3 Ways To Be More Motivated, According To Science
Everybody gets a case of the Mondays sometimes (even if it's Wednesday), and can't quite push themselves enough to get something done. It turns out, though, that ways to be more motivated when you want to achieve something, whether it's committing to practicing your Italian or finally finishing that screenplay, is all a matter of psychology. And it's entirely possible to maximize your motivation levels like a video game character, without needing to solve a puzzle or defeat a baddie to do it.
All of us have strategies we use to get things done over the long term, whether we use positive emotions (looking forward to the end result), fear, guilt, or something else. And, partly because we live in a capitalist society that often depends on individual effort, there's been a lot of research over the centuries on motivation and how it functions. The Protestant work ethic that emerged in Europe after the Reformation, according to some historians, is what drove capitalism forward, by making people motivated to work hard and deny themselves pleasure because that was how you earned eternal salvation. These days, if we find ourselves feeling unmotivated, research says it's just a matter of using our brains to feel our motivation soar again.
1. Believe You've Got Endless Willpower
What do you picture when you think about your motivation levels? Do you see a resource that gradually dries up or reduces as you use it, leaving you feeling tired out? It turns out that view's pretty common — and is probably responsible for making your motivation levels dip. A study in 2017 found that when people believe their motivation to be inexhaustible, an infinite resource that's always there (even if sometimes it's hard to access), they're less likely to feel drops in motivation.
The study also found that people who varied their tasks throughout the day saw far less of a drop in their motivation to complete them than those who just kept at one job the whole day through. Why isn't clear, but it could be something to do with the fact that humans love novelty, and our brains often reward us when we switch to something new. So if you're finding working on something endless quite a grind, switch over to something new, and try to picture your motivation as a perpetually working engine, not a gradually draining fuel tank.
2. Change Your Motivation Strategy
What keeps people motivated? That's a big questions for researchers, who've noticed what many of us have experienced: we can start out on a project very motivated, and then gradually lose interest or find it harder to push ourselves. The reason, according to a study in 2017, is that for many of us, our motivations actually start to shift midway through something challenging.
"In earlier stages of goal pursuit, individuals represent goals as promotion‐focused, while in later stages of goal pursuit, individuals represent goals as prevention‐focused," the scientists behind the study noted. This means that when you start off doing something — say, learning taxidermy — you start out motivated by your excitement about your new skill, and then as things get harder, you start being motivated by your fear that you'll disappoint people if you don't do it, or that you'll have wasted money and time.
The researchers behind this study say that people tend to "feel" the promotion strategies more than the negative ones. If you're halfway through and not motivated by prevention or fear, they say, it's a good idea to switch your motivation to one that maintains your progress or emphasizes excitement again.
3. Use Immediate Rewards
For every little piece of the puzzle you manage to do, psychologists say, it's a good idea to reward yourself, even if it's just something tiny. A study in 2018 found that giving yourself a small treat immediately after you've achieved something helps to maintain strong motivation throughout a task. The human brain loves rewards, and you're effectively training yourself to remain positive and energetic about completing something by associating the work with good feelings.
The key word here is immediately. The 2018 study found that proximity is the key here; often, goals are about long-term rewards, but they can be tricky to keep in mind when the slog seems long. Giving yourself a reward when you've done one segment turns out to drastically improve your motivation levels for doing the next, and the next. It's important, obviously, that the treats don't detract from the overall goal (buying yourself expensive things when you're trying to save, for instance), but otherwise, treating yo'self is apparently a pretty excellent motivational strategy to keep momentum.
So keep a store of tiny rewards to give yourself for every hurdle gained, switch up what motivates you when you feel yourself lagging, and try to think of motivation itself as something vast and inexhaustible. You've got the strategies to make this goal happen.