Even professional athletes struggle to stay motivated. Waking up at 6 a.m. and hitting the gym daily isn’t easy, regardless of how much you love what you do.
Finding motivation is something everyone must deal with. Ambition wanes from time to time, and picking the momentum back up is important. You’ll thank yourself when you see that you’ve stayed disciplined and learned how to get motivated.
What is motivation?
Motivation is the instinct and desire to satisfy needs and achieve goals. It influences how we set priorities, channel our energy, and view our capabilities.
Motivation can be extrinsic or intrinsic. It can also be positive or negative. Let’s look at each type of motivation to better understand how we can leverage each one:
Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of you. It comes from an external source and is closely connected to ambition. A bonus, recognition, promotion, or reward are forms of extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation comes from within. It springs from your interests and passions. This can be a desire to make an impact, create something beautiful, or perform at the highest levels.
You don’t practice craftsmanship because someone is telling you to. You do it because something is fulfilling and joyful in the act itself. You want to do your best work and can’t always explain why — that’s intrinsic motivation, and it’s associated with passion.
Positive motivation is when you do something because you have an incentive. This is the promise of a benefit, like going over and above at work to earn a big promotion.
Negative motivation involves avoiding consequences. E.g. children finish chores to avoid losing allowance. Intrinsic motivators can be positive (new opportunities, learning, curiosity) or negative (fear, threat, avoidance). Fear and threats can motivate in the short term but may backfire, leading to self-doubt and paralysis.
In general, over the long run, positive motivation is more effective in achieving the goals you set for yourself. This intrinsic self-motivation is more enduring and constant than extrinsic. Extrinsic motivators can fluctuate with changing circumstances. So look to your internal motivators — purpose, meaning, and passion for sustaining your effort.
It’s essential to choose your motivators carefully and focus on what drives you to achieve your goals.
Why is motivation important?
Everyone gets tired from time to time and would rather procrastinate than get back to work. Motivation is important to keep people going, despite a lul in energy.
Research shows this causes a rise in dopamine levels in our brains.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter known as the “motivation molecule.” Earning rewards — which, in turn, rewards our motivation. It causes a release of dopamine and creates a desire to experience that sense of accomplishment again.
What factors impact motivation?
Motivation is a complex psychological phenomenon influenced by a wide range of factors. These factors can vary from person to person and situation to situation. Here are some of the key factors that can impact motivation:
Internal motivational factors
- Values and beliefs: Personal values and beliefs can influence what individuals find motivating or demotivating.
- Self-efficacy: A person’s belief in their ability to accomplish tasks and reach their goals can affect motivation.
External motivational factors
- Rewards and incentives: Financial rewards, recognition, promotions, and other incentives can be powerful motivators.
- Social influence: The support and expectations of family, friends, colleagues, and mentors can impact motivation.
- Competition: The presence of competition can drive individuals to work harder and stay motivated to outperform others.
Psychological motivational factors
- Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation: As we mentioned earlier, intrinsic motivation comes from within and is driven by personal interest and enjoyment. Extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards or consequences.
- Expectancy theory: People are motivated when they expect their efforts to lead to desirable outcomes.
Environmental motivational factors
- Resources: The availability of tools, materials, and resources necessary for tasks can affect motivation.
Biological motivational factors
Life circumstances that impact motivation
Cultural and societal motivational factors
- Cultural expectations: Cultural norms and expectations can shape what individuals find motivating.
- Societal pressures: Social and societal factors can influence motivation, such as the pursuit of success or conformity to certain ideals.
- Personality traits: Individual differences in personality, such as the need for achievement, locus of control, and risk tolerance, can affect motivation.
It is crucial to understand that motivation is a unique and ever-changing process, and what motivates one person may not work for another. Different factors can contribute to motivation, and it can vary based on changing circumstances. Recognizing and understanding these factors can help you leverage and maintain motivation.
Why do I feel unmotivated?
Feeling unmotivated is very common, and there are many reasons you may feel this way, including:
Fear inhibits your ability to think objectively and believe in yourself. This can make you hesitant to start or continue for fear of making a mistake. It’s normal to fear moving forward. Remember, this is your mind’s way of protecting you. But it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. Face your fears head-on.
