Learn about motivation and how to feel more authentically motivated.
Motivation is an energizing force that drives you to act. When you’re motivated, you feel excited and driven to start working towards a goal and to keep working towards that goal, even in the face of obstacles (Parks & Guay, 2009). It can even feel exhilarating to be genuinely motivated to work on a goal that you care about (Cook & Artino, 2016).
How Basic Psychological Needs Contribute to Motivation
We are more likely to be intrinsically motivated to achieve goals that fulfill three basic psychological needs (Cook & Artino, 2016). These needs are:
In addition, you’ll feel more satisfied and more motivated if you can pursue goals that are consistent with your values and interests (Parks & Guay, 2009). If you can structure your professional, educational, health, domestic, and personal life around your values and interests, you’ll feel a greater sense of intrinsic and integrated motivation. This will make building habits and completing goals easier. When you’re acting in ways that support your values, you’ll likely feel happier and more motivated.
How to Get Motivated to Work
Generally, you'll feel motivated to work when you find your work interesting, when your work has clear and well-defined goals, and when you can link your work to a wider project. You can increase your motivation to work by addressing your basic psychological needs (Sharp et al., 2009).
You’re more likely to feel motivated if you feel a sense of ownership or choice over your work. When faced with a boring or unpleasant work task, you can increase your sense of autonomy and motivation if you can connect the task to a career path that you have chosen. Having some variety in your work can also increase your sense of autonomy and your feelings of motivation.
Work that is technically challenging will be more motivating than work that is too easy. You’re unlikely to be motivated by boring tasks that don’t fulfill your need to feel competent.
You’ll probably be more motivated to work if you have a sense of belonging within supportive workplace networks. Team-building exercises and happy hours with your colleagues may help you feel more connected and more motivated in your work. You’ll also feel a greater sense of motivation if you can connect your contribution to a larger project that is impactful and important.
Not all motivation is created equal. Intrinsic motivation, where joy is inherent in the performance of the act, and integrated motivation, where the act has become part of your self-identity, are the highest forms of motivation. So you probably feel happy and fulfilled when you work on something you love or when you work on something important to you.
Learn how to create a roadmap to get to your desired life destination.
Remember when we were younger, and people used to ask us what we wanted to be when we grew up? It may seem silly to ask an eight-year-old what they hope to do with their life. But maybe this small talk was also a way to get us to think about what we wanted from life. And most of us answered this question with confidence, revealing our hopes and dreams. However, as we grew older and learned how to manage the curveballs life threw at us, we might have lost sight of what we once hoped to become and achieve. So, take a moment now and ask yourself what you want to be. It doesn’t have to be what you hope to achieve five or ten years from now—what is something you want to do next week? Next month? Next year?
Planning out your life doesn’t mean having every minute of every day mapped out. Instead, life planning is a process of creating a generalized guide of what your purpose(s) in life is, what you hope to accomplish during your lifetime, and how you aim to work toward those goals (Smith, 1999). Life plans often include an estimated timeline of when you hope your goals come to fruition and also take bumps on the road into account. Ultimately, life is full of surprises, and we cannot possibly predict unforeseen events. As such, life plans are often works-in-progress, should be amended as life goes on, and preferably, are flexible rather than rigid blueprints.
Why Might You Want a Life Plan
Even if you are someone who enjoys going with the flow and taking life one step at a time, you may still find the following information useful, or at least insightful. Let’s take a look at why life planning can be beneficial for you (Miller & Frisch, 2009).
Strategies to Create a Life Plan
Do you feel like making a life plan would be useful for you? Try walking through some of these steps to create a life plan, or at least start thinking about making one.
Whether you write your answers down or ponder these questions in your head, take some time to reflect on your life. Here are some questions to consider:
2. Assess Your Life Satisfaction
I am going to provide you with a list of categories in your life. You may find it beneficial to rate your satisfaction with these categories on a scale of 1-10. This activity may help you figure out what works well and what needs to be improved in your life. This is not an exhaustive list and I invite you to incorporate any life categories that are relevant to you as you complete this activity.
