How to Get Motivated: Tips to Help You Find Motivation
You have what it takes to improve your drive!
Many of us plan dream and aspire, we strive to do more with our lives. This may mean being more productive or reaching our goals. We may seek to accomplish more on a daily basis, as in getting more done each day, and/or in the larger sense of tackling bigger goals, like running a marathon, getting a coveted promotion, re-modelling a kitchen, or writing a book.
But all too often, for a lot of us, our hopes, ideas, and good intentions don’t always translate into actions or inspiration. So, what’s causing us to lose motivation, or to stay motivated? Is it feeling motivated really that hard to accomplish? Is self doubt the culprit?
Sure, a lack of time, inclination or energy can contribute, or it could be a mismanagement of priorities. But all too often, it comes down to a lack of motivation and/or trouble sustaining motivation to put in the necessary work.
What is motivation?
Motivation is the spark that helps us get things accomplished. It’s what fuels us and keeps us on track when life gets hard or comes in the way of our ambitions, desires, and tenacity. Ultimately, our ability to inspire self motivation is often the difference between success and failure. That’s why motivation is usually credited as a key to inspiration and success, and why those that lack motivation have so little of it.
Unfortunately, just knowing that motivation is important doesn’t magically make you more motivated. If only it were that easy. Moreover, sometimes, thinking or worrying about staying motivated can become somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can do this!
In fact, anyone can tap into that motivational energy. It just might be a bit harder for some than others. Plus, some tasks may require more or less motivation—and need more effort to get motivated to take on. This can include anything from losing weight to being able to quit smoking to overcoming a tough challenge. Essentially, the key is finding a way to be motivated about getting motivated. Confusing, right? In the end, it comes down to desire, and then finding ways to get there.
In this guide, we explore research-based tips to finding, maintaining and even increasing motivation so that you can reach your goals. Bonus: discovering and implementing some of the solutions below can also help with mental health!
How to get motivated
If you feel unmotivated, instead of beating yourself up, being discouraged, or feeling sad, focus on the practical steps you can take to boost your inner drive. Learning ways to increase motivation is a long journey, but it starts with a simple step. And while you might not be feeling all the “oomph” you’d like in the present moment, you can get there.
Here’s how to build up your vital source of motivation using simple, evidence-based strategies you can put into practice right now. What’s more, while every suggestion may not work for every person, most are easy-to-use, freely accessible, and highly effective.
So, what are you waiting for? Try our tips to get motivated today.
Stay motivated: It helps to believe
You might think it doesn’t matter, but believing that you can get motivated will greatly impact your ability to do so. For example, if you assume that your will to cook a big weekly Sunday dinner will wane after a few weeks, it very well might. If you think you’ll start cheating after a several days on your new diet, then you probably will. Or if you doubt you’ll stick to your plan to go to bed and wake up earlier, then it’s more probable that you won’t.
Conversely, research shows that if you have a more positive attitude and feel confident that you can achieve your goals, these beliefs increase your likelihood of success. In essence, a positive mindset begets positive actions, creating a positive re-affirming loop that feeds motivation. In fact, it’s proven that expecting good things to happen makes them more likely—and that a negative mindset brings with it more negative outcomes.
So, make an effort to counter the neighsayer in your mind. Purposefully think more positively about your goal and your ability to get there. If all else fails, subscribe to the trusted mantra “fake it ‘til you make it,” as in keep telling yourself you can—and soon enough you will. Ultimately, thinking you can be more motivated gets you one step closer to feeling more motivated.
Feeling motivated: Understand what motivation is
Researchers at Columbia University define motivation as “the energizing of behavior in pursuit of a goal.” So, use that definition to your advantage by consciously striving to add energy to your behavior as you go after your goals.
Essentially, a possible fix when you’re feeling unmotivated is simply to put more energy, as in focus and effort, toward your goal. Just like you need to turn up the flame to cook something on the stove quicker or bring water to a boil, you need to add an extra jolt of energy to tasks that require more motivation to accomplish.
This can be put into practice by devoting more time, enthusiasm, and/or resources to your aim. It can be about perspective too. After all, from a certain viewpoint, failed attempts are just another way of (eventually) making progress.
Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation
Motivation can be divided into intrinsic or internal and extrinsic or external motivation. Understanding the difference can help you foster your own sources of inspiration.
Intrinsic motivation comes from inside you and provides its own satisfaction or drive simply by doing something. This type of motivation works for things that you truly want to do or feel very strongly about.
