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The best kind of motivation is self-motivation.
But what is self-motivation? When you’re self-motivated, you do more than empower yourself to check things off the to-do list. Being self-motivated also means having enough self-awareness to know what works for you and what doesn't. Rather than depending on others to give you a reason for doing, your sense of motivation comes from within. Your drive comes from your interests, values, and passions, not someone else's checklist.
But motivating yourself is easier said than done. Some days it feels like you're searching far and wide for anything to help you get things done. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, feelings of burnout and languish have become widespread. From less time outside to more time online, the past couple of years have taken on a toll on our well-being.
The good news? Learning the meaning of self-motivation can help you improve your mental fitness and start hitting your goals. In fact, self-motivation could be the key to feeling better in both your personal and professional life. Let’s dive into what self-motivation is and why it matters.
What is self-motivation?
To be specific, self-motivation is the internal drive that leads us to take action towards a goal. It keeps us moving forward, even when we don’t want to. An example of this is when you’re going for a run.
You set a goal to run for 20 minutes, but at 15 minutes you’re exhausted. You want to stop. Self-motivation is what keeps you disciplined to run out the clock.
As the name implies, self-motivation works through you, internally. It doesn’t depend on others. When you motivate yourself, you push yourself to reach your personal goals through hard work and passion.
Why is self-motivation essential for achieving your goals?
Self-motivation is the secret weapon to achieving your goals. It impacts both your professional and personal life. Without it, you could struggle. Though having a support network is important, you can’t depend on others to push you your entire life.
Our goals require a lot of focus, which can be easy to lose. Self-motivation keeps your focus tight because it’s the practice of reminding yourself about the bigger picture. This allows you to ask important questions like, “how will this new skill further my career?”
Self-motivation helps you see your daily tasks as part of your long-term goals and consider how what you’re doing lines up with your life purpose.
Setting goals that are aligned with your desires can improve your well-being. When you’re motivating yourself, you can work toward achievements that give you a sense of deeper meaning. If you encounter any challenges or obstacles, your self-motivation will propel you through them.
Rather than depending on others to determine your career path, you can make those decisions for yourself — and then find the power inside of you to achieve what you want.
Self-efficacy, which refers to our belief in ourselves to meet our goals or a certain standard, is related to self-motivation. If we believe in ourselves and our abilities, we’re more likely to succeed. Knowing that we can stay motivated will improve our self-efficacy, which in turn improves our self-motivation. It’s a win-win.
Ultimately self-motivation shows you that by staying motivated now, you can make your 5-year-plan happen. You are capable of following your dreams — you just need to be resilient and continually focused.
What are external and internal motivators?
Now that you know what self-motivation is, you might be wondering how to find it. A great way to start is by understanding what motivates you. You’ll likely relate to one of two different types of motivators: internal and external.
Internal motivators provide the motivation you need to do things you want to do. This is called intrinsic motivation. If you’re motivated by internal factors, you’re likely to feel satisfied, happy, and interested in your tasks. These tasks can be fun, like baking your favorite cake.
They can also be personal challenges that you know will teach you valuable things, like taking a coding course to get ahead at work. Intrinsic motivation fuels long-term goals that you know benefit your future.
External motivators, or extrinsic motivation, are all about rewards or punishment. These external rewards could be a paycheck or a promotion. Punishment could mean being reprimanded by your boss or even fired. When we're externally motivated, we might not have as much passion or drive as we would for intrinsic goals.
However, external motivators are a great way to stay accountable. In fact, studies have found that rewards enhance our learning in educational settings. Trying to avoid punishment, too, will motivate us to behave better and work harder.
Self-motivation is largely intrinsic since it relies on your own desires and personal rewards to keep you going. But self-motivation might mean that you create external factors to motivate yourself.
For example, you could promise yourself that you can have a nice dinner when you finally finish your workweek. Or, you could invite someone over so that you have to clean your apartment. These are both very valid motivators.
11 self-motivation techniques
Self-motivation isn’t a skill that you're born with. However, it can be learned if you take the time to focus and change up your normal routine.
If you're wondering how to overcome a lack of self-motivation, here are 11 techniques to try:
- Build healthy habits that help you create momentum each day (like eating a healthy breakfast)
- Develop a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset
- Set goals with the SMART goals method: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound
- Write up a personal vision statement to keep your intentions clear
- Take a moment to sit down and do a self-evaluation
- Step out of your comfort zone sometimes
- Practice efficient self-management in ways that don’t drain you
- Look at your failures as learning opportunities
- Practice gratitude so you can be motivated by the good things in your life
- Try to keep a positive attitude and practice positive thinking when you’re discouraged
- Reward yourself for your successes and forgive yourself for your failures
Keeping these tips in mind will help you stay motivated when you’re struggling to move forward. And if you need extra support, consider trying BetterUp. We can help you stay on track with your goals and improve your mental fitness.