3. Create Goals
Maybe you looked at this list and realized you hadn’t visited your parents in a while, didn’t take a vacation last year, or missed participating in a hobby that you loved. Once you have made a list of your top priorities, you may find it helpful to create some goals that can help you increase your satisfaction with these different life aspects.
Learn self-management skills and strategies to better control yourself.
Do you find yourself getting easily overwhelmed by your inexhaustible to-do list? Have you been in a situation where your frustration led you to tears? Has there been a time when you wanted to start eating a better diet but struggled to follow the plan? If this sounds like you, don’t worry—we’ve all been there. Sometimes our thoughts and emotions can overpower our self-control and lead to what we wouldn’t consider to be our proudest moments. But that’s why we’re here to help you understand the importance of self-management and how to become more mindful and productive.
The practice of self-management includes being able to assess your priorities, manage your time, hold yourself accountable, follow through with the task at hand, and most importantly, maintain your well-being (Hackman, 1986). Many of us may struggle with procrastination from time to time, especially when it comes to school assignments or mundane tasks at work. But we may also deal with procrastination in our home life.
Without healthy self-management, we may find it difficult to complete simple tasks (or big projects), achieve our goals, gain personal and professional growth, and take care of our emotional well-being.
Here are some self-management skills you may want to consider improving on if you haven’t already done so (Lorig & Holman, 2003; Grady & Gough, 2014).
Discover practical strategies that can help you become more decisive.
Do you often feel torn between two or more options that sound equally appealing? If you do, you’re not alone. Every day, we need to make numerous decisions, big and small. Maybe you start your decision-making struggle when picking an outfit in the morning or thinking about whether you want your eggs for breakfast to be scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, or fried. Later in the day, you might spend hours thinking about whether you should authorize a business transaction or which job offer to accept.
Indecisiveness is the difficulty we have in making satisfying decisions (Appel, Englich & Burghardt, 2021). When we are indecisive, we evaluate and reevaluate the same set of information. We may spend a long time weighing the pros and cons of every option, only to be paralyzed by them.
Sometimes indecision is caused by having too many options to consider, such as when browsing the shelves of a supermarket for salad dressing and there are at least fifty different bottles to choose from. Nevertheless, the inability to make decisions has also to do with our upbringing and the society we belong to. For instance, a multinational study has found that Japanese individuals exhibited greater indecisiveness than American and Chinese participants (Yates et al., 2010).
Researchers have also found that childhood trauma alters brain activation patterns involved in decision-making. Simply put, young adults who experienced traumatic levels of stress as children were unable to evaluate risks associated with options, which in turn hampered their ability to make sound decisions (Birn, Roeber & Pollak, 2017).
How to Work Through Indecisiveness
Occasional indecisiveness isn’t all that bad. If you are indecisive because you are carefully weighing your options, you are likely to avoid rushing into decisions that you might regret later. If you tend to be indecisive in many situations, you may end up wasting your mental energy on trivial matters. Here are a few strategies to overcome indecisiveness that you might find helpful.
How do you make sure you achieve your goals? Here’s what science says about goal setting.
Goal setting is the process of thinking about and deciding on specific aims or objectives that one would like to achieve. Many years of research have shown that setting goals can help us improve our performance (Latham, & Locke, 2007). Although there are many types of goals—life goals, work goals, financial goals, relationship goals, etc...—all of these goals can be benefited by going through a goal-setting process that helps us identify, clarify, and execute the goals that are likely to actually make us happy.
Goal setting theories offer us some useful insights on what to do. To start, goals establish an endpoint so that we know which direction to go in. This goal-directed action includes four parts (Latham & Locke, 1991).
Is your goal specific?
Ask yourself, does your goal include clear boundaries? James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says we should set upper and lower limits for our goals. For example, we might set a goal to go to the gym at least twice per week but no more than 4 times per week. By setting these boundary conditions, we get clearer on exactly what our goal is and help prevent ourselves from burning out.
Is your goal meaningful?
Ask yourself, why does this goal matter to you? Dig deep to make sure your goal is consistent with your values and is in alignment with your desired lifestyle. If your goal goes against your values or lifestyle, it’ll be hard to stick to and hard to build a habit.
