Motivation is one of the elementary ingredients to personal and professional success. Unfortunately, it’s also unpredictable. Sometimes you’re filled with the motivation to achieve everything, and at other times summoning motivation is like trying to draw water from a stone.
Despite what you may think, motivation is not like the creative muse that drifts in and out of our consciousness. It’s more like a mood that we have to learn how to control. And control you will with this article. We share our best doable tips to help you become the master of your motivation, and it all starts with a better understanding of what it is and where it comes from.
Before we get to the practical, let’s flutter through some theory (unless you’re ready to get doing – if so, feel free to skip ahead).
Motivation: What it is? How does it work?
How to get Motivated
How to Keep Your Motivation
What is Motivation?
Motivation is the emotional or social force that causes you to act. It’s the why behind our actions. It can be applied to describe an act as benign as drinking a glass of water (where the motivation is to quench your thirst), or something more complex like sticking to an exercise regimen (where the motivation could be to get healthy, look more toned, or feel better mentally).
Motivation is the emotional or social force that causes you to act. It’s the why behind our actions.
Motivation can be broken down into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivations are those that arise from within, usually driven by instant gratification. For example, you might be intrinsically motivated to do a crossword puzzle because it’s enjoyable and you’ll feel satisfied when you finish it. We’re intrinsically motivated to do things because we want to do them – the goal is our own pleasure – so we’re rarely faced with the issue of avoidance or procrastination.
Extrinsic motivations are those that arise from outside an individual such as duties, obligations, or rewards. Rewards can come in the form of money, recognition, or acclaim.
Extrinsic motivations are still valid, but they’re harder to stick to because you’re usually pursuing them because you have to or should, rather than want to. For example, you may want to write a book, but the work that goes into making that happen involves a lot of actions that you may not want to do.
These need-to-dos require extrinsic motivation – the type of motivation that we’re usually trying to find.
To write a book, you also have to conceptualize a plot, figure out story structure, edit the copy… and you know… write it! The gratification will come after a lot of time and effort. So reaching a goal that you want, still involves doing things that you need to do. And these need-to-dos require extrinsic motivation – the type of motivation that we’re usually trying to find.
Is Motivation Unlimited?
It can be if you’re perfect. Or superhuman. But if you’re regular like the rest of us, then motivation will be fleeting and fickle. To make motivation go as far as it can, you should understand the three components of motivation and how (and when) they are important. They are:
- Activation: this is the spark. The initial decision that gets the ball rolling towards your goal. For example, opening a savings account to save money for a property.
- Persistence: is the regular, sustained effort needed to work towards your goal despite any challenges you may encounter. For example, going to work every day, putting a portion of each pay into your savings account, or resisting the urge to dip into your savings for fun things (like eating out or shopping).
- Intensity: refers to the amount of vigor you put into your efforts. For example, a serious saver might use an app to regularly monitor their savings and put in a little extra whenever they can, whereas someone that is saving with less intensity might simply let an auto-deposit do its thing.
The degree of each of these components of motivation can affect actions related to your goal. Strong activation can mean you put a lot into practice early which will get you on a good start to attaining your goal. High levels of persistence and intensity will help you stay on track towards your goal while you work through the need-to-dos.
How to Get Motivated
Now that you know that motivation needs to be activated intrinsically or extrinsically, find out exactly how.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain
Make, Don’t Find Your Motivation
They say that a black belt is just a white belt that never quit. They kept going to class, on-time every time, and eventually clocked up enough training and grading to become an expert. This is true to every pursuit. You simply need to show up, do the work, and come again the following day and the day after that. If you keep doing this, you’ll reach your goal.
A mistake that many people make is waiting for motivation strike before starting, but really you can be your own activator. All you need to do is schedule it in. If this sounds a little too simple, you’re right. It’s not as simple as scheduling in time devoted to your goal, you need to schedule in time and be specific about what actions you’ll do in that time that will be productive.
A mistake that many people make is waiting for motivation to strike before starting, but really you can be your own activator.
How many times have you wanted to go for a run, or workout, but been distracted by wanting the right workout clothes or trying to find a good YouTube workout to be motivated by? This is an example of why you need to be strategic about your schedule. Layout your clothes and choose your exercise regimen before you work out so that you eliminate potential excuses and distractions. Make it so that all you have to do is show up and get started.
Keep these appointments regular and keep showing up. Experts stick to their schedule, amateurs wait for inspiration or the perfect set of circumstances to take action. Be your own activator. Set a schedule for your goal, be strategic about what you’ll do in that time, and show up.
Hijack Habits for Automated Motivation
Show up every time… easy right? We all know that’s not true. So what can you do to make showing up easier? The answer is to make it habitual so that persisting is less of a chore and becomes automatic. Make it part of your routine.
A few examples of goal-attaining routines could be:
- Lighting a candle and setting a five-minute timer every morning to improve your mindfulness.
- Brewing a cup of coffee and writing down your day’s priorities for a productive day of work.
- Putting your active wear on at the office and catching a bus straight to the gym after work.
