8 Ways to Become and Stay Motivated
As humans, we tend to naturally gravitate towards pleasurable things and follow the path of least resistance. Therefore, when we set a goal for ourselves — anything from landing our dream job, running a marathon, or starting a podcast — it is a big step toward improving our life. But taking action towards the goal we’ve set out to accomplish can be demanding, especially when we fail to stay motivated.
Behind any human behavior, there is a goal or a why. But, even knowing our goal, we tend to avoid things that require heavy lifting, even though these challenging paths lead to flourishing. We need the motivation to give 100 percent of the required effort and do the needed work.
Getting motivated is not easy, nor does it stay with us continuously. As Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily.”
It is entirely normal to experience highs and lows in motivation. You may have listened to a motivating speech or read an inspiring story and, at that moment, gotten charged with so much confidence and drive to do great things. Or you may have given your team members a pep talk to charge them up and motivate them to improve their performance. But as time passes, you probably find yourself reverting to your old ways, and you are staying at the same level of performance or even worse.
What is the key to following up on your commitments when you just don’t feel motivated?
The answer to that question lies in this article. In it, I will introduce essential findings in the science of motivation and explain, in detail, 8 steps you can take to become and stay motivated.
Let’s begin by defining motivation.
What exactly is motivation?
Motivation is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as ‘the need or reason for doing something or the willingness to do something.’ It is a psychological force that enables people to take action to fulfill their needs and goals.
To understand the psychology behind motivation, we need to view it through the lens of its effect on us. According to author Steven Pressfield in his book, The War of Art, motivation is evident when “At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it,” that is, it becomes easier to take action.”
He further emphasized that “when we are motivated, it is easier to bear the inconvenience of action than the pain of staying the same.” This means we can remain committed to achieving our goals rather than quitting.
One interesting fact about motivation is that it often comes after you have started a new behavior rather than before starting. This means that you may have an impulse that causes you to take the first step toward your goal. However, it is motivation that keeps you going until you achieve that goal.
Why do we fail to stay motivated?
We fail to stay motivated and do the things we plan to do because of the disparity between our present and future selves. We often overestimate the capabilities of our future selves and fail to acknowledge that we could be tired, frustrated, or experiencing burnout, laziness, anxiety, low self-esteem, insufficient resources, and overwhelming responsibilities that arise in the future. This phenomenon is known as the empathy gap, which renowned psychologist and behavior scientist Dr. Ayelet Fishbach and I discussed in episode 176 of Passion Struck.
It is our future self that drives our present self.
In fact, the Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that all intelligent action is intentional and based on our goals or aims.
Thus, as we convince ourselves to pursue our goals, we come to that future time — which now becomes our present moment. We often realize that we are making less progress toward our goal than we set out to do, making it harder to get motivated to progress further.
By acknowledging our future selves’ limitations, we are better positioned to more accurately set feasible goals and tackle the issues that could adversely affect us beforehand, enabling us to get motivated towards achieving those goals.
What drives us to stay motivated?
There are many, but two significant factors jump out that can motivate a person to achieve a goal. These factors can be either intrinsic or extrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation comes from the doing and performing of an action rather than the result at the end. It is driven by how much we enjoy and engage in the work. Intrinsic motivation focuses on internal motivation. Intrinsically motivated people carry out their jobs because they appreciate them and find them rewarding in and of themselves.
In contrast, extrinsic motivation depends on external factors such as incentives, rewards, fear of loss, or punishment. People motivated by outside factors don’t pursue the goal because they enjoy the activity but because of the rewards or avoided loss when the goal is achieved.
Therefore, it is challenging to continue engaging in things they don’t enjoy once extrinsic motivators (rewards or threats) are removed.
As Stephen Covey said, “Motivation is a fire from within. If someone tries to light that fire, chances are it will burn very briefly.”
Many think that extrinsic motivation is just as effective as intrinsic motivation. However, through new research, we are learning that this is untrue. When an incentive yields a result contrary to its designers’ intended outcome, it is referred to as a Perverse incentive. A significant example of this is the Cobra effect.
Horst Siebert, an economist, first used the phrase “cobra effect” to describe an incident that occurred in India under British control. Concerned about the number of poisonous cobras in Delhi, the British administration paid a reward for each one killed.
This tactic was initially effective; many snakes were exterminated for the reward. But eventually, business-minded individuals started breeding cobras to make money. This was brought to the government’s attention, and the incentive scheme was abandoned. In the long run, the number of wild cobras increased considerably after cobra breeders set their now-worthless snakes free.