Is your goal achievable
Ask yourself, is this goal possible? There are a lot of folks out there telling you that you can easily wish your way to getting anything you want. Although having positive expectations can indeed help you reach those expectations (Rasmussen, Scheier, & Greenhouse, 2009) and setting challenging goals helps us perform better than we might have expected, the science does not support the practice of setting impractical goals. For example, if your goal is to make a million dollars, think carefully about the amount of effort you can exert and the likely results of that effort. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Is your goal realistic?
A realistic goal might include time parameters. Ask yourself, is the timeline you’ve set for the goal realistic? Given the number of hours you have in a day, can you reach the goal in the time you expect to?
Is your goal trackable?
Lastly, ask yourself, is the goal trackable? We are more likely to achieve goals when we track them. Seeing our progress can help motivate us and enable us to see if we’ve gone off track. So, make sure your goal is trackable. For example, if your goal is to make the world a better place, how would you track this? Would you count the number of kind things you say to strangers, the number of times you volunteer, or something else? Whatever your goal is, break it down into trackable, measurable chunks.
How do you cultivate a mindset for success and happiness?
Our mindsets are crucially important because our attitudes and beliefs affect everything we do, feel, think, and experience. Although you might say each of us has one overall mindset, this mindset is made up of many smaller parts. Some of these help us improve our well-being and succeed in the world. Others hurt our ability to do so. That's why developing certain mindsets can greatly help us improve ourselves, enjoy our lives, and be more successful.
Some of the most well-known (and beneficial) mindsets include:
These mindsets are changeable. If you find that you don’t really have much of a particular mindset, you can engage in thought exercises and activities to develop that mindset. So let's talk a bit more about each of these mindsets and how they can be developed.
A growth mindset is the tendency for people to believe that their abilities can be developed through hard work. With a growth mindset, you try harder, you want to learn new strategies, and you seek out feedback when you are stuck (Dweck, 2015). Growth mindset is the most studied type of mindset. Having a growth mindset has been linked to success in a variety of life domains (Yeager et al., 2019). One way to develop a growth mindset is to learn a bit more about neuroplasticity—or the brain's ability to change and grow. Indeed, we have the power to change our brains, learn new things, and develop new skills. When we have a mindset that believes this fully, we're more likely to put in the effort required to learn and grow, which helps us improve our lives in a multitude of ways.
A positive mindset is the tendency to focus on the good things in life rather than the bad. People with a positive mindset may use strategies like gratitude, reappraisal, and savoring to identify the good things and increase their positive emotions (Quoidbach, Mikolajczak, & Gross, 2015). Their attitudes are generally optimistic, and they tend to expect the best.
A positive mindset can be great for our well-being and even help us to be more successful. In fact, the broaden and build theory of positive emotion suggests that positive emotions build on themselves, eventually leading to things like professional and relationship success (Fredrickson, 2004).
An entrepreneurial mindset is helpful for those who want to be entrepreneurs, but it's also a useful mindset for all of us in the modern world. Modern life is undergoing near-constant change and the types of skills needed for entrepreneurship are the same skills that are most useful in adapting to, and coping with, rapid change and uncertainty. That's why an entrepreneurial mindset can be a crucial mindset to develop.
According to a whitepaper on entrepreneurial mindset (Gold & Rodriguez, 2018), this mindset is made up of several important skills including:
These skills are thought to aid academic and career success. Of course, this is a broad range of skills and no one person likely has high levels of all these skills. So, developing the skills we are weaker at may be the most beneficial approach.
A challenge (vs threat) mindset is thought to arise in performance situations like test-taking, game-playing, athletics, work tasks, and elsewhere. We can either evaluate these situations as a challenge that we can handle or a threat that might beat us.
This mindset is about how we evaluate the demands of the situation and our resources for coping with these demands. Resources may include skills, knowledge, abilities, dispositions (like positive self-esteem), and external support. Demands may include danger, uncertainty, and required effort (Blascovich et al., 2004). The thing is that most of these resources and demands are attitudes, perceptions, and other cognitions—things that we have the power to change.