3 examples of self-motivation
You can implement self-motivation in all areas of your life. Whether it's at home, in relationships, or at work, self-motivation can be helpful anywhere. It might also look different, depending on where we use it.
Here are three examples of what self-motivation is:
- You're working on a challenging project at work. Rather than wait for others to encourage you, you stay focused on overcoming the obstacles. You ask the right questions and do your own research to fix your problem. Rather than giving up and watching TV, you concentrate on the task at hand.
- Your friends never have to drag you to work out at the gym because you go on your own. You know when your body needs some exercise, and you know that going to the gym makes you feel good. You schedule out time during the week to exercise, regardless of whether someone goes with you.
- At school, your teachers or professors never need to remind you to finish your work because you want to learn more and succeed. Nobody has to prod you or remind you of your deadlines because you're organized. You know your intentions with your education. When you feel like slacking off, you can remind yourself what you’re working toward to stay motivated.
5 benefits of self-motivation
Successful people haven't become successful by being indifferent to their goals. They reach their goals and continue to set new goals thanks to their self-motivation.
Here are five benefits that self-motivated people experience:
- They learn how to present their best self in whatever task they're doing
- They become more resilient because achieving their goals takes time and effort
- They have an eagerness to succeed because their passion drives them forward
- When they fail, they see feedback as a learning opportunity
- They learn to take the initiative to manage their time better
5 tips for fostering self-motivation at work
Being motivated at work isn't just a bonus for your manager. Your workplace is an environment where you can learn new skills, connect with others in your industry, and do work that's meaningful to you. If you can become self-motivated at work, it can help you get your next promotion or even find a deeper meaning in your job.
Many of us rely on deadlines or our managers to push us to get things done at work. If you can learn to motivate yourself, however, you can reach a new level of success at work. You’ll be more productive, focused, and respected when you empower yourself to accomplish tasks.
Plus, a study from the University of California discovered that motivated employees were three times more creative than those who lacked motivation. That extra creativity can help you stand out even more in the workplace.
If you struggle with finding motivation, here are 5 tips to help you boost your self-motivation at work:
- Remind yourself of your purpose and why you’re doing the work
- Learn how to rest and avoid burnout so you have the energy to work hard again
- Volunteer to try new things at work or go to educational seminars and conferences
- Learn more skills to keep yourself stimulated
- Ask for feedback on your recent projects to see where you can improve, then make an action plan on how you'll do that
Is your lack of motivation telling you something?
Maybe you've tried all the techniques, tips, and advice in the world to become more self-motivated. Yet, it's just not working. Let this be a learning opportunity rather than seeing it as a failure.
A lack of motivation can signify that your goals aren't challenging enough. If they're too easy, you know you don't have to put tons of effort into them. On the other hand, your goals could be too much at the moment. If they're too lofty or you don't believe in yourself, it may be time to reevaluate your goals.
Adjust them to be something you can reasonably attain right now. A great strategy is to break your large goals down into several smaller steps. Then you can check each step off your list while making progress toward the ultimate goal.
You're not alone if you keep running into the question, "How do I self-motivate?" and only find frustration. Procrastination is natural, and learning how to self-motivate requires you to dig deep. It's your responsibility to figure out what's stopping you and how you can overcome it.
With resilience and sustained effort, you'll learn more about what it takes to become self-motivated. One way to start is by trying some self-discovery. This can help you get in touch with your values, which will increase your self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-acceptance. All this will help you become more self-motivated.
Self-motivation is a skill for life
Some skills serve you temporarily. Self-motivation, though, will help you throughout your entire life. It reminds you of your purpose, your values, and how you can live a meaningful life. Now that you know what self-motivation is, you’re on your way to mastering it.
If you’re struggling with a lack of self-motivation, don’t be embarrassed. Recognizing your struggle will help you dig deeper into your well-being and overall life satisfaction. As you find out what motivates you, you’ll see a change. When you’re working toward your dream life, you’ll have a much easier time staying motivated.
If you need extra support as you learn how to motivate yourself to reach your goals, consider working with BetterUp. We can help you stay focused and hold you accountable so that you become your own best source of motivation.
Sr. Insights Manager