2. You’ve set the wrong goals
Part of growing up means doing things we don’t necessarily want to do, like updating spreadsheets or putting away all that folded laundry. If you’re feeling a lack of motivation, maybe you’re in the wrong place. Have you set SMART goals? Will the end goal make you fulfilled? Or are you aiming too high and feeling unmotivated because you know you’ll fail?
3. Lack of clarity
Completing our work is hard if we don’t understand what we should be doing. Humans generally like comfort zones and some degree of familiarity. So it’s understandable if you get frustrated and lose interest when something feels impossible or confusing. Challenge is good for motivation as long as it isn’t overwhelming or overly unclear.
4. Lack of autonomy
Making decisions is a huge factor in gaining motivation. Passion and drive shine through when individuals have the freedom to act. If not, people are more likely to grow bored and be unproductive. See if there’s a way that you can take control of what needs to be done.
5. Mental health
But the reason why you feel unmotivated might not stem from not setting goals incorrectly or lacking clarity. When you break down why you lack motivation, you might find that it’s because of mental health issues.
A lack of motivation is a symptom of mental health issues like depression. If you find that your mental health is impacting your motivation, you may want to seek help from a professional. Practicing ways to take care of yourself is a habit that will benefit your well-being for the future, alongside your motivation levels.
19 ways to get motivated
Life will always present hurdles, but how you respond to them will steer your life’s trajectory. To kick your procrastination and stay focused when you’re having a hard time, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Reassess your goals
Do you feel inspired by your life plan, or is it time for a new one? Are your goals realistic? Can you still accomplish these things in your current time frame? If your goals aren’t realistic or don’t inspire you, then take the time to reassess them. Taking a moment to pause and reflect will help ensure that your goals are attainable and will help grow your motivation.
2. Start small
Don’t be afraid to break your long-term goals into small steps to keep checking off along the way, and adjust the steps as you need. Having one goal is much harder to focus on than a few big goals or many small ones.
3. Remember what motivated you in the first place
Why did you start? It doesn’t matter if intrinsic or extrinsic motivation drives you. As long as it keeps you going, then they’re valid. Your motivation may look different compared to your friend’s, but that’s OK. Stick with whatever motivates you, and don’t forget it.
4. Take motivation from others
Talk to your friend or mentor, read a book, or listen to an upbeat playlist to find positivity and inspiration. Be open-minded and learn how others find motivation. The methods they use might spark some motivation for you. Motivation comes from various sources, and listening to others might expand your perspective on how to gain it.
5. Take a break
It’s perfectly fine to step away from whatever task you’re working on and take a short break. You can’t expect yourself to sustain your motivation for eight hours straight, so taking breaks is a good habit to practice. This allows us to reset our minds, hone our focus, and be more efficient when we need to get back on track.
6. Practice self-care
Your motivation won’t be as strong if you don’t care for yourself. Things like struggling to sleep well, lacking time to relax, and succumbing to burnout all impact your motivation level.
But with a healthy and manageable self-care plan, you’ll take care of your mind and body and help your motivation grow. You can practice self-care tips like reading, exercising, or a hobby like painting. It’s whatever makes you feel rejuvenated and refreshed.
7. Do unwanted tasks with things you enjoy
Sometimes, you don’t want to do things because of your mood. You’re in a funk, and your motivation to accomplish things is poor. But what happens if you pair your tasks with something you enjoy? If you have to clean the house, try putting on your favorite playlist or motivational podcast.
Or if you have errands to run, see if a friend can provide some company. As long as your fun doesn’t distract you from your task, there’s no rule saying you can’t incorporate some fun to spice things up.
8. Reward yourself for your efforts
Rewards aren’t exclusively for when you finish a task. If your task is going to take a long time, try breaking it up with some rewards along the way. You could incorporate your rewards by working 30 minutes and then having a five-minute stretch break. Or writing five pages of your report and then taking a 10-minute walk.
Thinking about your rewards will help you gain motivation and accomplish your tasks. Just ensure your rewards aren’t counterproductive and don’t derail your focus.