The key to an effective routine is making the first action easy, enjoyable, and necessary for your goal. You want to take advantage of your intrinsic motivation so that you’ll want to take this first action every time. This is why it should be so easy and enjoyable that you would never say no to doing it – like brewing a coffee, lighting your favorite candle, or changing into stylish gym clothes that you look great in.
Experts stick to their schedule, amateurs wait for inspiration or the perfect set of circumstances to take action.
It should also be a necessary step towards goal. You don’t want it to be so distracting or complex that it gets in the way of what you’re meant to be doing. Once you’ve followed that easy first step, do the next steps in the same order each time. Set the timer, then sit down; brew the coffee, then get your notebook; change into your gym clothes, then get straight on the bus. This way you develop an association between the easy action, and the follow-up actions that make up your routine. Keeping it consistent tells your brain, ‘I’m doing this… now it’s time for that,’ which will make it easier for your autopilot to follow a set pattern.
Eventually, the association between the initial action and the rest of the pattern will become so strong that you won’t need to feel motivated to put work into your goal – you’ll just need to start your routine. All you’ll need to do is that very first action which will kick-start your habit.
How to Keep Your Motivation
Now that you’re on your way to your goal, staying persistent with your effort becomes important. Remember, anyone can want the trophy. Those that get it are the ones that continually put in the work, and persisted to get it.
The key to an effective routine is making the first action easy, enjoyable, and necessary for your goal.
Find the Challenge Sweet Spot
When you lack the motivation to keep persisting with your goal, follow The Goldilocks Rule. The Goldilocks Rule argues that peak motivation in humans occurs when a task is difficult enough to stimulate, but not so hard that it defeats or overwhelms someone. Not too simple. Not too hard. As Goldilocks would say, ‘Just right’.
If you’re feeling a lack of motivation, choose a task that pushes and challenges you, but one that you are still capable of completing. This tactic is also very useful when you’re managing a team of people with varying levels of motivation. Rather than assigning tasks randomly, consider each person’s abilities and levels of motivation and divvy up the tasks in a way that will stimulate each person just enough for their peak performance.
If you’re managing your own motivation, use The Goldilocks Rule to schedule your tasks. If you know that on Mondays you need something challenging to get you into ‘work moefde’ and something easier on Friday in the lead up to the weekend, schedule your workload accordingly.
Reflecting on your why is a wonderful motivator. Think back on why you are working towards your goal. List the reasons why attaining your goals means so much to you. List how it will change your life for the positive. Remind yourself of why you want this. Then reflect on the work you need to do to get there. Acknowledge that it’s hard – big changes and achievements usually are – and forgive yourself for wishing it was easy.
Reminding yourself of what you want, why you want it, and the work required to get there will give you perspective on your goal. These are the sorts of questions that will help you map out what you need to do to get to where you want to be, and when you are lacking motivation, direction can be helpful for persistence.
Often we simplify the vision of our goal as ‘having the thing’ instead of ‘feeling the thing’. For example, if you’re training for a marathon you might envision yourself crossing the finish line. When you’re feeling unmotivated, a simplified goal of ‘finishing a marathon’ won’t be enough to get you to train. Thinking about your why – or how you will feel at the end of the marathon, what it will do for your confidence, how proud you’ll feel – this is visceral and more inspiring.
How to Get Motivated by Failure
Failure is a friend of pursuit if you know how to use it wisely.
“Success is most often achieved by those who don't know that failure is inevitable.” - Coco Chanel
Mistakes are Master Teachers
Working towards your goal and keeping motivation up is a process. That’s why persistence is a key part. Another key part are mistakes. Every person that is trying something will inevitably make a mistake.
Mistakes are sometimes seen as failures, but if you learn from them, they become invaluable lessons that can take you farther than an accomplishment. Mistakes only become failures if you don’t learn from them and repeat them again and again. Embracing mistakes is an important part of mastering persistence.
A Chance to Do Things Differently
One of the definitions of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results. Yes, persistence is a great trait. And yes, you should allow yourself time to develop a new habit. But when you’re practicing persistence pay attention to when it doesn’t work. If you’re consistently failing to find motivation, take a good look at your process and give yourself the option of switching it up.
Motivation is not one size fits all. A method that works for one person may not work for you. Understand and acknowledge that when you make mistakes, your solution could be different from your peers or idols. Embrace your mistake as a chance to do things differently.
You’ve made it to the end, which means you’re ready to get out there and start kicking those goals.
If you’re consistently failing to find motivation, take a good look at your process and give yourself the option of switching it up.
If you’re still unsure of where to start, remember finding the motivation to work towards your goal can be as easy as setting time aside (start with your calendar), or building a ritual (start with something small). Whatever you begin with, remember it’s not a race, consistency is key, and you can be the master of your own motivation.
Other motivation related articles that can help
This is list of recommended articles about motivation. Enjoy reading!
- How to Manage Your Time Without Draining Your Energy
- How to Stay Focused When You Get Bored Working Toward Your Goals