Being Motivated

Dr. David J. Koehn Psychologist Fort Myers, Florida

Dr. David Koehn is a psychologist practicing in Fort Myers, FL. Dr. Koehn specializes in the treatment of mental health problems and helps people to cope with their mental illnesses. As a psychologist, Dr. Koehn evaluates and treats patients through a variety of methods, most typically being psychotherapy or talk therapy.... more

Being Motivated


Dr. David J. Koehn


Taken from a variety of sources on the internet and from my background experience, here is a treatise on motivation. Self-motivation is, in its simplest form, is the force that drives you to do things. The topic of self-motivation, however, is far from simple. People can be motivated by many things, both internal and external, such as the desire to do something, love of someone, or need for money. Usually, motivation is a result of several factors.

Motivation is what pushes us to achieve our goals, feel more fulfilled, and improve our overall quality of life. Understanding and developing your self-motivation can help you to take control of many other aspects of your life. Motivation is one of the three areas of personal skills that are integral to the concept of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, the author of several seminal books on Emotional Intelligence, identified four elements that make up motivation: 

  1. Personal drive to achieve, the desire to improve or to meet certain standards;
  2. Commitment to personal or organizational goals;
  3.  Initiative, which he defined as ‘readiness to act on opportunities’; and
  4.  Optimism, the ability to keep going and pursue goals in the face of setbacks. This is also known as resilience.

To improve self-motivation, it is therefore helpful to understand more about these individual elements.

First Element, Personal Drive to Achieve - Personal drive to achieve is about ambition, or perhaps personal empowerment. However, it is also worth thinking about it in terms of mindset. There are two types of mindset, fixed and growth. Those with a fixed mindset believe that talent is ingrained and that we cannot change our level of ability. Those with a growth mindset believe that they can improve their skills through hard work and effort. Research shows that those who believe that they can improve—that is, who have a growth mindset—are far more likely to achieve in whatever sphere they choose. A growth mindset is therefore an important element in a personal drive to succeed. Other elements of personal drive include being organized, particularly being good at time management, and avoiding distractions.

Second Element - Commitment to Goals - There is considerable evidence, even if much of it is anecdotal, that goal-setting is important to our general well-being. Accordingly, to Albert Einstein “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things. Ted Turner said “you should set goals beyond your reach so you always have something to live for. Michelangelo indicated “The greater danger for most of us isn’t that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and reach it.” 

It certainly makes sense that ‘if you aim at nothing, it is easy to achieve it’, and that most of us need something in our lives to aim towards. Having an awareness of where you wish to be, and an understanding of how you plan to get there is a vital part of staying motivated.

Third Element - Initiative - Initiative is, effectively, the ability to take advantage of opportunities when they occur. It is all too easy to hesitate, and then the opportunity may be gone. However, the old sayings ‘look before you leap’ and ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ have a lot of truth in them. It is also important to think things through and ensure that you are making the right decision for you. Initiative can therefore be considered as a combination of courage and good risk management:

  • Risk management is necessary to ensure that you identify the right opportunities to consider and that they have the appropriate level of risk for you; and
  • Courage is necessary to overcome the fear of the unknown inherent in new opportunities. See Berne Brown’s work on Call to Courage.

Element Four, Optimism or Resilience - Optimism is the ability to look on the bright side or think positively. Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ after a setback, or keep positive in the face of challenges. The two are closely related, although not exactly the same. Resilient people use their ability to think as a way to manage negative emotional responses to events. In other words, they use positive or rational thinking to examine, and if necessary, overcome reactions that they understand may not be entirely logical. They are also prepared to ask for help if necessary—as well as to offer their own help generously to others in need.

In thinking about self-motivation, it is helpful to understand what motivates you to do things. There are two main types of motivators: ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’. In their simplest form, you can think about these two types of motivation as Intrinsic = related to what we want to do. Extrinsic = related to what we have to do. A more detailed definition is:

  • Intrinsic: To perform an action or task based on the expected or perceived satisfaction of performing the action or task. Intrinsic motivators include having fun, being interested and personal challenge. 
  • Extrinsic: To perform an action or task in order to attain some sort of external reward, including money, power, and good marks or grades.