By pushing ourselves to see our difficult circumstances as challenges that we can handle, we respond to these situations in ways that are more beneficial. In fact, a challenge mindset changes our physiology in ways that can make us more successful at the task (Blascovich et al., 2004).
Discover ideas and tips to plan your week effectively.
Have you ever spent part of your Sunday dreading the week ahead? Thinking about everything you need to do in the next few days might stress you out, especially if you’ve just finished a whirlwind week that was neither efficient nor productive. Maneuvering between tasks throughout a week without a clear plan might feel like navigating through a choppy ocean on a cloudy night without a compass. This is where weekly planning comes into play. It allows you to set attainable goals and figure out how to spend your week.
Weekly planning is the act of writing down your activities, tasks, and events for the entire week. Even if organizing your weekly tasks seems inconsequential at first, dividing your time wisely throughout the week may help you better control your life and reduce your stress levels. Moreover, writing down your short-term goals and everything you want to accomplish for the next few days gives you a chance to achieve your personal and professional pursuits and maintain a work-life balance.
Although weekly planning is like daily planning, a weekly plan isn’t the more extended version of a daily agenda. Whereas daily plans typically include specific time slots allocated for each task and activity, most weekly plans focus on setting and accomplishing short-term goals. Therefore, weekly planning can help you achieve your long-term goals by conquering their short-term components. Let’s discuss some ideas for fail-proof weekly planning.
Planning Your Goals
Many people have goals they would like to accomplish someday, such as learning a new language, eating healthily, or reading more books. Often, these long-term goals are postponed and sometimes abandoned. One way to ensure reaching your long-term goals is to break them down into smaller weekly goals. You can set multiple goals per week, as long as they are attainable, and you aren’t overbooking yourself. When your weekly goals are achievable, every week will bring you one step closer to your larger life goals.
Planning Your Exercise
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week for adults (WHO, 2010). Moreover, having clear short-term fitness goals can keep you on track, as demonstrated in a study with runners that weekly goal setting was associated with increased running distance (Wack, Crosland & Miltenberger, 2014).
When designing and incorporating your exercise plan, you might want to consider factors such as your fitness goals, age, body composition, general fitness level, and whether you already have an exercise routine. For instance, if you are generally in good health but don’t have an established exercise routine, try choosing relatively easy workouts first and progress slowly. If you have any existing health conditions, consider talking to a health care professional before creating an exercise routine.
Planning Your Mental Wellness
Unfortunately, mental well-being goals don’t always get the attention they deserve. There are, however, several easy mental health activities that you can embed into your weekly routine. Here are some practical mental well-being activities you can try.
You can’t avoid stressful situations indefinitely, and stress-inducing tasks might make regular appearances in your weekly routine. Taking deep breaths during stressful periods can slow down your heart rate and help you calm down (Van Diest et al., 2014). So try incorporating reminders into your plan to practice deep breathing before stressful activities, such as an important meeting with a client or a midterm exam.
Mindfulness is being aware of your experiences without passing judgments. Practicing mindfulness allows you to pay attention to your thoughts, sensations, and emotions. Being aware of what you think, and feel can allow you to accept your thoughts and feelings and achieve an optimal mental balance. Although mindfulness is often incorporated into activities such as yoga and meditation, you can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere.
You might want to reserve some time each week for relaxing activities that will help you feel happier. These activities can be practicing yoga, tai chi, meditation, or running. Others might prefer spending time in nature or losing themselves in a hobby. Others feel happy and energized when they socialize with friends. Whatever your relaxing activities are, regularly engaging in them might help you feel joyful and give you a positive outlook.
Here are some science-based tips and techniques to improve yourself.
Self-improvement can involve improving any aspect of the self—for example, personal qualities, skills, and even the roles we play (like husband or wife and son or daughter). When we start thinking about self-improvement, it can be helpful to be strategic about where we put our efforts so we don't waste time on the wrong things. Some aspects of ourselves are relatively changeable and some aspects are pretty fixed. So, we're best served by focusing our efforts on the parts of us that are the most changeable.
