How to Get Better Motivation (And Keep It Going)

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Motivation is the engine that drives our actions and propels us toward our desires. It’s the force behind every success story, the catalyst for change, and the spark that ignites our dreams.

But motivation isn’t always constant — it waxes and wanes, and at times, can seem elusive. If you find yourself struggling to stay the course, or even start on the path to your goals, fear not! This guide is a roadmap to revving up your inner engine and keeping it going full-speed ahead.

In this blog post, you’ll discover how to get better motivation with tried-and-tested strategies that will not only jumpstart your motivation but will also help sustain it over the long haul.

What Is Motivation?

Motivation is defined as the process by which actions directed towards specific goals are initiated and sustained. It arises from the anticipation of success and the perceived value attached to reaching a goal.

For example, the desire to lose weight might inspire you to head to the gym, while aspirations for increased wealth and status could motivate you to pursue a promotion at your job. It’s what drives you to stay up late studying for an exam or wake up early to work on your business.

Motivation causes you to act in ways that get you closer to your goals. It includes the biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces that activate your behavior.

Humans possess an intrinsic drive to enhance their own lives and achieve their highest capabilities — a journey termed as self-actualization. Abraham Maslow’s motivational theory, the hierarchy of needs, suggests that individuals progress through specific developmental phases on their quest for self-actualization.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

We’re driven to fulfill our fundamental requirements like food and safety first. Then we aim to meet more intricate needs, such as social connections, community, and self-esteem.

Each level of need represents a rung on the ladder to self-actualization, and satisfaction at each stage motivates us towards realizing our full potential and expressing our unique talents and abilities.

What Drives Your Motivation?

Understanding what motivates you is essential to staying on track for your goals. It’s important to identify the underlying values, beliefs, and needs that drive your behavior. However, keep in mind that motivation differs from person to person and can even vary within an individual over time.

It’s also helpful to know how the perceived costs and benefits involved in a behavior influence motivation. For instance, if the perceived cost of quitting smoking is higher than that of continuing to smoke, a person may not be motivated to quit smoking.

On the other hand, if someone believes the effort required to start their own business will bring greater rewards than staying in their current job, they’ll be more inclined towards entrepreneurship.

Possible costs of a behavior:

  • Physical effort
  • Mental effort
  • Time spent
  • Discomfort
  • Loss of potential opportunities
  • Possible danger

Possible benefits of a behavior:

  • Meeting physiological needs like food and shelter
  • Meeting psychological needs, such as the feeling of belonging
  • Positive reinforcement or rewards
  • Escaping from a harmful situation
  • Avoidance of costs
  • Achieving goals
  • Enhanced well-being

Often, your evaluation of costs and benefits operates subconsciously. It’s guided by past experiences and cultural norms, which act as scripts that shape your perception of loss and reward.

Your internal interpretation influences your drive — sometimes moving you toward action with a sense of urgency, other times holding us back, almost imperceptibly, when the scales tip towards perceived risks.

The Two Types of Motivation

Motivation is a complex mix of psychological and physiological factors that are influenced by both internal and external stimuli.

These different stimuli create what are called extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

1. Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is driven by external factors that prompt action to gain a reward or avoid a penalty. These rewards could be tangible — like money, trophies, or social recognition — or they could be intangible, such as praise or improved status.

This type of motivation is often used to initiate a behavior that might not be enjoyable. For example, an employee may work overtime to receive a bonus, or a student might study rigorously to achieve high grades.

Though extrinsic motivation can be highly effective in the short term, it may be difficult to sustain once the rewards cease or if the external pressure is removed. It is often influenced by people in positions of authority, such as employers, teachers, or parents, who set expectations and establish the rewards or consequences.

2. Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is driven by internal factors, such as personal interests, beliefs and values, and the enjoyment or satisfaction from performing an activity. It is self-motivation that is not contingent on external rewards but rather comes from within.

This type of motivation can be more powerful and sustainable because it stems from a genuine desire to engage in an activity for its own sake, rather than for the rewards or approval from others. It is often associated with feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness — which are essential elements for long-term motivation.

When you are intrinsically motivated, even challenging tasks become enjoyable and are more likely to be pursued with passion and perseverance. This inherent drive forms the foundation for personal growth, dedication, and resilience in overcoming obstacles.

What Causes You to Lack Motivation?

Lack of motivation can be a temporary or long-standing problem. Various factors can contribute to low motivation and lead to a halt in progress or a decline in your enthusiasm. Some common causes include:

1. Lack of interest: When you’re not interested in a particular activity, you may lack the motivation to pursue it. This could be due to boredom, disconnection from your values, or a mismatch between your personal goals and external expectations.

