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A guide for using motivation to achieve goals

August 5, 2022 - 15 min read


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What is motivation?

Why motivation is important in the workplace

The relationship between goals and motivation

How does goal-setting improve motivation?

How to motivate yourself to achieve your goals

How to identify your sources of motivation

External factors that can decrease motivation

The value of support

Meet John. It’s Monday morning, and he’s getting ready to start the day.

After waking up too late, packing lunch for the kids, rushing them out the door to school, and nearly forgetting to put his pants on, he sits down to work. Then realizes he didn’t do his morning workout.

You might have your own version of this story. Maybe you meant to clean before your guests arrived, read that book you’ve been putting off, or buy groceries instead of ordering takeout for the third time this week.

It feels like there’s not enough time in a day. But there is. It’s easy to find 20 minutes for a workout or to tidy up.

In many cases, a lack of motivation is the real culprit here. Without it, what hope do you have to reach your goals?

Motivation and goals have a symbiotic relationship. One affects the other. And yet, no matter how badly you want to achieve a milestone, it can feel impossible to get started. 

This is especially important when it comes to career goals. Whether you want to start a business, develop new skills, or write a book, you’ll need motivation and discipline to reach your aspirations.

Let’s go over how motivation helps in achieving your goals. Once you grasp their relationship, you’ll be on your way to attaining your dreams.


What is motivation?

You probably don’t think about your motivation until it’s gone. You’re in the zone one minute, completing your work with hardly an issue. The next, you’re feeling sluggish, tired, and unfocused. 

Motivation is best described as the process that drives you to perform a task or behavior. It’s that feeling where you feel compelled to complete your goal.

There are two common types of motivation that act on you every day:

  • Extrinsic motivation refers to external factors that drive you toward a goal. These can be positive, like a paycheck, or negative, like fear of punishment. If you think of being a student, achieving a good grade is a positive motivator — and avoiding a failing grade is a negative one.
  • Intrinsic motivation refers to internal factors that encourage you. This might be something you’re passionate about or trying to accomplish for your own benefit. 

Both can help you achieve your goals, but each serves a specific role. 

External motivators are great for achieving short-term and long-term milestones. You can reward yourself each time to reach a fitness goal or nail a presentation at work. Intrinsic motivators are necessary for long-term commitments.

It’s hard to start a business if your heart isn’t in it. You can probably sustain your workflow with a series of external motivators, but without inspiration accompanying your motivation, you might struggle to stay focused.

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Why motivation is important in the workplace

Proper motivation is essential to staying satisfied with your work. Without it, you risk becoming disengaged, like 70% of the employees surveyed by Gallup. You’ll merely go through the motions, never fully invested.

This can have many harmful effects long-term:

But your job doesn’t have to feel this way. Even if you’re not enamored with your work or colleagues, you can find other ways to stay inspired.

This is why self-motivation is important. It empowers you to change your situation, find a renewed sense of purpose, and discover your own version of success.

At BetterUp, we can help you unlock your motivation. Our coaches will work with you to identify your values, set appropriate goals, and keep you accountable.


The relationship between goals and motivation

Goals increase your motivation, but you need the motivation to take steps toward your goals. This is a classic chicken-and-egg situation. 

It’s hard to know which comes first. Here’s the thing: neither of them does. Setting a goal might motivate you, but you might feel motivated to set a goal. And failing to achieve a goal has been proven to hinder your motivation and self-esteem. Setting and achieving realistic goals is crucial to keeping your brain motivated and focused.

How does goal-setting improve motivation?

Goals improve your motivation by giving you a tangible outcome for your work. Every time you complete one, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, motivating you to keep going. The trick is to structure your goals appropriately.  

Here’s how to use goal-setting to improve your motivation:

1. Set SMART goals

If you’ve done your reading about goal-setting, you’ve probably already heard about the SMART method. This acronym stands for goals that are:

  • Specific: What are you trying to accomplish? What actions will you take?
  • Measurable: How will you know you succeeded?
  • Attainable: Can you complete the goal with your current skills and resources?
  • Relevant: Does this goal align with your wider purpose and values?
  • Time-bound: What is your deadline?