Different people are motivated by different things and at different times in their lives. The same task may have more intrinsic motivators at certain times and more extrinsic motivators at others, and most tasks have a combination of the two types of motivation. John works because he has to pay his mortgage and feed himself and his family. He gets no satisfaction from his job and there is no chance at promotion. John’s motivators are purely extrinsic. Sally works because she loves what she does, gets enormous satisfaction, and self-fulfillment from her work. Sally has enough money put away that she does not need to work, she owns her house outright and can afford to buy what she wants when she wants it. Sally’s motivators are purely intrinsic.

Clearly, Sally and John are at different ends of the self-motivation spectrum. Most people, however, fall somewhere in the middle. Most people do have to work in order to earn money, but at the same time, they also find their day-to-day work life rewarding or satisfying in other intrinsic ways – job satisfaction and the chance to socialize with colleagues, for example. We all have a tendency to work better when we love what we are doing (see Dewitt Jones’s “For the Love of it”). It’s easier to get out of bed in the morning, we are happier in our work, and happier in general. Research shows that this is particularly important when we’re under stress. It’s much easier to cope with stress and long hours if we generally enjoy the work. Intrinsic motivators, therefore, play a big part in self-motivation for most of us.

The Importance of Obligation - What about if a task has neither intrinsic nor extrinsic motivators? The obvious conclusion is that we are unlikely to do it because it will be pointless. We all know it doesn’t always work like that. There is a further issue: feelings of obligationObligation motivators are not strictly either intrinsic or extrinsic but can still be very powerful. Obligation comes from our personal ethics and sense of duty, what is right and what is wrong. You may feel obliged to go to a party because you were invited by somebody you know – there will be no obvious extrinsic or intrinsic benefit to you attending but you may worry that you will offend or upset your friend if you don’t go. You are more likely to enjoy the party, however, if you go with a positive and open attitude, expecting it to be fun. This adds an intrinsic motivator: fun and enjoyment.  For skills you need for personal development and self-motivation consider these links. Learn how to set yourself effective goals and find the motivation you need to achieve them. This is the essence of personal development, a set of skills designed to help you reach your full potential, at work, in study, and your personal life.

Remember - One Step at a Time…Becoming self-motivated, or even just improving your self-motivation a little, will not happen overnight. There are many skills involved, and you cannot expect to develop them all instantly. However, a better understanding of the elements of motivation, and particularly how they fit together, should help to increase your skills. Just remember, Rome was not built in a day: think about making progress over a long period of time and in small steps. 

Mental health issues interfere with being self-motivated. A common response to identifying lifestyle changes that might make a depressed person feel better is, “Easier said than done.” Someone coping with depression may get what she's supposed to do, but the question is how? After all, depression kills motivation, energy, interest, and focus. Once you give the engine a jump, it often becomes easier, but until then, how do you connect the jumper cables you need to make a spark? Some tips are:

1. Set the bar low. When you’re depressed, you’re not functioning at your usual 70-90%. Rather, you’re sitting somewhere closer to 20%. If you set the same expectations for yourself that you had when you weren’t feeling depressed (which is sometimes just getting dressed), you’re going to feel anxious and overwhelmed, and probably won’t do the task you expected from yourself (and thus will feel defeated and ashamed).

2. Set small and specific goals. Seriously. Unload the dishwasher. Heck, unload three glasses. Task completed and still itching for more? You can always raise the bar if you’re feeling particularly motivated. Take note that if you feel highly overwhelmed while tackling your goal, chances are it's too high and you need to lower it to something more realistic or specific.

3. Practice self-compassion. Self-criticism is depression’s BFF. If you beat yourself up for being so “unproductive” and “lazy,” You’re going to keep yourself feeling like crap and thus, paralyzed. Try instead to use the same encouraging words you might use for a friend or loved one. If you can’t find the words, read more about self-compassion here.

4. Recruit support, or ask for help.  Some of us have trouble holding ourselves accountable at the best of times. With little motivation or energy, it’s that much harder. Confide in someone you trust, and ask for their help. Ask a friend to hold you to your commitment. Ask your partner to accompany you to a yoga class. Pay for your support group, counseling appointment, or massage beforehand so you’ll be more motivated to attend.

