Kurt Lewin

Concepts of life space, motivation, and conflict

Life Space

According to Lewin, life spaces refer to all of the influences that are acting on an individual at any given time. These influences can be anything from personal, physical, and social events but can also include the beliefs of the individual as well (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014, p. 457). For instance, if I believe that my daughter is mad at me for something or that a co-worker does not particularly care for me, that perception will have an impact over I interact with those people. In a workplace setting, this belief may cause stress and tension when having to deal with the co-worker who I feel may harbor negative feelings toward me because I will be constantly thinking about what I did wrong or what I can do to correct the issue.

These influences are called psychological facts and they are made up of the mindfulness of the internal and external events as well as remembrances of past experiences (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014, p. 457). According to Lewin’s principle of contemporaneity, the psychological facts are current are the only facts that are able to influence a person’s thoughts and behaviors (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014, p. 457). If the facts are not in the present, they cannot impact thoughts and behaviors.


Lewin focused a great deal on what motivates individuals in terms of fulfilling biological and psychological needs. When these needs have to be fulfilled, there is a tension that is created within our life spaces which cannot be alleviated until the need is satisfied. As a test to Lewin’s hypothesis, Bluma Zeigarnik, she was able to assume that giving a task to individuals to complete would create a tension system that would remain until the task was completed (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014, p. 458). Furthermore, Zeigarnik was able to ascertain that subjects were not able to rid themselves of the tension if the task lingered as uncompleted. Essentially, the task remained a part of the person’s life space and would be a constant source of tension (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014, p. 458).

In terms of today’s work environment, this concept of motivation is relevant in a number of situations. For instance, in times of change, an organization and its employees are under tension because the biological and psychological needs are being compromised. Motivation appears in the form of seeking a balance or equilibrium in the event of the change. Motivation can also be referred to as Lewin’s concept of “unfreezing” as described in his change management model. This involved breaking down the existing status quo of the organization in order to build the company back up to a new way of operating (Mind Tools, 2016).


Lewis studied three different types of conflict; approach-approach conflict, avoidance-avoidance conflict and approach-avoidance conflict. According to approach-approach conflict, this takes place when an individual is attracted to two goals simultaneously (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014, p. 458). As an example, in a workplace situation, a promotion from my current position with the organization while also given an offer of another position outside of the department with the same benefits poses as a double-approach conflict for me. Both options are equally impressive and now it is up to me to choose between the two.

Avoidance-avoidance conflict takes place when a person is repelled by two unattractive goals at the same time, both being equally unfavorable (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014, p. 459). For instance, an issue arises at work which will require me, as a manager, to handle one of two equally distasteful situations. One situation will require that I advise an employee of extremely poor hygiene while the other requires that I have to let someone go. Both matters need to be handled however; they are both just as uncomfortable to deal with as the other.

Approach-avoidance conflict is the third type of conflict that Lewin identified which can be described as having a goal that is appealing however; there is an aspect of reaching the goal that is not appealing. “The name comes from the advantages of the goal making the person want to approach the goal and the disadvantages making him or her want to avoid it” (Jones, 2016). In a workplace setting, this type of conflict can take place when someone is given a new project that will be beneficial to career advancement but will also take a considerable amount of time to complete which will mean less time at home with the family. In this instance the goal is definitely desirable but the disadvantage of less time at home may impact the decision to accept the project.


Hergenhahn, B., & Henley, T. B. (2014). An Introduction to the History of Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Jones, A. (2016). Approach-Avoidance Conflict: Definition & Examples. Retrieved from Study.com: http://study.com/academy/lesson/approach-avoidance-conflict-definition-examples.html

Mind Tools. (2016). Lewin's Change Management Model: Understanding the Three Stages of Change. Retrieved from mindtools.com: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_94.htm