2. Lack of confidence: Low self-esteem can lead to doubts about your abilities and potential for success. This may cause you to avoid challenging tasks and settle for mediocrity — and lose motivation.

3. Feeling overwhelmed: When a task or goal seems too complex or unachievable, it can be difficult to know where to start. This sense of overwhelm can cause you to feel paralyzed and demotivated.

4. Discouragement: If you don’t see any progress in your efforts, it can affect your motivation level and make you question the purpose of your actions. This is especially true if your goals seem far out of reach.

5. Lack of direction: Maintaining motivation can be difficult without clear goals or a sense of purpose. This lack of direction can lead to feelings of aimlessness and a loss of motivation.

6. Negative self-talk: Your internal dialogue can significantly impact your motivation. Negative self-talk, such as “I can’t do this” or “It’s too hard,” can create self-doubt and diminish your drive to take action.

7. Lack of support: It can be easy to feel unmotivated without a supportive environment or the encouragement of others. Negative feedback or lack of recognition for hard work can dampen enthusiasm and discourage you from taking action.

8. Physical or mental health issues: Chronic health problems or an underlying mental illness can significantly impact motivation. Physical symptoms, pain, or fatigue can make tasks seem more challenging and reduce energy levels, while depression or anxiety can cause a lack of interest and drive.

Though a lack of motivation can be frustrating and demoralizing, it doesn’t have to be permanent. With the right approach, you can overcome the underlying causes and reignite your drive to achieve your goals.

Strategies for Building and Sustaining Motivation

Now that you understand the nature of motivation, let’s dive into practical strategies that can help you reignite your passion and sustain your drive.

Whether you’re struggling with momentary setbacks or chronic obstacles to your motivation, these approaches are designed to build your resilience and help pave the way for achieving your aspirations.

1. Cultivate Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is rooted in internal satisfaction rather than external rewards. To cultivate this type of motivation, it is essential to identify your personal interests and values.

Understanding what drives you and aligning your goals with your passions can help sustain your motivation in the long run.

Try some of these ways to deepen your intrinsic motivation:

  • Discover Personal Interests and Passions: Delve into self-discovery to identify what naturally excites and energizes you. Psychological research emphasizes that engaging in activities that align with your interests can significantly boost intrinsic motivation. This alignment fosters a sense of pleasure and satisfaction that comes from the activity itself.

  • Set Personal Goals: Goal-setting theory suggests that establishing personal and meaningful goals increases motivation and enhances performance. Make sure these goals are challenging yet attainable, clear, and give you a sense of direction. Personal goals empower you to take ownership of your progress and celebrate the intrinsic rewards of achieving each milestone.

  • Emphasize Mastery and Self-Improvement: According to the Self-Determination Theory (SDT), the need for competence is a vital psychological nutrient for intrinsic motivation. Focus on the process of learning and mastery rather than the end result. This approach encourages continuous self-improvement, which is intrinsically rewarding.

  • Develop Autonomy: The SDT also identifies autonomy as critical for intrinsic motivation. When you have the freedom to make choices that resonate with your own values and interests, you’re more likely to feel motivated from within. Seek out opportunities that allow you to work independently or have a say in how you complete tasks.

  • Connect to a Larger Purpose: Finding a connection between what you do and a greater purpose can reignite passion. Studies show that individuals often experience higher levels of intrinsic motivation when they understand the impact and meaningfulness of their work.
Woman working on laptop outside near water

2. Use SMART Goals

Setting specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (SMART) goals is a powerful strategy for building motivation. This approach increases self-awareness and provides a clear roadmap for achieving your objectives.

Ideally, you want your goals to be:

  • Specific: Clearly define what you want to achieve and why it matters to you. The more specific the goal, the easier it is to create an action plan and stick to it.
  • Measurable: Establish quantifiable criteria to track your progress and determine when you’ve achieved your goal. This step provides a sense of accomplishment and motivates you to continue working towards your target.
  • Attainable: Consider the necessary resources, skills, and time required for achieving your goal. Make sure it is within reach, but also challenging enough to keep you engaged.
  • Relevant: Align your goal with your personal interests and values. This alignment increases intrinsic motivation and makes the goal more meaningful to you.
  • Timely: Set a realistic timeline for achieving the goal. A deadline can serve as a motivator — breaking down the goal into smaller, manageable tasks within a designated timeframe.

3. Use the Kaizen Approach

The concept of kaizen, which comes from a Japanese philosophy, translates to “continuous improvement”. In practice, kaizen encourages taking very small, incremental steps to achieve your goals. This makes the overall process less daunting, and allows a sense of achievement with each completed step.

The kaizen approach also stresses the importance of consistency. Instead of aiming for sporadic, high-intensity changes, this method believes in the power of small, uniform improvements.

This strategy of incremental change aids in the development of new habits and behaviors that create a stable foundation for reaching your objectives.

