Do you often feel like your get-up-and-go has got-up-and-gone? Do you get a burst of raw enthusiasm to start a new project only to have your drive to complete it fizzle out like a dud grenade? You are not alone. Self-motivation can be a tough skill to learn, one that must be constantly exercised.

Psychology Today frames recent research and findings in their article “How to Increase Self-Motivation.” In essence, self-motivation refers to the ability to encourage oneself through a personal desire to set goals of value and then focus, commit to and work toward these goals even when obstacles present themselves. Easier said than done, especially when easier and more fun short-term alternatives present themselves. For example, you set a goal to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, but it’s pouring outside, so you’d rather skip the gym and flip on the TV. This will probably feel good in the moment, but it will do nothing to serve your overall goal of a healthier lifestyle.

Let’s break down the process of pushing past those personal traps with four main concepts of self-motivation: goal setting, sustaining motivation, goal juggling and social support.

Goal Setting

  • Keeping in mind the reason that you have a certain goal will help it have more meaning and purpose for you rather than it just being another thing to have to check off your never-ending to-do list. So, the ultimate goal isn’t “Get my kids to school on time” but rather “Set my children up for good days at school and therefore a better education.”
  • Are your goals SMART? This Acronym will help you create goals that will serve you more effectively.

S- Specific

M- Measurable

  • Attainable

R- Relevant

T- Time-Bound

In the example of a parent trying to improve getting their children to school on time, the full goal might be “I will get the kids up at 7:20 each school day, sitting down for a quick breakfast at 7:50 before getting them settled into the car for 8:30 drop-off.” Hopefully this goal meets all the SMART criteria, though depending on if those kids are drowsy little bedheads, obstacles could arise in the attainability category that will need to be adjusted.

  • Treat yourself to small incentives. All work and no play made Jack a dull, dull boy indeed, so give yourself little rewards to look forward to keep you going. Be careful not to rely on this method too heavily though, because if you perform a task just for the reward alone, you may be tempted to complete the goal in a slap-dash manner just to get to the next reward. And of course, a reward should not be something that undercuts the goal you are trying to set. You probably shouldn’t reward completing a meditation regimen for relieving anger by watching a WWE match, for example. Lastly, having rewards that are a surprise as supposed to a set reward every time can be helpful, so you could create a little box with reward slips written on them to select when you reach a set milestone.
  • Ideally, you want your goals to have an element of intrinsic motivation. This means that the benefits and your enjoyment level of the activity are readily apparent, as in a job you love or an exercise you find invigorating. It’s going to be harder to achieve a goal if there isn’t a relevant and pleasant aspect to it.

Sustaining Motivation

  • Monitoring your progress helps, so you can see how far you have come and where you can improve. This will show you the areas in which you have committed well and the areas where progress is slower, hopefully giving you some resolve to move the needle forward.
  • About midway through a major goal, you will probably start to feel a dip. This is natural. Think of a marathon runner full of adrenaline at the beginning of the race and pushing for all they are worth at the end. Yet the long trek in the middle will be where the runner starts to really feel the mental and physical exhaustion. To combat this, try to break up your goals into easier to manage bites, daily or weekly goals as opposed to monthly. Because every race is run one step at a time.
  • Focus on negative feedback as a lesson learned, instead of an admonition. Share your hard-earned lessons with others if you can as a confidence booster. Work on developing a growth mindset rather than one of perfectionism.

Goal Juggling

  • Usually we have multiple goals we are working toward at the same time, so work smarter not harder. Select activities that help achieve multiple goals at once. For example, going on a brisk walk with a friend helps with the goal of getting more active as well as the goal of engaging in more social time. If doubling up becomes untenable, revert to activities serving one goal at a time.
  • Sometimes goals can conflict with each other, so you need to learn how to prioritize or compromise, finding a good middle ground.
  • Self-control and self-motivation go hand in hand. It requires being self-aware of your actions and behavioral patterns. One setback or out of character choice is not necessarily the end of the world. Let’s say you skipped your daily exercise because you felt too busy or tired that day. As an isolated incident, that is not a problem. However, it can become easier over time to rationalize skipping if your commitment isn’t consistent. You can encourage self-control by changing your environment, such as putting out motivation reminders to encourage you to get out and go. It also helps to remind yourself of why you are doing it, knowing you want to have more energy for example. Minimize the temptation, reminding yourself you will feel guilty for not working out. 


  • Sometimes to reach a goal, it means giving up or dealing something good we want in the short term. Trust the process and remember, good things happened to those who wait and work toward a worthy goal.

Leverage your Support System.

  • Find people who support you and your goals and/or are working toward the same goals. These people can be family members, role models, support group members or study group partners that might be able to provide useful resources.
  • If working toward group goals, try to be transparent to avoid stragglers coming along for the ride. List contributions publicly and build group unity. Ideally, the experience should be positive for everyone involved.


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