Motivation: How to Get and Stay Motivated

Motivation: How to Get and Stay Motivated

Motivation is a powerful, but tricky concept. Sometimes it is really easy to get motivated, and you find yourself being so much excited. Other times, it is nearly impossible to figure out how to motivate yourself and you're trapped in a death spiral of procrastination. This article provides the best ideas and most useful research on how to get and stay motivated.

This isn't going to be a motivational speech. Instead, we're going to break down the science behind how to get motivated in the first place and how to stay motivated for the long-run. Whether you're trying to figure out how to motivate yourself or how to motivate your team, this is for you .

This article is divided into 3 parts:

1. Motivation: What It Is and How It Works

Here we are going to describe what motivation is, how it works and then explain some myths about motivation.

2. How to Get Motivated and Take Action

How to schedule your motivation, to get motivated even when you don't feel Like It. 

3. How to Stay Motivated for the Long-Run

How to attain your peak motivation and what to do when motivation fades


1. Motivation: What It Is and How It Works

Motivation is your general willingness to do something. It is the set of psychological forces that compel us to take action. I think we can come up with a more useful definition of motivation. 

What is Motivation?

So what is motivation, exactly? According to Steven Pressfield motivation happens when, “At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”

In other words, at some point, it is easier to change than to stay the same. It is easier to take action and feel insecure at the gym than to sit still and suffer from poor health.

Every choice has a price, but when we are motivated, it is easier to bear the inconvenience of action than the pain of remaining the same. We cross a mental threshold—usually after weeks of procrastination and in the face of a deadline—and it becomes more painful to not do the work than to actually do it.

Now for the important question: What can we do to make it more likely that we cross this mental threshold and feel motivated on a consistent basis?

Myths About Motivation

One of the most surprising things about motivation is that it often comes afterstarting a new behavior, not before. We have this common misconception that motivation arrives as a result of passively consuming a motivational video or reading an inspirational book. However, active inspiration can be a far more powerful motivator.

Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Getting started, even in very small ways, is a form of active inspiration that naturally produces momentum.

You don't need much motivation once you've started a behavior. Nearly all of the friction in a task is at the beginning. After you start, progress occurs more naturally. In other words, it is often easier to finish a task than it was to start it in the first place.

Thus, one of the keys to getting motivated is to make it easy to start.


2. How to Get Motivated and Take Action

Many people struggle to find the motivation they need to achieve the goals they want because they are wasting too much time and energy on other parts of the process. If you want to make it easy to find motivation and get started, then it helps to automate the early stages of your behavior.

Schedule Your Motivation

During a conversation with a client he looked at me and said, “A lot of people never get to workout because they are always wondering when and where they are going to exercise next.”

If your workout doesn’t have a time when it usually occurs, then each day you’ll wake up thinking, “I hope I feel motivated to exercise today.”

If you waste resources trying to decide when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work.

Setting a schedule for yourself seems simple, but it puts your decision-making on autopilot by giving your goals a time and a place to live. It makes it more likely that you will follow through regardless of your motivation levels. And there are plenty of research studies on willpower and motivation to back up that statement.

Stop waiting for motivation or inspiration to strike you and set a schedule for your habits.

This is the difference between professionals and amateurs. Professionals set a schedule and stick to it. Amateurs wait until they feel inspired or motivated.

How to Get Motivated (Even When You Don't Feel Like It)

How do some of the most prolific athletes and artists in the world motivate themselves? They don't merely set schedules, they build rituals.

Rituals, or pre-game routines will play a huge role in your long term success:

Many famous performers have rituals too.

LeBron James says he'll workout 5 days a week, even when he's supposed to be resting up for the next season, and often wakes up at 5 AM to exercise. 

    The work of top performers isn’t dependent upon motivation or inspiration, but rather by following a consistent pattern and routine. Here are some examples of how you can apply ritual or pre-game routine to get motivated:

    • Exercise more consistently: Use the same warm up routine in the gym.
    • Start each day stress-free: Create a five-minute morning meditation ritual.
    • Sleep better: Follow a “power down” routine before bed.

    The power of a ritual, or what I like to call a pre-game routine, is that it provides a mindless way to initiate your behavior. It makes starting your habits easier and that means following through on a consistent basis is easier.

    The key to any good ritual is that it removes the need to make a decision: What should I do first? When should I do this? How should I do this? Most people never get moving because they can’t decide how to get started. You want starting a behavior to be easy and automatic so you have the strength to finish it when it becomes difficult and challenging.

    How to get Motivated

    There are three simple steps you can take to build better pre-game routines and make motivation a habit.

    Step 1: A good pre–game routine starts by being so easy that you can’t say no to it. You shouldn’t need motivation to start your pre–game routine. For example, my writing routine starts by playing some classical music. My weightlifting routine starts by texting one of my workout partner. These tasks are so easy, I can’t say no to them.

    The most important part of any task is starting. That’s why your pre–game routine needs to be incredibly easy to start.

    Step 2: Your routine should get you moving toward the end goal.

    A lack of mental motivation is often linked to a lack of physical movement. Just imagine your physical state when you're feeling depressed, bored, or unmotivated. You’re not moving very much. Maybe you’re slumped into the couch.