4. Design Your Environment — Inspired by James Clear

Your surroundings play a crucial role in shaping your motivation. You can create a supportive framework for reaching your goals by making some simple adjustments to your home and work spaces.

Author and productivity expert James Clear suggests the following approaches to leverage your environment to your benefit:

  • Make It Visible: Place the tools you need for your good habits in plain sight. Visibility acts as a reminder and increases the chances of taking action. For instance, if you’re trying to drink more water, keep a filled water bottle on your desk to serve as a visual cue to stay hydrated.

  • Make It Attractive: Design your environment so that cues for good habits are appealing and inviting. For example, you can use colorful post-it notes or add plants to your workspace to make the environment more enjoyable.

  • Make It Easy: Rearrange your space to reduce the friction of starting good habits. If you want to read more, keep a book on your bedside table. If you want to exercise more, lay out your workout clothes the night before.

  • Automate Good Decisions: The more you automate good decisions, the less you need to rely on willpower to make them. Make use of technology, such as setting reminders or using habit-tracking apps. If you want to decrease your food consumption, opt for a smaller plate — research indicates it naturally impacts portion sizes.

  • Get in the Flow: Align your desired habits with your natural behavior patterns to boost their adoption. For example, if you prefer to exercise after work, selecting a gym along your commute home seamlessly integrates fitness into your daily routine.

  • Subtract Negative Influences: Just as you should add cues for good habits, it’s also helpful to remove distractions and negative influences from your environment. For instance, if you want to reduce screen time, consider leaving your phone in a different room or using a productivity app that blocks certain apps or sites during designated times.

5. Practice Positive Self-Talk

The language you use when speaking to yourself has a significant impact on your motivation. Focusing on positive self-talk can help you develop a more optimistic outlook and increase resilience in the face of challenges.

These are some ways you can upgrade your self-talk:

  • Notice Your Inner Dialogue: Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings when you’re pursuing your goal. If you notice negative self-talk, pause and reframe it into more positive and encouraging language.

  • Use Affirmations: Use daily affirmations to reprogram your subconscious with positive beliefs about yourself and your abilities. For example, “I am capable of achieving my goals” or “I see the value in learning from my mistakes.”

  • Visualize Success: Picture yourself manifesting your goal in vivid detail. Visualization has been shown to increase motivation by programming the body and mind to achieve your goal, which helps you overcome obstacles.

  • Reframe Setbacks as Learning Opportunities: Instead of viewing setbacks as failures, reframe them as opportunities for growth and learning. This mindset shift helps you stay motivated and persist through challenges.

  • Avoid Comparison: Comparing yourself to others can be demotivating. Instead, focus on your own progress and celebrate your unique journey. Everyone’s path to success is different, so embrace yours.

7. Implement a Reward System

Acknowledging and celebrating even the smallest milestones keeps your spirits high and your eyes set on the next achievement. Celebrations don’t have to be grand — the act of recognition itself can be a strong motivator.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that providing immediate and frequent rewards for small tasks enhances both enjoyment and interest in work. Also, early rewards were shown to lead to sustained engagement even after the rewards cease — showing a lasting connection between positive reinforcement and job satisfaction.

When determining your rewards, make thoughtful choices that reflect your overall objectives and personal values. If your aim is to enhance your physical wellbeing, then choose rewards that contribute to that goal — such as a healthy cooking class or a new workout accessory — instead of counterproductive treats.

Involving your social network can also amplify the benefits of your reward system. Sharing your triumphs with friends and family not only holds you accountable, but also makes the process more enjoyable as your loved ones join in the celebration.

6. Practice Mindfulness and Stress Management

Mindfulness and stress management practices can help you gain motivation by reducing distractions and negative emotions. They can also help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings — allowing you to better understand what motivates and demotivates you.

Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as dedicating a few minutes each day to meditation or deep breathing exercises. This can not only soothe the mind, but also enhance concentration and decision-making. Engaging in yoga, tai chi, or other relaxation techniques can also help you cope with stress and create a calm inner environment for motivation to thrive.

In addition to intentional practices, incorporating leisure and fun activities into your life is a great counterbalance to stress. This might include hobbies, time spent in nature, or any enjoyable pastime that refuels your spirit. Maintaining a balance between work and play is not just important for motivation, but also for your overall well-being.

Woman taking a mindful moment at a table

Overcoming Challenges and Maintaining Motivation

Motivation will naturally ebb and flow over time. Challenges will inevitably arise along the way that can dampen your motivational fire.

Here are some tips for overcoming common obstacles and staying motivated on your journey.

1. Reframe Setbacks

Setbacks are expected in any journey toward growth. But the way they are perceived can make all the difference in maintaining motivation. It’s crucial to reframe setbacks as part of the learning process, rather than insurmountable obstacles.

