The Science of Motivation and How to Get More Of It

Need more motivation? I can relate! This article features the science of motivation, and how to get more of it!

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The Science of Motivation

When it comes to success, there is one key component that may be more important than even such factors as talent, intelligence, money or connections. That elusive piece of the puzzle is motivation. After all, 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. We all have lists of things we hope to accomplish. These lists contain big goals, daily tasks and everything in between. Learning how to increase your motivation will boost the likelihood of checking more items off your list. Let’s take a look at 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 the 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, we can then develop strategies to increase it.

Three Elements of Motivation

The three elements of motivation Pink discusses in his book are autonomy, value and competence. It is these components, according to researchers, that drive people to become motivated. Autonomy refers to the amount of control or independence one feels over a task or action. It has been shown that when you feel that you have a significant amount of input regarding that task, you are more likely to follow through to completion.

The second component of motivation, value, is the amount of personal significance or importance you place on a matter. In essence, if something matters to you on a personal level, you will feel more motivation to take it on than if you are simply given an assignment to which you feel no connection. Competence has been found to come from an individual’s feeling of mastery as it relates to practice and hard work, not necessarily to one’s natural abilities. If you spend time developing competence toward a particular goal, it is predicted that you will be more motivated to complete said goal.

Strategies to Increase Motivation

Now that you have an understanding of what matters most with regard to what motivates us, it’s time to consider some strategies to increase motivation. Using the concept of autonomy as a guide, let’s consider ways to add a sense of control or involvement into activities that need to be completed.

One way to do this is to take ownership of a chore or add some aspect of self-direction to it. If you are having difficulty starting a project such as submitting a paper for review, it may help to think of all the ways doing so will set you apart as an expert in your field. In doing so, you’ll see that turning in the paper is a necessary component to sharing your unique views with your colleagues.

To add value to your task, you want to make it meaningful or personal. Find a way to add purpose to that item on your to-do list. This involves changing your perspective or the way you look at that item. Completing your taxes is a dreaded chore for most of us, but you can add purpose to it by focusing on the work you’ve done that comprises the numbers on the page or the contribution you’ve made to your job and community through your efforts. Paying taxes is a symbol of good citizenry.

Finally, there’s competence. Feeling mastery over an act requires practice. Try to look at the job at hand as one in which you are working toward an end goal of skillfulness. For instance, you’ll soon see the treadmill as less of an adversary the more workout sessions you endure. So, along with the ultimate goal of getting fit, you’ll soon see each session become easier, leading to a feeling of accomplishment.

Motivation is not always easy to come by. However, with this knowledge of the science behind it, you can now pursue the steps required to achieve your dreams more effectively. Soon you’ll be 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. Maybe you’ve been procrastinating for days, or even weeks, and now you’re down to the wire on an unforgiving deadline. The threat of not completing the job on time should be enough to motivate you to get moving, right? Wrong.

Often, even knowing the consequences that exist for not completing a task aren’t enough to push us forward. Fortunately, there are some tangible steps you can take in order to give yourself a boost when your usual routine isn’t working. 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.

Look Ahead

One way to convince your brain that an activity is worth starting is to look ahead to the end result. Think about the money you’ll make a from a freelance gig, the feeling of satisfaction you’ll get from handing in your portion of the monthly report to a nagging co-worker or the freedom to begin your two-week semester break when your last paper is submitted.

No matter what the project, visualizing the result of your efforts can improve your focus and motivation. Consider adding an actual visual such as a photo, magazine clipping or other image to motivate you.

Get Moving

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. Exercise has been shown to increase mental clarity and decrease stress, just the combination for working on a complex project with a looming deadline.

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

It’s also possible that a quick rest can restore your clear thinking. If your brain is feeling cloudy or your thoughts are cloudy, a short nap might be a better course of action than exercise.

Put your head down on your desk or stretch out on the sofa in your office for 10 or 20 minutes. 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.

Perhaps changing to a mellower playlist or instrumental songs might be a better option for you than fast beats. 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.

Start Small

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. Using the above example of the monthly report, you might wish to begin by gathering your data and other supplies necessary for completing the job.

This small action can put you in the right mindset to keep working on the rest. Getting started truly is half the battle.

These suggestions can, and should, be tailored to fit your personality, preferences and lifestyle. Experiment a bit. Use the ones that work for you, and throw out the rest. You’ll likely be surprised by the significant effect a simple action can have on your productivity.

