10 ways you can get more motivated in life, according to psychology

by Mia Zhang | April 27, 2024, 1:43 am

Life can often feel like an uphill battle, where the motivation to keep pushing forward sometimes wanes into a flickering ember.

Motivation is a funny thing – it’s not always there when you need it.

Sometimes, you’re on fire, ticking off everything on your to-do list. Other times, you just can’t seem to get off the couch.

The good news? Psychology has a lot to say about how to get—and stay—motivated.

In this article, I’m going to share 10 scientifically-backed ways to boost your motivation.

No magic solutions or false promises. Just practical advice that can help you feel more fired up and ready to tackle whatever comes your way.

1) Set specific goals

Ever heard of the saying ‘A goal without a plan is just a wish’? Well, turns out there’s some psychological truth behind it.

Goals are like the North Star, guiding us through life’s treacherous ocean. Goals give us direction, providing a target to aim for and a clear end-point to work towards.

Yet, many of us often set sail without a clear destination in mind.

Establishing concrete, achievable goals can provide a substantial boost to your motivation. They act as a roadmap, outlining the path to your desired outcome and helping you navigate through obstacles and setbacks.

Specific, challenging goals are much more effective at driving motivation than vague or easy ones. It’s all about finding the sweet spot – a goal that’s hard enough to be exciting, but not so hard it feels impossible.

So, how do you go about setting effective goals?

Not all goals are created equal. The key is to make them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This approach helps you create clear, actionable steps towards achieving your larger objectives.

Remember, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Break down your big goals into smaller, manageable steps and start ticking them off, one by one.

As you accomplish these smaller tasks, your motivation will snowball, propelling you forward towards your bigger aspirations and ultimate destination.

It might sound simple, but you’d be surprised at how much of a difference it can make.

2) Find your ‘why’

Did you know that the Eiffel Tower was initially criticized and seen as an eyesore by many Parisians?

Yet, Gustave Eiffel, the engineer behind the iconic structure, was driven by a strong ‘why’ – his vision to showcase French industrial prowess to the world.

This compelling ‘why’ kept him motivated despite the numerous obstacles and criticisms he faced.

Psychology underlines the power of ‘why’. It’s about understanding the underlying reason for your actions. Your ‘why’ is your driving force – the reason you get out of bed in the morning.

Identifying your ‘why’ or purpose can significantly boost your motivation. It’s the driving force that propels you forward in the face of adversity and gives meaning to your actions.

Your ‘why’ doesn’t have to be monumental or world-changing. It could be as simple as wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle for your family, or striving for a promotion to achieve financial stability.

The key is that it needs to be something that resonates deeply with you.

So if you’re struggling to find motivation, take a step back and ask yourself: ‘Why am I doing this?’ Take some time to reflect on what truly matters to you and let this guide you in your journey towards greater motivation.

Remember, when your ‘why’ is strong enough, you’ll find the ‘how’.  Understanding your ‘why’ can be the difference between pushing through or giving up. It’s not always easy to find, but trust me – it’s worth it.

3) Embrace the power of visualization

Visualization isn’t just for athletes. It’s a powerful tool that can help you achieve your goals, no matter what they are.

Here’s how it works. Imagine yourself achieving your goal. Picture it in as much detail as possible. What does it look like? How does it feel? What can you hear?

According to research, the brain doesn’t distinguish between real and imagined experiences. That means when you visualize achieving your goal, your brain believes you’ve actually achieved it.

This can boost your confidence and motivation, making your goal feel more attainable.

So next time you’re lacking motivation, close your eyes and visualize yourself succeeding. You might just be amazed by the results.

4) Reward yourself

Sometimes, all you need to keep going is a little reward. It’s no secret that we’re more likely to do something if there’s a reward waiting for us at the end.

This isn’t just about treating yourself to a slice of cake after a tough workout, although that can certainly help. It’s about creating positive associations with the tasks that you need to do.

If you’re struggling with motivation, try setting up a reward system. Maybe it’s taking a relaxing bath after finishing a big project, or watching your favorite show after cleaning the house.

The key is to choose rewards that are meaningful to you. They don’t have to be big or expensive – just something that makes you feel good.

Remember, rewards aren’t just about bribing yourself into doing something. They’re about celebrating your achievements and acknowledging your hard work. So go ahead, give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it.

5) Surround yourself with positivity

The environment we cultivate, both physically and emotionally, can greatly impact our levels of motivation. Just as a plant thrives in the right soil conditions, our motivation flourishes in an environment of positivity.

If you’re surrounded by negativity, it can drain your motivation.

On the flip side, surrounding yourself with positive influences – be it supportive friends, inspirational books, or uplifting music – can fundamentally shift your mindset and boost your motivation.

These influences act as fuel, helping you to maintain a positive outlook even when faced with challenges.

Moreover, positivity breeds positivity. When you immerse yourself in an optimistic environment, you’re more likely to adopt a similar outlook and approach towards your goals.

