How to Motivate Yourself: 10 Research-Backed Tips to Kickstart Your Motivation Engine

Many people think that motivation is the key to changing habits — and that you either have it or you don’t. But motivation is not a psychological trait or personality characteristic. It’s something you can cultivate.

“It’s about setting yourself up for success,” said behavioral scientist Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book “How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.” “Create an environment that’s conducive to making the choices you want to make. Think in advance about what could cause you to fail so you can think strategically about how you can overcome that obstacle.”

But once we find motivation, it doesn’t become a constant. It can come and go in waves.

“People tend to misjudge future levels of motivation — they don’t understand that high motivation today will drop down to low motivation or that other motivations will come in,” said B.J. Fogg, founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University and author of the book “Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything.” “The other thing people get wrong is they think they’ll be able to sustain consistently high levels of motivation day after day. It’s just not how we’re wired.”Advertisement

Another surprise: Motivation often comes from contemplating changing behavior, rather than before. Research shows that pre-motivational factors — such as risk perception and awareness of one’s own behavior — are important for people to build motivation to increase physical activity.

After we contemplate and mobilize ourselves to change our behavior, we often find that “it’s easier and more enjoyable to do than we thought it would be, and we find our rhythm,” said Wendy Grolnick, a professor of psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and co-author of the forthcoming book “Motivation Myth Busters: Science-Based Strategies to Boost Motivation in Yourself and Others.” “So instead of waiting for motivation to strike, it’s better to do something to spark it.”

Motivation is tricky. Some days you wake up ready to take on the world while other days it seems impossible to get out of bed. So how can you motivate yourself consistently?

The good news is motivation can be taught and strengthened. With the right strategies you can fire up your motivation engine to power through tough tasks stick to good habits, and pursue your biggest goals.

In this article we’ll explore 10 research-backed ways to motivate yourself, along with examples and tips to implement each strategy in your life. While no one technique will work perfectly every time, try combining a few methods to build an unstoppable motivation machine.

Put Your Goal on the Calendar

Adding your goal to a calendar makes it concrete. What gets scheduled gets done.

Pick your most important goal, whether it’s completing a big project for work or developing an exercise habit. Take out your calendar and schedule time to work on this goal each day or week. Treat this appointment with yourself as seriously as you would a meeting with your boss or doctor.

For example, if your goal is to start running 3 days per week, block off time for your runs on your calendar. Schedule them for the same 3 days and times each week to build consistency. Or if you want to write a book, carve out an hour each morning before work to write.

Putting your goal on the calendar also reinforces your commitment and ensures you don’t double-book that time slot.

Make Working Toward Your Goal a Habit

The calendar strategy works well for big, focused goals. But for daily habits like exercise, meditation or reading, try habit stacking instead.

Habit stacking attaches your new habit to an existing habit. For example, “After I brush my teeth each night, I will meditate for 10 minutes.” The existing habit of tooth brushing becomes the trigger to remind you to meditate.

Start with tiny habits to stack onto your daily routine, like reading one page or doing five pushups. As these micro habits become automatic, gradually increase the duration or intensity.

Automation takes willpower out of the equation so you can effortlessly slip new habits into your routine.

Plan for Imperfection

Will you motivate yourself every single day? Probably not – and that’s okay! Motivation fluctuates. Plan ahead for the days it dips by building in accountability.

Share your goal with a supportive friend, family member or peer group. Ask them to check in on your progress. Knowing you’ll have to report back to someone else can provide the push you need on days you lack internal motivation.

Another option is to use a habit tracking app to record your progress each day. The act of manually tracking makes you mindful, while many apps include features to share your progress with others.

By planning for imperfection, you ensure you can stay the course even if motivation wanes on occasion.

Set Small Goals to Build Momentum

Big, audacious goals can be energizing. But they also risk self-sabotage. When the finish line is so far away, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or discouraged.

Counteract this with tiny, daily goals that move you incrementally closer to the bigger goal. Small wins build your confidence and momentum.

For instance, if your big goal is to lose 50 pounds, set a daily goal like “Eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.” Or if you want to run a marathon, make your daily goal “Run 1 mile.”

Achieving something small each day gives you a sense of progress. String enough small wins together and soon you’ll be crossing the big finish line.

Track Your Progress

You’re more likely to repeat a behavior when you track it. Measurement keeps you honest and engaged.

Use a journal, spreadsheet, habit tracker app or progress photos to monitor your efforts. Record metrics like calories consumed, miles walked, books read or sales calls made.

Review your progress at least weekly, if not daily. Celebrate getting closer to your goal. If progress stalls, use the data to modify your approach – like adjusting your workout routine or diet.

Tracking progress also trains you to notice small wins on a granular level. Each completed workout or paragraph written brings you closer to the end zone.

Reward Yourself for the Little Wins as Well as the Big Ones

Positive reinforcement works. Reward yourself frequently to associate your goal with feelings of pleasure.

Schedule frequent small rewards for achieving mini-goals, like enjoying a latte after a morning writing session or downloading a new TV episode after an evening gym visit.

