Without motivation, none of us would set or attain any goals. In fact, you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t capable of motivating yourself – harnessing that motivation and applying it appropriately is a different story, though. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of ourselves, while intrinsic motivation comes from within us. Research has shown again and again that extrinsic motivators (such as prize money or social recognition) are ineffective in eliciting lasting change.
The three major components of motivation are:
- Activation – the decision to do something, such as starting a weight loss program
- Persistence – sticking with something, such as maintaining your new diet and fitness plan even though it’s difficult.
- Intensity – the endurance that pursuing a goal takes; for example, losing weight is much more difficult for some people than others.
Many people don’t think of it, but achieving one goal can leave you feeling unmotivated as you search for a new sense of direction. People who set too many or too big of goals may also struggle with what is essentially motivation burnout. If this is the case for you, consider that it might not be the right time for a change. Maybe you have more going on than you expected when you first set a goal. If so, accept it and prioritize what is most important at the moment.
Being mindful about the distinction between confidence and motivation is important for achieving your goals. Sometimes, people describe themselves as “unmotivated” when they experience low confidence that keeps them stuck. Instead of thinking of all the ways that you could fail, focus on all of the reasons why you will succeed (you’ve wanted this for a long time, you already started working on it, you are very strong-willed, you know what needs to be done, or you’ve learned from past attempts at change, etc.) Perfectionism holds a lot of people back and is very demotivating. Setting realistic goals and remaining reasonable when measuring success are essential steps for overcoming the hurdles created by perfectionism.
If you find yourself struggling with motivation, these tips might help:
- Make sure that your goals are things that matter to you. If you are committed to a goal because of peer pressure or out of obligation, you’re unlikely to feel motivated.
- Just take the first step. Then take another. Ask yourself, “What would I do right now if I were feeling motivated?”
- Work on improving your confidence by remembering your other accomplishments and strengths.
- Accept that what works for others might not work for you – try new things until you discover what is effective for you.
- Challenge yourself if you’ve fallen into a rut.
- Focus on the journey instead of the final result. Accept where you are at the moment and speak to yourself as you would to a child or a good friend.
- Pair something that you don’t enjoy with something that you do. If you hate cooking, listen to your favorite podcast while you chop the vegetables. If you hate exercising, do something active with a loved one. If you hate studying, take your flashcards to your favorite coffee shop.
Lastly, if feelings of helplessness or hopelessness accompany your lack of motivation, or you also experience changes in your sleep or appetite, anger or irritability, reckless behavior, or a loss of interest in daily activities, you might be suffering from depression and should seek professional help. With depression, the brain pathways that control reward and motivation are not coordinated, resulting in a sense of apathy.