5. Envision how you'll feel after the task. Getting in the shower, going for a walk, preparing a meal, or hanging out with a friend seems like a very ominous task if you focus on the effort involved. People who are depressed generally have low self-efficacy, which means they have low confidence in their ability to perform tasks. As such, they tend to feel overwhelmed and avoid such tasks. Lower expectations for yourself within the task, and envision how you (might) feel after the task rather than during.

6. Make the goal to do it, not to enjoy it. When you’re feeling depressed, it’s natural to lose interest in things that used to make you happy. Comedy is no longer funny, sports are no longer fun, spending time with friends is no longer engaging. Anxiety, depression, and self-loathing take over, leading to feelings of detachment and defeat. So, when doing something “fun” or “active,” do it with the goal to do it, not to enjoy it.

7. Acknowledge your courage for stepping out of your comfort zone. As painful as it is, depression can be come comfortable in a “devil you know” kind of way. You know what to expect, for the most part. You know the pain, you’re in the pain, you can predict that tomorrow will be more of the same. The idea of stepping out of this comfort zone can be quite anxiety-provoking. Steven Hayes, a psychologist, states “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re always going to get what you’ve always gotten.” So, if you find you’re able to do something (even very slightly) different, congratulate yourself. There’s a good chance whatever you’re experiencing will come with anxiety, because anxiety accompanies uncertainty. Anxiety may be telling you you’re stepping out of the familiar routine of depression, so acknowledge your courage and try to bring such experiences forward in your journey.

In summary, according to Hull-Spence, Performance (P) is a function of habit strength (H- what has been learned) times motivation (M- positive directed energy). The formula powerfully states no matter how much you learned if there is no motivation the result is no performance (f(P) = H (100%) x M (0%) = zero. Because motivation is so important to our daily functioning, I wanted to state motivation’s key attributes:

1. Motivation is the spark – Motivation is the spark that sets the fire. It gets things started. Without motivation, anything you choose to do will take more effort and be less successful, if it gets started at all. Just like having a match, motivation makes starting things so much easier. You have a desire to start, so you start with the right attitude to be successful.

2. Motivation fuels – Like wood in the fire, motivation keeps you going. You have to constantly nurture your motivation, reevaluate what you are doing and why you are doing it. If you keep your motivation going strong, you will be successful. But you have to remember to keep adding to it or it will burn out.

3. Motivation warms – Like a fire, motivation keeps you alive in the cold. Life is hard. It gets complicated, it gets expensive, and there are always problems. Motivation can help you to keep going despite the problems. If you keep your motivation high and your eyes on the goal, no problem will seem insurmountable.

4. Motivation can change – Like the flickering of flames—one-minute yellow, the next orange— motivation can change. Your reason for accomplishing your goals may change as you go along. Maybe you start out with one reason, change reasons halfway through, and then finish with a third reason. Whatever the case may be, keeping and staying motivated is the key.

5. Motivation satisfies – When you take a long journey, you will get tired. You’ll get burnt out and disappointed with the path. But if you keep your motivation and keep going, it is all worth it in the end. Regardless of whether you accomplished what you set out to do, you can still be satisfied if you maintain your motivation. You never lost hope, even if things didn’t quite work out the way you planned.

Motivation can be many different things. To some people, money is motivation, or health, or their family, or business. No matter what your motivation is or what your goals are, remember to keep your motivation high and your eyes on the prize.

Finally, three gurus in the field of applied motivation should be reviewed for their impact on how to enable self-motivation. If interested, let me know and I will send you the accompanying workbook on Self-Discovery. Joe Batten’s circle of motivation begins with stretching oneself and ends with expecting the best, not perfection. Thad Green and the Belief System and Kouzes and Posner’s Encouraging the Heart reflect how to enable motivation in the workplace. 

In reflection, this all-encompassing perspective of being motivated takes a peek at how to be motivated as well as how to influence others to be motivated. I hope you enjoyed reading this article on motivation.