence, and intensity.4

  • Activation is the decision to initiate a behavior. An example of activation would be enrolling in psychology courses in order to earn your degree.
  • Persistence is the continued effort toward a goal even though obstacles may exist. An example of persistence would be showing up for your psychology class even though you are tired from staying up late the night before.
  • Intensity is the concentration and vigor that goes into pursuing a goal.5 For example, one student might coast by without much effort (minimal intensity) while another student studies regularly, participates in classroom discussions, and takes advantage of research opportunities outside of class (greater intensity).

The degree of each of these components of motivation can impact whether you achieve your goal. Strong activation, for example, means that you are more likely to start pursuing a goal. Persistence and intensity will determine if you keep working toward that goal and how much effort you devote to reaching it.

Tips for Improving Your Motivation

All people experience fluctuations in their motivation and willpower. Sometimes you feel fired up and highly driven to reach your goals. Other times, you might feel listless or unsure of what you want or how to achieve it.

If you’re feeling low on motivation, there are steps you can take to help increase your drive. Some things you can do to develop or improve your motivation include:

  • Adjust your goals to focus on things that really matter to you. Focusing on things that are highly important to you will help push you through your challenges more than goals based on things that are low in importance.
  • If you’re tackling something that feels too big or too overwhelming, break it up into smaller, more manageable steps. Then, set your sights on achieving only the first step. Instead of trying to lose 50 pounds, for example, break this goal down into five-pound increments.
  • Improve your confidence. Research suggests that there is a connection between confidence and motivation.6 So, gaining more confidence in yourself and your skills can impact your ability to achieve your goals.
  • Remind yourself about what you’ve achieved in the past and where your strengths lie. This helps keep self-doubts from limiting your motivation.
  • If there are things you feel insecure about, try working on making improvements in those areas so you feel more skilled and capable.

 What to Do When You Have No Motivation

Causes of Low Motivation

There are a few things you should watch for that might hurt or inhibit your motivation levels. These include:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: If you think that you must be absolutely perfect when trying to reach your goal or there is no point in trying, one small slip-up or relapse can zap your motivation to keep pushing forward.
  • Believing in quick fixes: It’s easy to feel unmotivated if you can’t reach your goal immediately but reaching goals often takes time.
  • Thinking that one size fits all: Just because an approach or method worked for someone else does not mean that it will work for you. If you don’t feel motivated to pursue your goals, look for other things that will work better for you.

Motivation and Mental Health

Sometimes a persistent lack of motivation is tied to a mental health condition such as depression. Talk to your doctor if you are feeling symptoms of apathy and low mood that last longer than two weeks.

Theories of Motivation

Throughout history, psychologists have proposed different theories to explain what motivates human behavior. The following are some of the major theories of motivation.


The instinct theory of motivation suggests that behaviors are motivated by instincts, which are fixed and inborn patterns of behavior.7 Psychologists such as William James, Sigmund Freud, and William McDougal have proposed several basic human drives that motivate behavior. They include biological instincts that are important for an organism’s survival—such as fear, cleanliness, and love.

Drives and Needs

Many behaviors such as eating, drinking, and sleeping are motivated by biology. We have a biological need for food, water, and sleep. Therefore, we are motivated to eat, drink, and sleep. The drive reduction theory of motivation suggests that people have these basic biological drives, and our behaviors are motivated by the need to fulfill these drives.8

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is another motivation theory based on a desire to fulfill basic physiological needs. Once those needs are met, it expands to our other needs, such as those related to safety and security, social needs, self-esteem, and self-actualization.

Arousal Levels

The arousal theory of motivation suggests that people are motivated to engage in behaviors that help them maintain their optimal level of arousal.4 A person with low arousal needs might pursue relaxing activities such as reading a book, while those with high arousal needs might be motivated to engage in exciting, thrill-seeking behaviors such as motorcycle racing.

The Bottom Line

Psychologists have proposed many different theories of motivation. The reality is that there are numerous different forces that guide and direct our motivations.

Understanding motivation is important in many areas of life beyond psychology, from parenting to the workplace. You may want to set the best goals and establish the right reward systems to motivate others as well as to increase your own motivation.

Knowledge of motivating factors (and how to manipulate them) is used in marketing and other aspects of industrial psychology. It’s an area where there are many myths, and everyone can benefit from knowing what works with motivation and what doesn’t.