When reaching for a big goal, self-motivation plays a key role. But making a change in your life requires persistence, and many of us find it difficult to stay motivated over time.
When setting out to achieve a long term goal, whether it’s to get healthy, make a midlife career change, or realize a personal dream, the beginning is easy. You’re full of vitality and determination to face the challenge.
However, many of our most precious goals don’t happen quickly. It takes hard work, persistence, and discipline to change your life. When results don’t come as quickly as you expect, or when nothing goes right, it’s natural to feel frustrated and have difficulty staying motivated.
What Is Self Motivation?
In order to find motivation, we first need to understand what we’re really talking about.
Motivation is simply the force driving your behavior. It’s the “why” behind everything you do, and the reason you might take up a cause, commit to an action, or work toward a goal. Everything we do is motivated by some combination of conscious and unconscious need or desire.
When we talk about self-motivation, we are going beyond basic motives. What we really mean is the ability to follow through on making a positive change in life — without giving up. Self-motivation requires that you believe in yourself, stay inspired, and keep going despite setbacks.
In other words, we are talking about grit.
Psychologist Angela Duckworth studied the characteristics of high achievers and discovered that passion and perseverance are the key drivers of long-term success. Grit takes you farther than the initial motive behind your goal, after the buzz of excitement wears off. Grit takes you all the way to the finish line.
So, how can we learn to harness these qualities and develop the self-motivation to succeed?
What drives motivation?
Although self-motivation requires a long-term view, it’s important to look at what is motivating you to seek change. The more clear you are on “why,” the easier it will be to stay focused on the work you’re doing, and to create the life you want.
Sometimes motives can hide in plain sight, hidden within the subconscious, telling us deep down inside that something needs to change. Desires can evolve, sometimes in a flash of inspiration, and sometimes through self-discovery over time.
You’ll have an easier time staying motivated by recognizing the motives behind your goals. Becoming aware of these motives, and their source, improves self-awareness while also keeping you on track toward goals that truly matter to you.
You can classify the reason behind your goals in two ways: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation refers to pursuing a goal based on internal factors.
Rather than external rewards, like money or recognition, intrinsically motivated actions have a built-in personal reward. Feelings of enjoyment, finding purpose, and achieving excellence come from pursuing intrinsically motivated goals.
In other words, our deepest desires, wants, and dreams come from within and drive self-motivation.
Some examples of intrinsic motivation include changing habits to feel healthier, pursuing a lifelong dream of becoming an artist, or building stronger, more meaningful relationships with people.
What heartfelt desires drive you to become a better person and pursue your dreams? That’s where you will find intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation relates to actions that we pursue based on external factors. In the case of extrinsic motivation, we aim to attain some kind of reward such as money, status, or good performance.
Some examples of extrinsically motivated goals are seeking perfect grades in school, hitting sales goals at work, or changing your appearance to please other people.
What kind of drivers lead you to work hard for tangible, measurable rewards? Those are your extrinsic motivators.
Everyone is different, and therefore, each person has their own set of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. Whether you feel more encouraged by internal motivation or find yourself influenced by the external, or both, neither is right or wrong.
Still, you want to make sure to recognize motivators, so you can avoid chasing empty goals. After all the work of a big achievement, you can’t enjoy success when it was all about living someone else’s dream.
Tips to find motivation
Change isn’t easy for anyone. Finding self-motivation requires long-term commitment, courage, and perseverance. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It simply means you have to find ways to give yourself a boost when you need it, and avoid giving up when you hit a dip.
Here are the best ways to stay motivated, no matter how much you feel like giving up:
1. Simplify to focus your energy
Creating a life of simplicity in regards to self-motivation will keep distractions at bay and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed, especially during times of change. Simplicity allows space in our heads and hearts to become creative and grow through challenges.
Instead of trying to pursue many goals at once, choose your area of focus. This will not only help simplify your life, but will enable you to direct all your talents towards your most important goal. Aim to become badass in one area, instead of half-heartedly working in many areas at once.
2. Break down large goals into small steps
Take a look at the larger goal and consider the small steps to achieve it. Break all things into small, digestible chunks so you can celebrate wins. As you celebrate, you’ll trigger dopamine release in your brains, an important chemical to maintain motivation.
Gamifying the process can help sectionalize a large goal into doable tasks so you can celebrate the small wins as you hit them. It’s a common habit of successful people, and works well to make large goals more attainable.