9. Practice self-compassion
Self-criticism isn’t going to motivate you. In fact, it’s going to harm your motivation. Practicing self-compassion means that you speak kindly to yourself and you quiet your inner critic. When you make a mistake or something doesn’t go according to plan, your self-compassion will help you problem-solve through it.
You can do this by telling yourself meaningful and positive affirmations and talking to yourself as you would to a friend.
10. Visualize success
Close your eyes and vividly imagine yourself successfully completing your goals. Visualizing success can help you connect with your desires and motivate you to work toward them.
11. Create a vision board
Make a visual representation of your goals and dreams using images, words, and symbols. Having a vision board in your workspace can be a constant reminder of what you’re working towards.
12. Set specific deadlines
Establish clear and specific deadlines for your tasks and goals. Knowing that there’s a timeframe can create a sense of urgency and motivate you to stay on track.
13. Find an accountability partner
Share your goals with a friend or family member who can hold you accountable. Regular check-ins and encouragement from someone you trust can help keep you motivated.
14. Break tasks into time blocks
Use techniques like the Pomodoro Technique to break your work into focused time blocks with short breaks in between. This can make tasks feel more manageable and prevent burnout.
15. Seek inspiration from role models
Look up to people who have achieved what you aspire to accomplish. Study their journeys, setbacks, and successes to gain inspiration and insights.
16. Embrace failure as a learning opportunity
Don’t let fear of failure hold you back. View setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow. The resilience you gain from failures can drive you to keep moving forward.
17. Practice mindfulness
Incorporate mindfulness techniques into your daily routine to stay present and reduce stress. Mindfulness can help you stay motivated by fostering a calm and focused mindset.
18. Declutter your workspace
A clutter-free and organized workspace can boost your motivation and productivity. Remove distractions and create an environment that promotes concentration.
19. Join a supportive community
Find groups, forums, or clubs related to your interests or goals. Being part of a community with similar aspirations can provide encouragement and a sense of belonging.
Now, how can I stay motivated?
You’ve learned a lot about how to regain motivation and why it’s important. But you also need to know how to maintain it.
Here are some good habits to follow to sustain your motivation:
1. Choose goals that interest you
It’s easier to stay motivated when you enjoy something. You can see the value in the task or the journey itself, which will serve you well down the road.
2. Develop a routine
It takes an average of 66 days for a behavior to become a habit. Staying motivated is a skill you must develop like any other. Be patient and adhere to your routine. Structuring your day will ensure that you work efficiently and stay on top of things, which, in turn, will keep the momentum going.
3. Surround yourself with a positive support network
Negativity weighs everyone down, no matter how driven, and leads to self-doubt. It drains you of motivation and makes it difficult to gain it back. Immerse yourself in an environment with people who understand and support you — it’ll make all the difference. Practicing positive self-talk is another great way to boost your mental state and connect with positive people around you.
4. Find a mentor
Expanding off tip number three, mentors and coaches greatly help maintain ambition. Working with people who have been where we are and empathizing with our struggles and worries helps us feel motivated and encouraged. They can be a teacher, coworker, coach, or counselor. Providing motivation is a staple of great coaching.
Motivation is a crucial tool to bring about positive changes in our lives. At BetterUp, we believe that everyone deserves and is capable of this change. When we know ourselves better, we’ll feel empowered with the decisions we make and the paths we pursue.
5. Regularly review your goals and progress
Take time to look back and see how far you’ve come. It’ll boost your self-esteem and give you a reason to continue. Journaling is a great way to track your progress and remember how far you’ve come.
What will you accomplish?
Staying inspired and learning to get motivated is tricky, especially when feeling low or uncertain. It’s OK if you need assistance overcoming these obstacles: that’s one of the challenges BetterUp coaches are here to help you with.
People are diverse and resilient. We want you to see that within yourself. We strive to help individuals hone their focus and unlock their potential and passion.
We champion the Whole Person and know that mental health is as important as physical fitness, social connections, and career development. We want to aid you in cultivating a go-getter attitude and making wise choices to sustain your health and happiness. If you put in the effort, our coaches will be with you every step of the way.