Luckily, a leading psychology researcher, Martin Seligman, offered information about the aspects of ourselves we actually can improve (and the aspects we can't), according to the research. According to Seligman (2009), these aspects of ourselves are good candidates for self-improvement as they are quite changeable:
Other researchers have shown that specific aspects of ourselves can be changed/improved (Sedikides & Hepper, 2009). Some of these aspects include:
To begin our self-improvement journey, here are some tips to try:
1. Engage in self-reflection
Self-reflection is an important part of self-awareness. Without self-reflection, we may not have a clear self-concept—that is, how we see ourselves may not match how others see us (Johnson et al., 2002). By engaging in self-reflection, we can better understand the areas of ourselves that we might want to improve.
2. Try mindfulness
Mindfulness is the act of bringing attention to the experience of each moment. It also involves an attitude of curiosity and acceptance (versus judgment) and seeing thoughts and emotions as transient states (Bishop et al., 2004). Like self-reflection, mindfulness can potentially make us more open to experiences and possibilities that can aid self-improvement.
3. Cultivate a growth mindset
A growth mindset is a mindset where we believe that we can grow and improve our abilities (Dweck, 2015). If we have the belief that we can improve, we're more likely to put in the effort actually required to learn and grow. That's why building a growth mindset can help us achieve many of our goals and improve ourselves in the ways we desire.
4. Acknowledge feelings of shame
The truth is that many of us are motivated to engage in self-improvement due to societal pressures (Sedikides & Hepper, 2009), external expectations, or even shame about not being good enough in some areas. But if we strive to improve ourselves simply to please others, we are likely to end up feeling unsatisfied, even if we succeed in our self-improvement goals. So, it's worth thinking about your reasons for engaging in self-improvement, acknowledging any shame, and rethinking your self-improvement goals to ensure that they are in alignment with your core values.
5. Build reappraisal skills
Reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy that can help us reinterpret stressful situations in more positive ways that help us reduce negative emotions and increase positive emotions. To do it, try to think of a current difficult situation in a way that is less bad (e.g., "at least I have a roof over my head"), or more good (e.g., "this is an opportunity to learn and build character"). The more you practice this skill, the easier it will become.
6. Find and use your strengths
When we aim to improve ourselves, we often focus on our weaknesses—the things we may not do as well as we would like to. But building on our strengths can also be a good idea—it can help us become masterful in our existing abilities.
There are lots of things you can do to change yourself in positive ways. Here are three.
Are you feeling discouraged about your life? Do you engage in habits that you want to stop? Or, do you just want your life to move in a different direction? Regardless of whether you’re trying to quit smoking, start that business you’ve always dreamed of, or be more open and accepting of whatever life brings, there are things you can do to start changing yourself and your life.
Probably the first and most important step to changing your life is to change your thoughts. Thoughts generally come before emotions and actions. And, depending on what our thoughts are, we might experience different emotions or choose different actions.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to quit smoking. Before you actually have a cigarette, you have a thought of wanting a cigarette. You might then try to rationalize why having a cigarette right now is a good idea (more thoughts). Then you might think about going outside for a smoke break. The emotions (perhaps excitement) follow next, then the behavior (smoking the cigarette) comes at the end of this pathway (of course, other thoughts and emotions may also follow the behavior).
Given thoughts guide our actions, shifting our thoughts in specific ways can make it easier to change. Here are a few strategies that can get you started.
1. Change your mindset
One of the most beneficial mindsets for changing or improving your life may be a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the tendency to believe that abilities can be developed over time with hard work. Those with a growth mindset try harder, strive to learn new approaches, and seek out feedback when they are stuck (Dweck, 2015). Perhaps these are some of the reasons why having a growth mindset has been linked to success in a variety of life domains (Yeager et al., 2019).