This doesn’t just mean surrounding yourself with positive people. It also means creating a positive physical environment.

A clean, organized workspace; a comfortable chair; natural light – these things can make a big difference in your mood and productivity.

Also, consider the media you consume. Inspirational books, podcasts, or films can stimulate your mind and keep your motivation high.

So take a moment to consider the influences in your life. Are they uplifting and inspiring or do they dampen your spirits? Remember, you have the power to shape your environment and, in turn, your motivation. Choose positivity.

6) Be kind to yourself

In our relentless pursuit of success and achievement, we often become our own harshest critics. We berate ourselves for every little mistake, every perceived failure.

But in doing so, we often forget one important fact – we’re only human.

Mistakes and setbacks are a part of life. They don’t define us, nor do they determine our worth.

Practicing self-compassion can be incredibly beneficial in boosting our motivation. It encourages us to treat ourselves with the same kindness and understanding we would offer a friend in a similar situation.

By being compassionate towards ourselves, we create a nurturing environment that fosters growth and motivation.

Instead of being debilitated by self-criticism, we become empowered to learn from our mistakes and strive for improvement.

When you stumble, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, acknowledge the setback, learn from it, and move forward. Remember, every step – even the backward ones – bring you closer to your goal.

So next time you stumble or falter, remember to be gentle with yourself. Acknowledge your effort, respect your journey, and understand that everyone moves at their own pace.

This compassionate mindset can serve as a powerful motivational tool on your path to success.

7) Break it down

I once had a project at work that felt so overwhelming, I didn’t know where to start. The deadline was looming, and the stress was mounting.

Then I remembered a piece of advice I’d read somewhere: break it down.

Instead of looking at the project as one giant task, I broke it down into smaller, more manageable parts. Suddenly, what once seemed insurmountable became doable.

This approach is rooted in psychology. Our brains are more responsive to small, attainable goals than they are to large, overwhelming ones.

Each small victory triggers a release of dopamine, the feel-good hormone, giving us a boost of motivation to keep going.

So if you’re facing a daunting task, don’t let it intimidate you. Break it down into smaller tasks and tackle them one at a time. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it becomes.

8) Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is all about staying present and focusing on the here and now. It’s about letting go of past regrets and future anxieties, and fully immersing yourself in the current moment.

When practiced regularly, mindfulness can help reduce stress, improve focus, and boost motivation.

You can start by setting aside a few minutes each day to sit quietly and focus on your breath. Pay attention to how it feels as it enters and leaves your body. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to your breath.

You can also practice mindfulness during everyday activities like washing dishes or walking. The key is to be fully present in what you’re doing, rather than letting your mind wander to other things.

Remember, mindfulness is a skill, and like any skill, it takes practice. But the benefits are well worth the effort.

9) Celebrate small wins

Every journey consists of many steps, and it’s important to celebrate each one. Recognizing the small victories along the way can be a powerful motivator to keep pushing forward.

When you achieve a sub-goal, take a moment to celebrate it. This doesn’t necessarily mean throwing a party every time you make a step forward.

It could be as simple as taking a moment to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished or treating yourself to something you enjoy.

These moments of celebration reinforce the positive feelings associated with achievement and can spur you on to reach the next milestone on your path to success. After all, motivation is often fueled by the joy of achievement.

10) Believe in yourself

At the end of the day, the most powerful motivator is belief in your own abilities. If you don’t believe you can achieve your goals, you’re unlikely to put in the effort required to reach them.

Believing in yourself isn’t about unrealistic optimism or ignoring the challenges ahead. It’s about acknowledging your strengths, accepting your weaknesses, and knowing that you’re capable of overcoming obstacles.

So if you’re struggling with motivation, take a moment to remind yourself of all the things you’ve already achieved. Look at how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go.

Because when you believe in yourself, anything is possible.

Final thoughts: It’s a journey

The quest for motivation is, in essence, a journey, one that never truly ends. We’re all seeking it, in our own ways, for our own reasons.

The science of motivation is as complex as it is fascinating, intertwining our behaviors, thoughts, and even our biochemistry.

From setting specific goals to embracing the power of visualization, to understanding the importance of self-compassion and mindfulness – each strategy offers a unique path towards boosting motivation.

It’s crucial to remember, though, that what works best for one individual might not work for another.

Psychology provides us with tools and insights, but it’s up to us to apply them in a way that resonates with our unique experiences and perceptions.

So as you continue on your journey towards greater motivation, take some time to reflect on these strategies. Experiment with them. See what works for you and adapt as necessary.

Because at the end of the day, motivation isn’t just about getting things done. It’s about understanding ourselves better and tapping into our own potential.

Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination. And you have all the tools you need to make it an enriching one.

So keep exploring, keep learning, and most importantly, keep moving forward. Because every step you take on this journey of motivation brings you closer to becoming the best version of yourself.

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