After longer periods of focused effort, give yourself bigger rewards. Plan a weekend getaway after sticking to your diet for two straight months, or treat yourself to a spa day for consistently meditating for 60 days.

Just be sure rewards don’t sabotage your goal – no skipping workouts to enjoy a dessert, for example. Rewards strengthen motivation as long as they align with your goal.

Embrace Positive Peer Pressures are profoundly social creatures. The people around us rub off on our mindsets and behaviors – for better or worse.

Surround yourself with supportive people who share your goal. Their enthusiasm is contagious. You’ll gain accountability, trade tips and celebrate progress together.

If real-life peers aren’t available, interact with like-minded people online through social media groups, forums and email lists. Positive peer pressure works whether online or offline.

Limit contact with peers who discourage your aspirations in subtle and overt ways, like by belittling your goal or tempting you astray. Their inertia can slow your momentum.

Tap Into Your Deeper “Why”

Connecting your goal to your core values provides an unlimited reservoir of motivation. Values-aligned goals give work meaning.

Ask yourself “why is this goal important to me?” and dig beneath surface answers like fame, fitness or financial success. What deeper purpose does your goal fulfill? How does it reflect your values?

For example, you might want fame not for its own sake, but to have a platform to advocate for social justice. Or you could value fitness because staying active allows you to fully engage with your family and community.

When motivation falters, remember your “why”. Core values endure even as emotions fluctuate. Reconnecting to purpose rekindles motivation.

Gamify Tedious Tasks

Let’s face it: some steps on the path to your goal will be tedious or difficult. Gamification makes them more engaging.

Turn chore-like tasks into a game by tracking them on a scorecard, competing against yourself to beat “high scores”, earning points, and leveling up after hitting milestones.

Apps like Habitica apply gaming elements to real habits. You earn experience points, collect treasure and battle monsters by completing real-world tasks.

Gamification transforms dreaded tasks into play. Setting daily high scores taps into our natural desires for mastery and leveling up.

Celebrate “Little” Victories

Any progress toward your goal, no matter how small, deserves celebrating. People who savor little victories are more motivated long-term.

Don’t just tally your progress and move on – take a moment to appreciate each step forward. Let every little win, like a fruit-filled breakfast or ten-minute writing session, trigger a jolt of joy.

How you celebrate is up to you – fist pump the air, do a silly dance, share your achievement on social media, or enjoy some dark chocolate! Whatever feels genuinely rewarding and fun for you.

Savoring little victories trains your brain to associate your goal with positive emotions, powering future motivation.

Stay Flexible

No motivation strategy works perfectly all the time. Be willing to experiment and switch up your approach.

Maybe scheduling workouts kills your enthusiasm, but joining a recreational sports team fills you with vigor. If peer pressure backfires, maybe solo accountability tools work better for you.

Pay attention to when your motivation flows and when it fades. Adjust strategies accordingly to find your own optimal mix.

Remaining nimble prevents you from doubling down on ineffective techniques. Follow motivation where it leads you.

The next time you need to motivate yourself, scan the list above for strategies that resonate with your goal and personality. With consistent effort, you can build motivation habits that push you through rough patches on the journey toward your dreams.

how to motivate your self

Make the pursuit more pleasant

If you encounter self-control challenges, try a strategy called “temptation bundling,” Milkman said.

Temptation bundling lets you engage in a guilty pleasure only while you are doing an activity you want to make a habit. To exercise more often, read a page-turner or watch a certain TV show only while you are using a stationary bike or elliptical machine. To cook healthy meals, treat yourself to your favorite podcast or a beverage of choice while you are working in the kitchen. “It’s about making the path enjoyable,” Milkman said.

If you link a desired habit to something you already do (an anchor), you can create built-in prompts or reminders to engage in it, Fogg said. Some examples: After I get out of bed in the morning, I’ll do X number of push-ups or planks. When I see the stairs, I’ll take them instead of the elevator.Advertisement

By letting one action become the trigger for another, the new behavior becomes automatic, Grolnick said.

Map out starter steps

Start with simple, bite-sized actions. To get into a regular walking routine, you could start by going for a walk around your backyard or put on your walking shoes, Fogg said.

“The starter step is kind of a mental jujitsu — it has a surprising impact for such a small move because the momentum it creates often propels you to the next steps with less friction,” Fogg said.

How to motivate yourself to change your behavior | Tali Sharot | TEDxCambridge

How do you maintain motivation?

According to Dr Eleanor Quested, a physical activity and motivation expert at Curtin University, when we do things “because we want to, choose to and enjoy, sustaining motivation is much easier”. 2. Make it social (distanced obviously) It’s tough for me being away from my gym.

How do I motivate myself to achieve my goals?

Take short breaks between each task and reward yourself for completed goals in order to motivate yourself. Set yourself up to be accountable for your actions by letting others know your goals. Checking in periodically with a supportive friend can help you stay focused and on track. Give yourself rewards for accomplished goals.

How do you find motivation?

People look for motivation in different things: it might be a fascinating film, exciting book or success story of some famous person. Such sources are chosen individually and become the power that drives individuals to strive for becoming better and stronger.

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