2. Change your expectations
Another important thing in making positive change is having positive expectations. Positive expectations are simply thoughts that things will work out well. We know from research on the placebo effect that a non-active intervention or treatment can result in positive change as long as we believe it will (Moerman & Jonas, 2002). What the placebo effect really demonstrates is that our expectations have a huge impact on our outcomes. If we expect that something we’re doing will make a difference, it is more likely to. For example, if we expect we’ll be able to quit smoking, we are more likely to be able to. Or, if we believe that a class will help us learn some skill we want to learn, it’s more likely to.
3. Change your emotions
The broaden and build theory of positive emotion suggests that positive emotions build on themselves, eventually leading to positive outcomes like professional success and relationship well-being (Fredrickson, 2004). Indeed, research has shown that positive emotions generally lead to greater success, not the other way around (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005).
On the flip side, many of our most self-destructive habits are fueled by negative emotions—we might smoke to manage stress, we might drink to feel happier, or we might shop as ‘retail therapy’. Our unhealthy or undesirable behaviors are often attempts at controlling or reducing our negative emotions. These are just some of the reasons why learning how to change your emotions can be key to changing your behavior and changing your life.
Learn more about motivation and how to motivate yourself.
The word motivation comes from the Latin verb movere, which means “to move”. So, motivation is the word we use to describe what “makes us move”. In other words, why do we do the things we do?
When we think about motivation in the modern world, we often think of it as our ability to push ourselves to do things. We might wish we were more motivated to do things, especially things that need to be done or that will help us achieve our goals.
Overall, motivation is thought to involve:
So, motivation is responsible for why we do something, how long we do something, and how hard we try to do something. But it’s important to keep in mind that motivation is not a constant thing. It ebbs and flows over time as we work towards different goals (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013).
So, what leads to motivation? Theories see motivation as both a cause of action and an effect of action. For example, we might not be motivated to study for a test >> so we don’t do well on the test >> this leads us to be even less motivated to study in the future. In this way, low motivation may result in even lower motivation.
On the flip side, maybe we feel motivated to play the guitar. Then we feel good about our guitar playing skills and we become even more motivated to play the guitar. As you can see, motivation seems to be something that builds on itself (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013).
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
Two types of motivation—extrinsic and intrinsic—can help explain why we do things the way we do. Let’s talk about each of these types of motivation in a bit more detail.
For intrinsic motivation, there is no apparent reward for taking an action (Lindenberg, 2001). In fact, rewards (like money or good grades) often decrease intrinsic motivation while praise and positive feedback increase it. This has led some to question what intrinsic motivation actually is. They suggest that perhaps intrinsic motivation is simply enjoyment—we are more motivated to do something because we like it. And we don’t need to be rewarded for doing it because it’s fun (Lindenberg, 2001).
Extrinsic motivation is generated by giving someone a contingent reward. For example, I might be motivated to work because I get paid (and I will only get paid if I work). In the situation of work, research shows that extrinsic rewards can be motivating in the short term, but can also be alienating or dehumanizing. So, providing performance contingent rewards (a bonus for good work) can actually backfire (Benabou & Tirole, 2003).
How to Boost Motivation
1. Make a plan
Motivation involves a variety of processes such as planning, goal setting, intention formation, task generation, taking action, and outcome evaluation (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013). If you’re not sure what to do, what steps come first, and how the actions you’re taking will lead to the goal you seek, it can be helpful to make a solid plan for whatever it is that you’re hoping to achieve.
2. Set implementation intentions
Implementation intentions are strategies you set up ahead of time to help ensure you reach your goal (Gollwitzer, 1999). Basically, you just set an intention that IF X happens, THEN you’ll do Y.
This helps you stay more motivated regardless of the situation. For example, you might decide ahead of time that if you’re feeling really unmotivated to do one task, you’ll do another task. Or, you can set implementation intentions for when life gets in the way of completing a task.
3. Make tasks clear
The clearer you can get on the tasks you need to accomplish, the easier it will be to accomplish them. So consider creating a list of tasks and breaking them down into smaller chunks. For example, completing your homework could involve reading the textbook, making note cards, then reviewing the note cards.
Pamela (Pami) Parker currently serves as a holistic practitioner, coach and teacher. Her intention is to be a compassionate guide to those who choose to experience a healthier, happier and more peaceful way of life.