Goal Setting for Motivational Success

There is a strong connection between setting goals and maintaining the motivation required to successfully attain them. In fact, in the 1960’s, behavioral research led to an understanding of the relation between these concepts, and theories were developed to shed insight on the concrete ways one influences the other.

Let’s take a look at the basis of these theories and then at some of the reasons to utilize goal setting for motivational success.

Theories of Goal Setting and Motivation

The first researcher to study the relationship between goal setting and motivation was Dr. Edwin Locke. He published his findings in 1968l. Locke’s Goal Setting Theory concluded that specific goals provided more motivation than vague ones.

Along these lines, goals that provided a challenge were shown to be better motivators than easier ones. In addition, Locke discovered that positive feedback was highly influential toward increasing motivation. Essentially, the very act of creating a goal leads to better performance.

Decades later, in 1990, Locke paired up with Dr. Gary Latham to develop the Goal Setting and Motivation Theory, whose main premise is that five fundamental principles influence effective goals setting and that goal achievement is more likely when higher numbers of these principles are in place. The five fundamental principles of the theory are:

  • Clarity
  • Challenge
  • Complexity
  • Commitment
  • Feedback

In essence, your goals should be clear and provide you with enough of a challenge to entice you to reach them. However, it’s important that these goals not be so complex as to cause frustration or overwhelm; this would be counterproductive.

Goals that inspire motivation also should include an aspect of formally committing to them and have a check-in method in place to determine satisfactory progression.

Provide Reference

By developing objectives through the framework of goal setting theories, you are providing yourself with a tangible reference point to keep you on track. Thus, your motivation is likely to endure. You are able to look at the points you’ve written down in order to remind yourself of your purpose and to validate that you are moving in the right direction.

Add Manageability

Proper structure of your goals can also make your overall plan seem more attainable. By assuring that your goals are challenging, you’ll keep your brain stimulated.

Breaking things down into short-term and long-term targets, along with similar strategies, can help you to avoid becoming overwhelmed by one big goal that is simply too complex to be achieved. Motivation is better sustained when you feel some agency over your goals.

Instill Accountability

By adding a check-in mechanism of some sort, you will be instilling a sense of accountability to your goals. It’s easy to toss a goal aside when you don’t really have to answer to anyone, or even yourself, with regard to progress.

Find an accountability partner to share accomplishments with or build assessment dates into your calendar in which you self-check your progress.

Increase Confidence

Challenging, yet realistic, goals that allow for the monitoring of progress can do a lot for your sense of mastery. Seeing your goal becoming closer to reality through hard work and skill is empowering.

Hearing praise from your network is also motivating toward fulfilling an objective. Confidence is increased through all of these things.

Improve Life Quality

Essentially, having well-developed goals can lead to a more fulfilling life. By taking the time to proactively define what you want and working toward that desire, you are living with purpose.

Those who know what they want and feel they are on track to achieve it are generally more motivated and satisfied individuals.

As you can see, there is a strong relationship between goals and motivation. In order to sustain motivation, you must not only set goals, but your goals need to have structure.

Following these guidelines can increase both your motivation and your chances of reaching your intentions.

Increase Your Motivation Even When Anxious or Depressed

Motivation is an elusive concept for many people. Despite having big dreams or desiring to accomplish a particular goal, taking the steps necessary to reach the end objective can seem impossible. Sometimes just completing the bare minimum feels like all you can do.

Forget the idea of accomplishing anything greater. This is especially true if you suffer from anxiety or depression. These mental health conditions zap the energy, happiness and sheer will from from your core. You may find yourself unable to accomplish even the basics of day to day living, let alone going above and beyond.

If you have been diagnosed with these issues, or feel that you may be dealing with them, the most important aspect of overcoming their toxic effects is to seek help. Therapy and medication have shown to be effective in treating anxiety and depression, but even these powerful components may not be enough to move you toward your goals.

However, there are some strategies you can take to increase your motivation even when anxious or depressed. Continue reading for some tangible ways to help you move past survival mode.

Do It for Someone Else

While personal goals generally need to come from within in order to be meaningful, anxiety and depression can make generating any kind of internal feeling beyond despair difficult. Intrinsic motivation, or the kind that comes from inside you, simply may not be something you can muster right now. One way to “trick” yourself into becoming motivated is to think of ways your goal may benefit others.

For example, if you’re having trouble just getting out of bed, it may help to think of those who depend on you for their care. Whether it’s a child or even a pet, the desire to complete the basic necessities for those you love may be enough motivation for now. This approach can be applied other aspects of your life also. While it shouldn’t be a long-term solution, it can sometimes be enough to get you moving and lead to fueling further motivation.

