By Courtney Glueck, Ph.D.
The world we lived in has fundamentally changed, at least for the time being. Many of us are doing more from home than ever (e.g., work, school, meals, special occasions, etc.), and I am commonly encountering patients looking to replenish what seem to be ever-depleting motivation stores. Separated from the typical work/school space, we can no longer depend on being motivated by certain extrinsic motivators, like a stern-faced boss or teacher looking over your shoulder, or a room full of colleagues or fellow students with their heads down, hard at work. So, what are some of the most effective methods of eliciting and maintaining our own motivation? This article will explore this at length, but first, let’s talk a bit more about what motivation is (and is NOT) at its core.
What is Motivation?
Motivation is generally defined as one’s willingness or desire to act in service of some goal. We can be motivated to achieve (e.g., fulfillment or goal attainment) or to avoid (e.g., pain or disappointment). We can be motivated extrinsically (by some external forces or consequences) or intrinsically (by internal drive or desire). As noted above, the pandemic has forced a number of us into circumstances where we are more heavily reliant on intrinsic motivations OR self-driven extrinsic motivations (e.g., homemade rewards systems, self-pursued accountability partners, etc.). Next, we will a
A Few Motivation Myths and Misconceptions
Myth 1: Motivation is one-size-fits-all
As mentioned above, motivation typically has a lot to do with personal desires. So, in theory, there are as many different ways to motivate as there are human desires. Furthermore, be patient…it can take time to find what motivational tips and tricks work best for you.
Myth 2: Fear is a fantastic motivator
Many of us know how motivating the fear of negative consequences can be, but if we stop and think about it, we also probably can realize for ourselves that fear-based motivation is often temporary. Moreover, dependence on fear-based motivation often results in a hostile context that can actually prevent the kind of growth or goal attainment we’re striving for. Research consistently shows that positive reinforcement is usually a more effective motivator than punishment.
Myth 3: Self-Compassion will lessen motivation and make us lazy
Self-compassion comes from a place of love and focuses on acceptance and building up our self-confidence and feelings of self-efficacy (i.e., belief in our own abilities), rather than being overly critical of our own flaws and shortcomings. As such, self-compassion can help to equipus with the belief that we are capable of achieving our goals, which, in turn, helps us to maintain motivation in the face of inevitable setbacks and challenges.
Myth 4: Procrastination will lead to greater motivation
I suppose it is not surprising that many of us feel that our backs have to be against the wall to really be motivated, but this can often be detrimental to achieving our goals. For example, we know that procrastination creates pressure that can trigger hormone responses that activate our fight, flight, or freeze response. In turn, we limit our ability to think or approach tasks from a free and creative perspective. Furthermore, procrastination often results in feelings of inadequacy and failure which make it all-the-more difficult to stay motivated.
Tips, Tricks, and Tools for Gaining and Maintaining Motivation
Now that we have a better understanding of motivation and how it works, we can easily tap into some effective strategies for gaining and maintaining personal motivation. Listed below are a number of tips and tricks for increasing and helping to maintain appropriate levels of motivation:
- Create a flexible schedule for guidance – Daily plans can help to empower us, they take the guesswork out of our routine, and they make it easier to get started.
- Create motivation or vision board – We benefit from more specific, concrete, available representations of our goals, and while visualizing alone will not get us all the way there, it can provide a powerful starting boost to our motivation.
- Set attainable goals and sub-goals – Goal setting is a skill in and of itself, so don’t be discouraged if it takes some time and practice. We benefit from knowing and naming our overarching (long-term) goals, as well as breaking them down into discrete, achievable chunks, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments or changes if you’re stuck!
- Reward yourself for small victories – Purposeful, planned positive reinforcement systems will keep you reaching for the next small goal, as you excitedly anticipate celebrating with a small, but meaningful, reward.
- Separate work and personal lives and spaces – By keeping your work area separate from your living space, it will help to automatically signal your brain when it is time to get to work or time to relax.
- Eliminate the typical distractors to whatever extent possible
- Take breaks! – Even those with the most impressive attention spans will become cognitively fatigued after hours of focused work, and when our cognitive resources are exhausted, motivation wanes. Stay ahead of this by taking regular, planned breaks, perhaps every half-hour or hour, for about 5 minutes. Walk around your house or office, get some water, stretch, step away from your desk to read a news article, etc., and you’ll feel refreshed when you return to your workspace.
- Stay in contact with those whom you know will keep you accountable and support your victories – Accountability can be a very positive, powerful tool when used appropriately. The right accountability team will help you stick with your routine, support your small victories, and keep your confidence up when things get tough.
- Be kind to yourself when you fall short – You won’t achieve all of your goals without some setbacks. When these come, treat yourself with compassion rather than engaging in harsh self-criticism. No one ever achieved anything without a little failure along the way. Don’t let these failures derail your motivation!
- Procrastination is OK, as long as it is short, structured, and deliberate – At times, our brains will naturally seek novelty and change, so rather than fighting this tendency to put routine off for something new, it can be healthy to embrace this desire in small, planned doses. Giving yourself permission to do so may very well help to prevent more major procrastination down the road.
- Self-care and ritual create a context for staying more motivated – be sure you are attending to your sleep habits and hygiene, getting regular exercise, and engaging in routine meditation or relaxation practices.
Finally, below is a list of applications that can help with getting started and staying motivated: (keep in mind that this list is in no way comprehensive – there are SO many resources out there!)
- Be Focused
Motivational journeys can be tough and they are sure to have their ups and downs. Should you ever require more personalized help with motivation, goal-setting, or staying focused, please feel free to contact the Metis Center, and we’ll get you set up with a provider who can help!