For example, someone who loves playing soccer may be intrinsically motivated to practice their skills. Likewise, if you’re very hungry, you’ll probably have all the internal motivation you need to get yourself something to eat. So, when you enjoy something or are very attached to a certain outcome, focus on those feelings to help inspire added motivation as needed.
With extrinsic motivation, you are using an outside source to incentivize yourself to put in the work you need to do. External motivators include rewards, praise, deadlines, punishments. public perception, and competition. Brainstorm external motivators that might work for you.
Then, try them out to gauge their effectiveness. Ideas include self-care, chocolate, a day off, a vacation, a new sweater, or really anything that you want (or don’t want) to happen that you can tie to accomplishing your goal.
Why some tasks require more motivation than others
It can be helpful to look at motivation the way researchers do. They tend to consider not just whether or not it’s there, but why or why not, and how much is available or needed for a particular task. Researchers at the University of Oregon, for example, evaluate motivation relative to the skill and effort required to do something.
Easy tasks that use skills you already have require limited motivation. Projects that use new or challenging skills but minimal effort will need different levels of motivation than projects that are hard to do and require complex skills. Personal desires and inclinations and access to support and resources play important roles, too.
You can put this knowledge to use by breaking down any roadblocks to motivation a task may have. Ask yourself, what is holding me back from doing this or putting in my all? Is the actual work required difficult? Do I know how to do it? Do I really want to accomplish this? Do I have the necessary support or resources (time, money, knowledge, guidance, confidence, etc.) available? What about my support network?
Once you answer these questions, brainstorm possible solutions to any issues that come to light. For example, if you want to create a video game but don’t know how to code, you may need to step back and learn that skill before (or in tandem) with pursuing your larger goal.
Or if you want to start doing triathlons but aren’t sure where to start, accessing the local triathlon community may help you get on track.
Know that motivation (and reaching your goals) takes work
Getting your projects done and goals accomplished can seem simple on paper, but it’s often harder than that—even when the steps themselves are easy. The key is to know that even if you want something, it can be a struggle to muster the required motivation.
Essentially, you need to accept that the payoff of achieving a goal takes hard work. Motivation requires that you put in effort both to sustain the motivation and for the actual work needed to finish a task. So, keep your expectations in check and align your effort with the complexity of your project (and the amount of natural motivation you have).
The secret is to get started
Essentially, if you want to get off the sofa and get motivated (whether you’re trying to code a video game or lose weight), the secret is to get started. Really, just take that first step. Just like when building a morning routine, sometimes the key is to force a certain degree of success, like you would by putting your alarm clock out of reach from your bed, mandating you to literally get up to stop the noise.
We all know we can spend hours thinking about and debating with ourselves about the best times and ways to start something. We can tell ourselves we’ll begin after one more show, one more day, or one more week, which can quickly morph into what feels like a lifetime. Then, we start to feel bad about our inaction and may ruminate on that for a good while more.
Instead, simply get up and get going. This may sound overly simplistic. But just try it. In fact, don’t think about it at all. Shift your brain from analysis mode to action mode. Pick a task and get on it.
Aim to ignore any excuses, distractions, or delay tactics. Resist the feeling that you urgently need to clean the kitchen, walk the dog, sort the laundry, or call your best friend first. Resolve to just start and see where this new beginning takes you.
Is it important to constantly feel motivated?
Even if you start out motivated, the truth is that it might not last. For example, you might have motivation in spades at the start of a project only to find it floundering as you reach the midpoint or home stretch.
Don’t worry, it’s normal for motivation to ebb and flow. And really it’s unrealistic to expect to stay in a permanent state hyperdrive. In fact, that might be a form of mental illness that you would be best to avoid!
Instead, make a habit of routinely monitoring your level of motivation. Step in to boost it if your stores are low.
Also, take the opportunity to consider why you’ve become unmotivated. Discovering what’s sapping your energy can lead to ways to get back on track. For instance, you may have reached a step in your goal that is particularly daunting, tedious, or uncertain. If so, recognize the issue and brainstorm ways to tackle your specific issue. This might include doing more research, getting help, breaking the job into smaller chunks, or even putting the project on pause while you re-energize.
Get motivated with a daily to-do list
Another great strategy is to make yourself a daily to-do list. Include everything you want to accomplish, when it needs to be done, and any specific steps you need to take.