Both your career and personal goals should follow this method. It will help you set realistic expectations for what you can achieve, saving you from disappointment and discouragement if you miss your mark.  

And while failure is a great teacher, nothing kills motivation faster than feeling like you failed.


2. Start small

Your list of milestones should resemble a trail of breadcrumbs. Each one inches you toward your big goal.

It’s important to plan small and easy first steps. Achieving them will give you an immediate sense of progress, thus boosting your motivation to keep going.

3. Track your progress

Once you get into the flow of setting and achieving goals, it’s easy to lose track of how far you’ve come. Create a system or download an app to view your progress regularly. This will keep you motivated as you progress. A visual representation like a checklist or a fundraising thermometer works well.

4. Reward yourself

Achieving your goals is hard work. If they’re aligned with your values and purpose, you’re probably intrinsically motivated to keep going. But, on those tough days, it’s important to add some spice to give you energy. 

Try giving yourself rewards to make a tough job a bit sweeter.

How to motivate yourself to achieve your goals

Now that you see how goals can improve your motivation, you’ll notice a feedback loop emerging. Every time you complete one, your motivation increases to reach the next. 

As you progress, your goals will inevitably grow harder. The trick now is to keep up the momentum. Here’s how to motivate yourself to keep going:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal
  2. Remember why you set your goals in the first place
  3. Practice resilience
  4. Lean on your support network
  5. Look for success stories
  6. Visualize the future you want
  7. Maintain a positive energy


How does your state of mind affect motivation levels?

When you hit a rough patch in your pursuits, remember that your attitude becomes your reality. That’s why it’s important to cultivate resilience. You have to show grit and determination and quickly recover from adversity — otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Here are some psychological factors that will affect your motivation:

  1. A defeatist mentality. If you don’t believe you can achieve your goals, you never will
  2. Negative self-talk. If you berate yourself at the slightest mistake, you’re only causing yourself harm.
  3. Unmet needs. According to Maslow’s triangle, every human has a hierarchy of needs. If yours aren’t being met, that will negatively affect your motivation.
  4. Depression and/or anxiety. If you lack motivation for over two weeks, it might be due to a chronic psychological disorder. Consider speaking with a mental health professional if you’re concerned about your mental health.

Thankfully, these psychological factors can be reversed, or at last, mitigated, so they don’t severely interfere with your daily life.

You can start by identifying your personal motivators to leverage them to your advantage. Doing this will help improve your state of mind.

How to identify your sources of motivation

Everyone responds differently to different kinds of motivators. Here are some questions to ask yourself. Your answers will reveal what drives you to succeed:

  • Do you work harder when there’s a reward at stake?
  • Do you find satisfaction in the act of achieving your objectives?
  • Do you prefer having control over your work, even if you have to abandon the stability of a regular job?
  • Do you work to impress your peers?
  • Do you wish to be an expert in your field?
  • Do you like inspiring others to reach their potential?

Some of these might be more important to you than others. Organize them as such. This will give you an idea of where you should put your energy.

Once you know what drives you, you can set goals aligned with those motivators.

External factors that can decrease motivation

Achieving your goals requires grit and determination. And along the way, you will encounter many pitfalls that can hold you back. Here are some examples:

  1. Poor leadership at your organization
  2. Unrealistic workloads
  3. Feeling undervalued at work
  4. Conflict with your coworkers
  5. Job insecurity
  6. Lack of professional development

It can be tough to measure the impact of these situations when you’re living through them. But as soon as you name them, you can take steps to remedy them.


The value of support

Now that you know how motivation helps in achieving goals, we can leave you with our biggest piece of advice: find your support network and lean on it.

You might already have it. Your loved ones want you to succeed. Tell them about your goals, ask for advice, and encourage them to do the same. You’ll motivate each other to rise to new heights.

And for even more support, lean on BetterUp. Our professional coaches are motivated by your success. With their help, you can set clear goals and learn how to achieve them.

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Published August 5, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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