Analyze each setback to uncover the lessons it contains and determine strategies to avoid similar issues in the future. Also, documenting your setbacks along with their solutions can serve as a motivational tool.

By keeping a journal, you create a tangible record of your journey where every challenge is followed by a triumph, which can serve as a powerful reminder of your strengths when faced with new challenges.

2. “Act As If” You Feel Motivated

The “act as if” strategy is a law of attraction tool to kindle motivation and align your vibration to your desires. When you act as if you’ve already accomplished your goals, it helps you adopt the mindset and habits that lead to success.

This technique utilizes visualization, affirmations, belief, and aligned action. For instance, by acting as if you are living a healthy and active lifestyle, you will naturally gravitate toward choices that support your well-being because you have embodied that reality as existing now.

Acting as if leverages the influence of the subconscious — which doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined reality.

3. Change Your Posture

Body language is a powerful communicator. And not just to others, but to your own brain as well. Psychologist Amy Cuddy’s research on power posing suggests that standing in a posture of confidence, even when you don’t feel confident, can boost feelings of self-assurance and may impact your chances for success.

The “power pose” (standing upright with your shoulders back, hands on hips, and your chest open) or the “victory pose” with arms reaching upwards in a “V” can result in a feeling of confidence and uplifted mood.

Practicing these poses, especially before tasks that require motivation and confidence, can help set a tone for success.

4. Go Green

Surrounding yourself with the color green can harness the power of color psychology to rejuvenate motivation and stimulate creativity. According to a 2013 study, the greenery of nature has a unique effect on the mind that increases motivation and physical activity.

The natural association of green with verdant landscapes, renewal, and vitality could encourage a motivated mindset and unlock creative potential. Whether it’s through the introduction of plants into a workspace, painting a wall green, or choosing desktop backgrounds and accessories with shades of green, incorporating this color into your surroundings could be a subtle yet effective motivational boost.

5. Use the 10-Minute Rule

The 10-Minute Rule works by breaking down the mental barriers associated with the start of a daunting task. If you dread running on the treadmill for three miles, tell yourself you only have to run for 10 minutes.

After those 10 minutes, you can make a choice — to stop or to continue. Often, the momentum of having started and the endorphins released during the exercise may be enough to encourage you to keep going.

Giving yourself permission to stop after a short interval eases the psychological load, making it more likely that you’ll actually begin the task. This rule harnesses the power of small wins and the psychological phenomenon known as the “Zeigarnik effect” — the inclination to finish tasks that we’ve started, which makes it a simple but effective motivational strategy.

6. Pair a Dreaded Task with Something You Enjoy

Your emotions can significantly influence your levels of motivation, often acting as a catalyst or a barrier to taking action. To harness this power, finding ways to infuse enjoyment into necessary but unpleasant tasks can be a game changer.

Instead of attempting to multitask, which studies suggest can dilute focus and reduce effectiveness, it is better to integrate pleasurable elements into a single task. For instance, listening to your favorite playlist, podcast, or audiobook can transform mundane activities like cleaning or administrative work into opportunities for enjoyment and personal enrichment.

7. Surround Yourself with a Positive Support Network

Human beings are inherently social creatures, and the company you keep can significantly influence your levels of motivation. Surround yourself with a supportive community of like-minded individuals who can offer encouragement and accountability.

A strong support network provides companionship as well as a sense of belonging and reinforcement through shared goals and aspirations. Engage with mentors and peers, or join groups with similar interests to create a motivational ecosystem.

Their positive energy and perspective can help you overcome moments of doubt and re-ignite your inner drive when it wanes.

8. Practice Self-Care

Self-care goes beyond the occasional indulgence — it involves consistently engaging in activities that promote your overall well-being and equip you to deal with daily stressors. Eating nutritious foods, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, and practicing mindfulness are all crucial components of a comprehensive self-care regimen.

Embodying self-respect and self-compassion builds a foundation for both physical health and mental resilience. When you care for your body and mind, your ability to get motivated and tackle tasks is greatly enhanced.

Note: If you’re concerned about your mental health, or if a lack of motivation is impacting your daily life, do not hesitate to seek the assistance of mental health professionals, such as a professional counselor or therapist.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step

Now, you are armed with the knowledge and actionable strategies to transform your approach to motivation. By understanding what drives you, setting clear and manageable goals, creating a supportive environment, and maintaining a positive mindset, you are well on your way to achieving the lasting and fulfilling motivation you seek.

Remember, your journey is not a sprint but a marathon — consistency and resilience are your greatest allies. Start implementing these steps today, and watch as your motivation evolves from a fleeting emotion to a steadfast companion on the path to your greatest self.

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