3. Manage your expectations
When you don’t see progress as quickly as you expect, or you hit a snag in your plans, the feeling of frustration is the first step towards giving up. As obstacles pile up, frustration becomes despair, and you may tell yourself, “This goal is not attainable.”
Your brain is constantly calculating whether or not it’s worth the effort to keep going. In the book Burnout, authors Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, call this concept “The Monitor.” It’s the process in your brain that keeps a running tally of the effort-to-progress ratio in any undertaking.
“The Monitor” tends to have completely unrealistic expectations.
There is always a dark night of the soul, and your nerves may weaken. You should expect a dip in which momentum slows down or the trajectory seems wobbly.
Your job in staying motivated is to find ways to manage the stress and emotional turmoil of the inevitable dips — and keep going. You have to believe in yourself, and in your capabilities.
4. Surround yourself with supportive people
We must have people around us who help us stay in touch with our desired outcomes. People who have a significant support system or even one supportive person in their corner, fare better than those going it alone.
This is where the company you keep becomes critical. We must have people who can relate to us, see us, and support us to stay positive.
In her best-selling book, Conversational Intelligence, Judith E. Glazer explains how supportive people can step in to guide and motivate us like a coach during a football match. During the game of life, in which we pursue our goals, positive people can help you Reframe, Redirect and Refocus when it gets tough.
On the other hand, an unsupportive environment triggers psychological and physical distress that derail progress towards positive goals.
5. Ask for help — and offer it
When you’re trying to stay motivated in your quest, the right help can be the difference between success and giving up. According to Professor Richard Boyatzis, who has studied motivation for decades, we can all benefit from becoming better at offering and receiving the right kind of coaching.
The default form of help we tend to offer is called “coaching for compliance.” It involves trying to fix someone, or getting them to do what you want. Even if the advice is sound, this approach does not work to create lasting positive change. The person on the receiving end feels imposed upon, and they don’t learn much that will help them grow.
The approach that works is called “coaching with compassion.” This coaching style is not about helping, but about caring. Conversations with great coaches tie your goals back to your values and dreams. By adding context, they boost self-motivation and openness to new ideas.
Do you know caring, wise people in your circle that can support you through this challenging time? Perhaps you know of someone who has accomplished the goals you have set out to achieve. If not, you can find support by bringing in a coach, finding a mastermind group, or joining a support group for people facing a similar challenge. Small business coaches are dedicated professionals who specialize in helping business owners and executives better achieve their goals.
6. Practice gratitude
When pursuing a big goal, it’s easy to notice your shortcomings, and miss recognizing your achievements along the way. This negativity can kill self-motivation. So remember to recognize the blessings in your life and the things you have accomplished so far.
Practice gratitude by taking note of what has happened that has worked, and noticing positive changes, no matter how small.
A gratitude practice can help you feel proud of how far you’ve come while also teaching you the best ways to move forward. Cultivating the “attitude of gratitude” has proven benefits, too. These include inspiring self-motivation, opening the doors to new opportunities, and improving physical health (something you’ll need to keep pushing ahead).
Which brings me to my next point.
7. Get enough rest
I can’t stress this enough: rest, rest, rest! To keep motivation strong, we must give ourselves time to pause and reset, especially during times of stress.
When I started mountain biking, I learned to eat before I felt hungry and drink before I felt thirsty. Taking care of yourself with breaks for relaxation and rest will help sustain your motivation. And when you do hit a dip, rest helps you to be more resilient.
8. Celebrate achievements
Look back and use the perspective of miles completed as a means to give jet fuel into the tank for future moves. When hard work pays off, you absolutely deserve to celebrate and give yourself some credit.
When you have a small win, or reach a milestone on your journey, do whatever makes you feel like a superstar. That could mean taking time to yourself to walk on the beach, get together with loved ones to celebrate, or treat yourself to a massage.
Having the self-motivation to set goals and work toward them takes a lot of hard work, and you deserve to reward yourself!
Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s worth it!
Remember that changing your life for the better doesn’t happen overnight. When you set out to achieve a big goal, expect to progress in small steps.
When you feel a dip in self-motivation, remember all the concrete actions you can take to avoid crashing and giving up too soon. Turn to your friends, get guidance from wise people in your circle, practice self-care, and stay positive.
Celebrate your successes every step of the way because pursuing a big dream isn’t easy, but you are worth it.