Another example is the Great Hanoi Rat Massacre in Vietnam, where the French Government paid a bounty to exterminate rats to lower the infestation. One had to turn in a rat’s tail to collect the reward. Over time, the French government noticed something peculiar. Instead of decreasing the rat population, the rat population grew. Many of the rats that were seen roaming around had lost their tail. Meaning that people, instead of killing the rats, were breeding them. It is an excellent example of how motivation can be misused for its intended purpose.
While extrinsic motivation is subject to all these undesirable results, intrinsic motivation leads to better persistence, enhances engagement and responsibility, and enables more effectiveness, better performance, and long-term commitment.
How to use incentives and rewards for better results
I have explained the limitations associated with using rewards and incentives for motivation. Still, it is essential to note that they can also effectively yield positive results when strategically used. Here are tips on effectively using incentives and rewards so that your efforts yield the desired results.
- Ensure that whatever reward you choose is consistent with your goal. Consciously choose incentives that will only advance you in pursuing your objective.
- Only reward yourself when you have succeeded and gotten results. If you reward yourself ahead of time, based on a promise to do a task, you won’t have any incentive to push forward.
- Depending on your performance, you can immediately grant rewards when a particular milestone has been reached. Your ultimate objective might still be in the future, but a quick win can motivate you to keep going.
- Use frequent smaller prizes more often than fewer larger ones. You only need a tiny reward to keep going but be consistent.
Ask yourself, am I doing what I am doing solely for the rewards? Your incentives shouldn’t be the reason you do what you’re doing but only a source of encouragement to keep going on.
How to become and stay motivated
Learning to enhance one’s own or other people’s motivation demands an investment of time and energy, and one must resist the lure of quick fixes. Thankfully, there are specific strategies you can implement to boost motivation and remain focused on achieving your goals. The following are the eight vital ways that I have discovered myself and used to become and stay motivated:
Reflect and decide on what you really want in life.
Take time to reflect on your life and decide what you do with it. Being motivated doesn’t mean you should just be busy doing things. Movement alone does not create progress. You must expend your time and energy on worthwhile goals that align with your dreams and vision. You will be prepared and driven to give your best to your chosen pursuit after doing this.
So, before anything else, take your time to think things through. Engage in meditation, take a vacation to clear your head, seek the help of a mentor, and do whatever will help you choose the right aim/goal. It is only after this that you will be able to find the motivation you need through your journey.
Set specific, incremental, and challenging goals
A goal-setting theory still used today was developed through ground-breaking research by psychologist Edwin Locke. Its fundamental premise is that defined goals provide better results than ambiguous ones. To stay motivated, you need conscious intentions. For instance, instead of resolving to “finish a book in a month,” decide to “read two chapters of the book per day.” Being specific and breaking your goals into smaller sub-goals will keep you calm.
In setting your goals, you can follow the popular SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based) format. When your goals are SMART, your mind will know exactly what you need to do at a given time, and knowing it is feasible enough, you can stay motivated to get it done.
Create clear plans and schedules
Often, we waste time deciding when or where to work, what to wear, what to eat, and so many other everyday decisions. This impedes our effectiveness and takes away from time that could be spent being productive. When this happens, we can quickly lose the momentum required to stay motivated.
A key to tackling this inefficiency is creating a plan and schedule for yourself. Creating a schedule will help you quickly navigate everyday decisions and prioritize essential tasks. Through it, you can understand what is realistically achievable within the available time. You can work on fixing loopholes, preparing for unexpected problems along the way, keeping better track of your progress, and ultimately boosting your productivity, motivating you to do even more.
Build a routine
You must make it a lifestyle to get motivated to achieve your goals. You shouldn’t see it as something to reach and then stop. You must make the daily micro choices required to focus on activities that aren’t intrinsically motivating.
As Zig Ziglar said, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
Building a routine ensures that your behavior gradually becomes more effortless and automatic, making it a habit.
As #1 NY Times bestselling author and self-mastery expert Robin Sharma pointed out in our recent interview, when you maintain healthy routines, you will have the needed structure and discipline to keep going when things become complex and challenging.
Amplify the importance of your goals and have fun working towards it
Don’t see your goals as chores but as worthwhile pursuits that can be fun. By incorporating fun, you get excited and anticipate the task or activity, giving you a better chance at success. Finding the fun path takes several forms. For example, you might listen to your favorite songs or podcast while exercising or create a blog where you write about and share your experiences.