If you’re working on a large project, it can be helpful to create a master list for the entire job (you can also think of this as an outline or project proposal), as well as smaller to-do lists for each day or week.
To-do lists are motivating because they automatically get you organized, help you to think strategically, and ensure that your priorities align with your efforts. Put your most crucial items at the top of the list and do those first. Accomplishing those upfront will feed your motivation for tackling the remainder of the list.
Include things that are important to you
Be sure that you make room on your list for the items that are most important to you. For example, if you are trying to write a song, create a podcast, cook healthy meals, or retile your bathroom, allot time for those items before moving on to the more mundane or regular tasks you have.
We often focus on routine items first as they may be more comfortable, easier to accomplish, or feel more pressing. But they can easily take over and squeeze out time for your ultimate goals, which is a surefire way to sap motivation.
Include something you’ve pushed off
Include to-do list items that you keep pushing off. Pick something that you keep thinking about but haven’t accomplished. However, be sure that the task is still something you want to do. If not, let go of it. Focus instead on the things closer to your heart.
But if you’re putting something off that you do want or need to take on, then put it on your list. Rather than let it stagnate any longer, make a game plan for how to see it to fruition.
Give yourself choices
Another way to motivate yourself is to give yourself choices. Remember, you are in charge of yourself and get to set your priorities and how you spend your time. So, give yourself permission to choose where to put your attention.
In many cases, simply recognizing your agency and seeing yourself as “the boss” can build momentum. Also, consider that if you keep not choosing something, maybe you don’t really want to do it.
Obviously, some things (like dentist appointments and our taxes) we should do anyway, but plenty of things can also be shelved or mitigated. For example, maybe you keep wanting to get your house super tidy but always end up avoiding the job or prioritizing other tasks first. Think about if you really even want to organize all your stuff or if you can actually live with some clutter.
Switch things around
Alternatively, you can switch things around. In this scenario, if finding a place for all your things feels overwhelming or stressful, consider getting rid of some of your stuff to make the process more doable. The important thing to realize is that when your priorities and interests match the tasks you’re going after, you’re much more likely to have the motivation to do them.
So, see what you can change or adjust to make the task at hand as appealing or interesting as possible. In fact, researchers at Harvard University suggest that encouraging curiosity and exploration will naturally boost your motivation.
If you find this tactic helpful, you can extend it to work choices—and variety—into everything you do. This can be as simple as giving yourself ownership over any variable you control, such as the order you do each task, where you do them, or what kind of breaks you allot yourself. You might find it motivating to listen to music or to promise yourself a bubble bath, night out with friends, or a vacation when you get certain things done.
Chunk your work
As noted above, breaking up your goals into smaller pieces—called chunking—can do wonders for motivation. Big goals, like getting in shape, can feel overwhelming and hard to process. So, divide the ultimate aim into smaller, more tangible ones, such as walking for 30 minutes a day, riding your bike to work, or ordering hand weights to make working out more accessible.
Give yourself deadlines
Once you know what you want to do, giving yourself deadlines can help get you motivated. There’s something about having a due date that can put a fire under you. Accomplishing a task on deadline often provides a great sense of self-validation and is an excellent antidote to procrastination.
If you find that you need greater accountability, use the power of social pressure and not wanting to disappoint others (or yourself) in your favor. Share your deadlines with a relative, partner, or friend—or even on social media. Then, ask your designated taskmaster to keep you on target by asking for progress updates and offering ideas and inspiration if you ever get stuck.
Set a timer
Like assigning yourself deadlines, there are enormous benefits to giving yourself a set amount of time to attack each task. Both strategies provide the pressure or urgency some people thrive on. You can simply decide on a period of time to work on something, but even better is to set a timer. The ticking clock or prospect of the alarm soon ringing may help you get more done than you can imagine.
Additionally, if you dislike a task, you’ll know you’ll soon get a break. When the timer goes off, you’ll be ready to move on to the next task.
The secret to getting motivated begins with finding what works for you, believing in yourself, and just getting started. There’s nothing like positive thinking to start off a good project!
Everybody struggles at times with procrastination and feeling unmotivated. The antidote is to regroup, reevaluate your plan, and re-energize your efforts. Equally important is giving yourself grace and time off as needed.
Trust that motivation is not a limited resource. Instead, it’s as much a skill as it is a trait. Like training to build your muscles, the more you work on getting motivated, the stronger yours will become.