If you struggle to meet the goals you have for yourself, improving your motivation might make all the difference.
As we work toward self-improvement to get to the life we really want, motivation is key. When things get hard, motivation wanes. How do you improve your motivation so you can reach your goals?
Without motivation, nothing can be accomplished. You won’t reach your goals or meet your self-imposed deadlines without the motivation to take action toward them. Unfortunately, that motivation is often what is lacking in the fulfillment of desires.
When I work with clients who need executive function help, one of the things I start with is motivation. I can offer all the tools and strategies in the world, but if they don’t have the motivation to change, nothing matters. People who struggle with executive functioning often also struggle with motivation. They haven’t been successful doing things the way others have told them to, and they failed. It’s hard to keep going when you don’t find success (or success at the level you hoped for).
We all have lists of things we hope to accomplish. These lists contain big goals, daily tasks, and everything in between. Increasing your motivation will increase the likelihood of checking more items off your list. Let’s start with the science of motivation and the ways to harness it to your advantage.
An Improved Approach to Motivation
Author Dan Pink writes in his best-selling book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, that there are three components of motivation that compel individuals to get things done. His premise is that the traditional method of motivating ourselves and others using a carrots and sticks type of reward system is ineffective. Instead, he argues that the scientific approach to understanding the makeup of motivation provides a far better lens from which to view the subject. By understanding the factors that tangibly affect motivation, you can develop strategies for improving your motivation.
Three Elements of Motivation
Dan Pink discusses 3 main components that, according to researchers, drive people to be motivated:
- Autonomy— Autonomy refers to the amount of control or independence one feels over a task or action. When you feel that you have a significant amount of input regarding that task, you’re more likely to follow through to completion. Think about a time when you had to complete a job or project but you had no control. Your boss or manager might’ve told you exactly what to do and how to do it. Chances are you lacked motivation to do the project. You had no investment in it.
- Value—Value is the amount of personal significance or importance you place on a matter. If something matters to you on a personal level, you’ll feel more motivated to follow through. If you have no connection, you won’t have much interest; therefore, your motivation will wane. As a coach, when I’m working with a teenager who is only seeing me because his parents are making him, it’s tough to get him to buy into the process. If he doesn’t care, he’s not going to try the tools and strategies I offer to improve his executive functioning. He sees no value in it, so he doesn’t do it.
- Competence—Competence comes from an individual’s feeling of mastery in relation to practice and hard work, not necessarily to one’s natural abilities. If you spend time developing competence toward a particular goal, you will probably be more motivated to complete said goal. Winning makes us feel good. When we feel accomplished, we’re more motivated to keep going. When we feel like we are competent—successful—we follow through, even when things get tough.
Strategies to Increase Motivation
Now that you understand what matters most with regard to what motivates us, it’s time to consider some strategies for improving your motivation.
Look back at the 3 main components. To improve your motivation for working toward the changes you want in your life, try to tap into ways to increase those components. What do I mean by that?
If you feel that you don’t have control of the task, how can you increase your autonomy? Can you add some aspect of self-direction?
If you don’t immediately see the value in the task, is there a way for you to find personal value in it? For example, if your boss gives you a job, you might struggle to complete it if you just “have to do it.” But what if you reframe that task as a way to stand out to your boss? Can you use it as a means to show your skills and abilities?
Never discount the feeling of being competent. We like to feel like we’re good at things. If you’re struggling with executive functioning, you probably say things like, “I’m not good at planning” or “I suck at time management.” But if you give yourself a chance to be successful, you’ll want to repeat that success. You’ll want to keep at it. Sometimes, all we need is a small win.
Motivation is not always easy to come by. However, by knowing the science behind it, you can now pursue the steps required to achieve your dreams more effectively. This will lead to you mastering your goals, which will fuel your motivation toward future endeavors.
Best Ways to Improve Your Motivation Fast
Sometimes you need to get started on a project right away. Procrastination runs rampant among my people. Chances are you’re often down to the wire on a deadline. The threat of not completing the job on time should be enough to motivate you to get moving, right?
Often, even knowing that there are consequences for not completing a task isn’t enough to push us forward. Fortunately, there are some tangible steps you can take for improving your motivation. Keep reading for some of the best ways to improve your motivation fast. Adding even a few of these to your bag of tricks may help you to overcome that slump when you need a motivational jumpstart.
One way to convince your brain that an activity is worth starting is to look ahead to the end result. Imagine what your life looks like after the thing is done. Think about how good it will feel to have done it. No matter what the project is, visualizing the result of your efforts can improve your focus and motivation. Consider adding an actual visual such as a photo, magazine clippings, or other images to motivate you. This is why vision boards are so powerful.
If you’re feeling sleepy or even restless, you won’t be able to focus on that pressing task. A solution can be to move your body. This strategy is especially important for my ADHD peeps. You know you function better with movement. You fidget. It’s who you are. Accept it. When you let it bottle up for a long time, you’ll have a harder time focusing. Exercise has been shown to increase mental clarity and decrease stress. Who doesn’t need some more clarity and less stress?
Taking a brisk walk or heading to the gym for a quick step aerobics class on your lunch hour can be just enough of a jolt to get you in prime thinking mode. Be careful not to overdo it or you’ll be too exhausted to do much of anything.
Take a Rest
While for some of you, movement is necessary, for others, you need just the opposite. For you, a quick rest can restore your clear thinking. If your brain is feeling fuzzy or your thoughts are cloudy, a short nap might work better than exercise. When you wake up from this power nap, you should be feeling rejuvenated and ready to work.
Listen to Music
Upbeat tunes might be a solution that leads you to start tapping your toes and feeling more alert. If you are able to work with background noise, you can keep the music going. If you’re easily distracted, choose music without lyrics. Perhaps changing to a mellower playlist or instrumental songs might be a better option for you than fast beats. One app that can help you choose music is brain.fm. Their sounds are science-based to activate your brain.
If you require silence in order to concentrate, put on just a few of your favorites to shift your mood, and then get to work.
A method that is often successful in tricking the mind to move on a task is to start with a small portion of the whole. When I work with clients and they’re struggling to finish homework or a project, I always suggest starting small. Even if it’s something they HATE, they can convince themselves to do it for 5 minutes (or 10 or 15) or they can handle doing 5 questions. Or they can write just one paragraph. This small action can put you in the right mindset to keep working on the rest. Getting started truly is half the battle.
As always, this is a process (just like everything else I talk about). Tailor these suggestions to fit your personality, preferences, and lifestyle. Experiment a bit. Use the ones that work for you, and throw out the rest.
And sometimes, when it comes to improving your motivation, you have to fake it til you make it. Take baby steps and celebrate the hell out of every win.