    The opposite is also true. If you’re physically moving and engaged, then it’s far more likely that you’ll feel mentally engaged and energized. For example, it’s almost impossible to not feel vibrant, awake, and energized when you’re dancing.

    While your routine should be as easy as possible to start, it should gradually transition into more and more physical movement. Your mind and your motivation will follow your physical movement.

    Step 3: You need to follow the same pattern every single time.

    The primary purpose of your pre–game routine is to create a series of events that you always perform before doing a specific task.

    Eventually, this routine becomes so tied to your performance that by simply doing the routine, you are pulled into a mental state that is primed to perform. You don’t need to know how to find motivation, you just need to start your routine.


    This is important because when you don’t feel motivated, it’s often too much work to figure out what you should do next. When faced with another decision, you will often decide to just quit. However, the pre–game routine solves that problem because you know exactly what to do next. There’s no debating or decision making. Lack of motivation doesn't matter. You just follow the pattern.

    III. How to Stay Motivated for the Long-Run

    Here are some strategies to make it easier to get motivated to start a task. What about maintaining motivation over the long-run? How can you stay motivated for good?

    How to Stay Motivated 

    Imagine you are playing tennis. If you try to play a serious match against a four-year-old, you will quickly become bored. The match is too easy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you are playing a serious match against a professional tennis player like Serena Williams, you will find yourself demotivated for a different reason. The match is too difficult.

    Compare these experiences to playing tennis against someone who is your equal. As the game progresses, you win a few points and you lose a few points. You have a chance of winning the match, but only if you really try. Your focus narrows, distractions fade away, and you find yourself fully invested in the task at hand. The challenge you are facing is “just manageable.” Victory is not guaranteed, but it is possible. Tasks like these, science has found, are the most likely to keep us motivated in the long term.

    Human beings love challenges, but only if they are within the optimal zone of difficulty. Tasks that are significantly below your current abilities are boring. Tasks that are significantly beyond your current abilities are discouraging. But tasks that are right on the border of success and failure are incredibly motivating to our human brains. We want nothing more than to master a skill just beyond our current horizon.

    We experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of our current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.

    Working on tasks like this one is the keys to maintaining long-term motivation. If you find yourself feeling unmotivated to work on a task, it is often because it has drifted into an area of boredom or been shoved into an area of great difficulty. You need to find a way to pull your tasks back to the border of your abilities where you feel challenged, but capable.

    How to Reach Peak Motivation

    This wonderful blend of happiness and peak performance is sometimes referred to as flow. Flow is what athletes and performers experience when they are “in the zone.” Flow is the mental state you experience when you are so focused on the task at hand that the rest of the world fades away.

    In many ways, we could describe flow as your state of peak motivation. You would be hard-pressed to find a state where you are more driven to continue the task you are working on.

    One of the important sources of human happiness is working on tasks at a suitable level of difficulty, neither too hard nor too easy.”

    In order to reach this state of flow, you need to also measure your immediate progress. So you can get immediate feedback about how you are doing at each step.”

    Thus, we can say that measurement is a key factor in motivation. To put it more precisely, facing an optimal challenge and receiving immediate feedback about the progress you are making toward that challenge are two of the most critical components of peak motivation.

    What to Do When Motivation Fades

    Inevitably, your motivation to perform a task will dip at some point. What happens when motivation fades? I don't claim to have all the answers, but here’s what I try to remind myself of when I feel like giving up.

    Your Mind is a Suggestion Engine

    Consider every thought you have as a suggestion, not an order. Whenever I am Weight Training, my mind is suggesting that I feel tired. It is suggesting that I give up. It is suggesting that I take an easier path.

    If I pause for a moment, however, I can brainstorm new suggestions. My mind is also suggesting that I will feel very good about finishing this work once it is done. It is suggesting that I will respect the identity I am building when I stick to the schedule. 

    Remember, none of these suggestions are orders. They are merely options. I have the power to choose which option I follow. 

    Discomfort Is Temporary

    Relative to the time in a normal day or week, most task you perform is over quickly. Your workout will be finished in an hour or two. 

    Life is easier now than it has ever been. Maintain perspective. Your life is good and your discomfort is temporary. Step into this moment of discomfort and let it strengthen you.

    You Will Never Regret Good Work Once It is Done

    So often it seems we want our work to be helpful and respected, but we do not want to struggle through our work. We want our stomachs to be flat and our arms to be strong, but we do not want to grind through another workout. 

    Anyone can want a gold medal. Few people want to train like an Olympian.

    And yet, despite our resistance to it, I have never found myself feeling worse after the hard work was done. There have been days when it was damn hard to start, but it was always worth finishing. Sometimes, the simple act of showing up and having the courage to do the work, even in an average manner, is a victory worth celebrating.

    This Is Life

    Life is a constant balance between giving into the ease of distraction or overcoming the pain of discipline. It is not an exaggeration to say that our lives and our identities are defined in this delicate balance. 

    This moment when you don’t feel like doing the work? This is not a moment to be thrown away. This is not a dress rehearsal. This moment is your life as much as any other moment. Spend it in a way that will make you proud.

    Where to Go From Here

    I hope you found this article on motivation useful. You're welcome share you ideas on how to get motivated and stay that way, in the comment section below.

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