Understandably, not all activities toward your goals can be fun. Some tasks can be challenging. In such cases, you can turn inwards and focus on the importance of what you’re doing and how it could impact other people’s lives for the better. This will help you see the brighter side of your work and encourage you to keep pushing forward.
Surround yourself with motivated people
Humans are social beings who often function better in the company of like-minded people. So in getting motivated and achieving your goals, you must surround yourself with similar aims for progress. This support can come in the form of encouragement, healthy competition, or accountability which will help you to stay committed.
Also, as you get motivated, do well to support people in your circle who need it. This act of supporting and encouraging one another will create a perpetual cycle of increasing capacity to function at your best and push you to keep advancing.
Take adequate care of your physical and mental health.
The need to take care of your health can never be overemphasized. If your mind and body are not healthy, you will simply be unable to carry out the things you set out to do, and at this point, being motivated will be difficult or impossible.
So, ensure you eat well, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and avoid any lifestyle that could be detrimental to your overall health.
In a previous Passion Struck podcast episode I did on why patience is an important virtue, I shared the story of the farmer who stayed motivated to water his Chinese bamboo plants even though there was no visible growth for years.
In the end, his patience paid off, and he received a bountiful harvest beyond his wildest dreams. In like manner, patience is a crucial virtue you must have if you’re going to get motivated and stay that way. This is because patience enables you to remain consistent in putting in the effort toward your goals even though the rewards are still in the distant future.
Another thing patience will help you with is delayed gratification. By this, you will be able to say no to things that could immediately distract or demotivate you from aiming towards your goals and rather stay focused.
How do you sustain motivation?
Robin Sharma said, “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and glorious in the end.”
Often we begin our journey towards a new goal with so much excitement, in anticipation of the benefits to come. But when we do the work and get to the middle phase, that excitement starts to wear off, and it becomes tough to continue. This is more difficult because while beginnings and ends are clearly marked, middles can be long and undefined.
How, then, how do you navigate the pesky middle?
We can tweak ourselves to be more motivated by implementing the Goal Gradient Effect concept. This concept was coined by behaviorist Clark Hull in 1932 and basically says that as people get closer to a reward, they speed up their behavior to get to their goal faster. It is based on the fact that the more progress you make, the more motivated you get.
The Goal Gradient Effect encourages you to consciously and continuously think of the things you’ve already done because as you get closer to your goals, the stakes increase, and you begin to get more for the same level of effort. By doing this, you will be able to build the tenacity and perseverance needed to go through the difficulty of the middle phase and stay motivated until you reach the finish line.
The other part of sustaining motivation can be found in what is called The Goldilocks Principle. This principle states that we experience peak motivation when working on tasks right on the edge of our current abilities. These tasks must not be challenging or easy but the important is to make them ‘just right.’
Often, you lack the motivation to work on a task because it is below your level of competence, thereby making it dull or because it is really challenging and above your abilities, thus discouraging you. Finding a means to push your tasks back to the edge of your capabilities, where you feel capable but challenged, will help you stay motivated.
Will you stay motivated or suffer the pain of regret?
One notable thing I have found with those who are passion struck is that they not only get motivated at the start of their journey but stay consistently motivated through continual action toward their goal.
My interview with retired astronaut Captain Wendy Lawrence is an excellent example of this. Wendy told me that what helped her realize her goal of becoming an astronaut was permitting herself to dream her dream. In doing so, she was motivated by the deliberate path she needed to take to realize her dream, which required daily intentional choices towards it.
When you begin to feel tired, and your mind starts suggesting you quit, pause for a moment and remember the dream you want to live out.
Think of how good you will feel about accomplishing the work you’ve set out to do once it is complete.
Think of how much of a better person you will become, and let these thoughts reenergize you.
Our discomfort is short-lasting, and the joy of accomplishment always outweighs the pain that exists along the journey.
As Jim Rohn said, “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”
Where to Go From Here
I hope you found this short guide on motivation useful. If you’re looking for more ideas on getting motivated and staying that way, check out the Passion Struck podcast and my episodes with behavior scientists Ayelet Fishbach, Katy Milkman, Astronaut Wendy Lawrence, NASCAR driver Jesse Iwuji, and Vice Admiral Sandy Stosz along with my over 80 solo episodes.
Click on a category below to view all articles