Outsource Dreaded Tasks

Deferring your most-dreaded tasks onto someone else may be especially effective for those dealing with anxiety. Many anxiety sufferers fear talking on the phone. If possible, request that a significant other or friend make important phone calls on your behalf. You don’t have to put yourself through unnecessary stress in every situation.

Some things can be outsourced in order to make everything else more manageable. If finances allow, you can pay professionals to bear certain loads for you. Otherwise, some creativity may be in order. The relief you’ll experience is worth the initial expenditure of energy required to generate creative outsourcing solutions.

Do the Fun Stuff First

Many life coaches or other experts will recommend that you tackle the tough or boring items on your list first in order to get them out of the way. The theory is that you’ll feel more accomplished, and finishing the rest of your project or goal will be easier. When you have depression or anxiety, this approach is unrealistic.

Depending on the severity of your condition, simply making any forward movement on a task is asking a lot of you. Therefore, turn the advice upside down and start with the easiest part first. Another way to look at things is to do the absolute bare minimum or smallest part first. Once you’ve summoned the motivation to just get started in some way, continuing on will be a more likely prospect.

Be Gentle With Yourself

If you were helping a friend in your situation, you’d likely have all the compassion in the world for them. You’d probably offer words of encouragement for the small achievements your pal made and be there to take up some slack when they’re feeling unable. In order to foster motivation, you absolutely must show yourself this same level of compassion. Reward or praise yourself for every small accomplishment.

This can be taking a break to watch your favorite show or purchasing a simple indulgence like a bottle of perfume. Even praising yourself for your efforts can be effective. Along that same vein, be sure not to chastise yourself for perceived faults. Instead, focus on what you were able to get done or remind yourself that you are currently facing some tough obstacles and you’re doing your best. Negative self-talk is self-sabotage and kills motivation.

Incorporating these steps into your daily routine can significantly increase your motivation, despite anxiety and depression. Your mental health issues are a challenge, but they don’t need to be the end of your dreams.

The Benefits of Meditation for Motivation

Waning motivation is a problem for many of us. The stress and strain of a busy life can overwhelm you, making even the most basic of tasks seem difficult. The downward spiral of low motivation can seem like an impossible cycle to break.

Once you lose your spark, productivity and accomplishment can seem like unattainable goals. There is one simple tool you may not have considered before that can get you back on track, and that’s meditation.

This exercise of the mind goes well beyond providing just relaxation. You can gain a host of good things through its practice. Continue reading to discover the benefits of meditation for motivation.

Strengthened Focus and Concentration

Focus and concentration are essential elements of motivation. If you can’t force your mind to center on the things you need to do, your motivation will also go out the window. Meditation is all about focus and concentration.

No matter which of its many forms you practice, chances are you will be engaging in focusing your mind in some way. Engaging in regular meditation will naturally strengthen your ability to concentrate and focus in your everyday life.

Increased Happiness

We all get down now and again. More and more individuals are being diagnosed with depression in modern times. Regardless of your mental starting point, it’s a known fact that happy people often have more energy and higher self-confidence.

Fortunately, motivation has been shown to increase happiness by stimulating the release of the brain’s “happiness hormones.” When you’re feeling more positive, you’re likely to have more internal desire to get things done.

Less Stress

Meditation leads to a more relaxed state due to the way in which it allows the brain to slow down as it receives sensory input. This relaxation and improved processing leads to reduced feelings of stress and overwhelm. With less stress comes a feeling of more control, which then fuels your motivation.

Positive Thinking

One of the biggest killers of motivation is negative thinking. A pessimistic view can come from many sources such as depression, poor habits or general life difficulties. The beauty of meditation is that it “rewires” brain patterns that naturally elicit more positive thought patterns, giving you the reset you need to be more motivated.

Clarified Goals and Purpose

Taking time each day for meditation gives you a great deal of person insight. This self-reflection can be the catalyst for reassessing what’s truly important in your life. When you have a better picture of your priorities, your goals and life’s purpose become clearer.

Knowing where you want to go kicks your motivation into high-gear, and you’ll feel a greater urgency to take the steps necessary on the path to your dreams.

The benefits of meditation for increased motivation are extensive. These are some of the main ways in which this daily mind practice can jumpstart the actions required for reaching your goals. There are many different types of meditation. You can begin to research on your own or find a skilled teacher who can help you develop a practice that works for you.

What’s most important is that you get started and maintain consistency in your meditation practice in order to see the most effective results. Soon you’ll be tackling your to-do list and pursuing the life goals that matter with renewed vigor.