How to Get Motivated: The Science of Achievement through Motivation
“How to get motivated” is something that I do not spend a lot of time talking about here on Develop Good Habits. It is not that I think motivation doesn't play an important role in successful habit change, but I that feel systems, rituals and routines play a more essential part than motivation.
But motivation IS important, so when I wanted to discuss the importance of motivation and give some ideas on how YOU can get more motivation into your lives, I reached out to a motivational expert.
Ravi Raman is a guy who takes motivation very seriously. He runs a personal development blog that features motivation as a key component of positive life change. (See it here). In this article Ravi discusses exactly what motivation IS, how to get motivated, and how to increase your motivation. Enjoy! – Steve
Just over a year ago, hardly a month shy of my 34th birthday, I walked into my boss’s office to tell him I needed to resign from my job.
This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. After 14 years of working at a company I loved, I had an amazing job. However, I knew that my desire to travel the world would only grow the longer I put it off.
My motivation was clear:
- I wanted to explore.
- I wanted to visit with family and friends around the world.
- I wanted to live an unpredictable life for a change.
- Most importantly, I wanted to share this experience with my wife, before life got in the way.
Over the past year I’ve reflected a lot on my decision. I have pondered how I was able to motivate myself to make this tough call. I have also reflected on other times in my life when I’ve had to make tough decisions, get motivated and stay motivated over the long term; from training for and completing my first Ironman Triathlon to running an ultramarathon. Lastly, I’ve read countless books and studies what it takes to get and stay motivated.
What I’ve learned is that motivation is not just a mystical art. It is not just “woo woo” science and mumbo jumbo. It is practical and actionable. Motivation can be studied, measured, quantified and applied every to everyday life. It can help you make better decisions, help you stick to your goals and to create breakthroughs in your life.
What is motivation?
Motivation, or it's lack, is at the crux of success or failure for people and companies. I have several friends who seem to naturally make things happen to improve their lives. I also know of many businesses that have employees that seem to be relentlessly motivated in their work and the mission of their companies.
Want some motivation? ==>> See these inspiring success picture quotes.
What is it that makes some people highly motivated and others not? What it is that makes some companies motivated to achieve big things, whereas others just plod along sticking to the status quo?
I’m going to focus on these questions in the rest of this article, and provide concrete strategies that you can apply today to motivate yourself, and others, to do great things.
Is motivation an art or science?
Have you seen movies like “Any Given Sunday” or “Rocky Balboa”? If you have seen these movies, or movies like them, you probably get the idea that motivation is a metaphysical property born from charisma, sheer force of will and a dose of karma or fate thrown in for good measure.
I mean, is there actually a science to the art of being motivated or is it something we can understand from a more scientific perspective?
What I have learned is surprising. Motivation is actually more of a science than an art-form. In the same way medicine was once considered an art that could be practiced only by shaman-types that were born with special gifts (a notion that seems silly now!), motivation is increasingly being understood as something can be studied, learned and applied by anyone who is determined and patient enough to learn and apply a few key principles.
3 Key Ways To Increase Motivation
There are 3 key ways to increase motivation, and these methods are based on insights and research from leading scientists in the field of psychology and my own deep introspection on how I’ve been able to make hard decisions and stay committed to goals I care about.
I’m going to summarize those three factors, and also provide some thoughts on how to apply them to your own life in practical terms (in bullet points under each paragraph):
Psychologists Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan of the University of Rochester argue that you gain motivation when you feel in charge. They conducted an experiment to evaluate their hypothesis, where they found that subjects persisted longer in problem-solving a course of action they supported, as opposed to being forced to choose one side or another.
The key distinction Professors Deci and Ryan made is that to be motivated, you need to make sure that what you are working towards is really something you feel responsible for and in charge of. You don’t want to feel forced in any way. You want to feel 100% like what you’re doing is because you want to do it.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Is your decision or goal or project something that you have chosen, or are you being forced into the decisions
- If you feel forced to work on something or do something, can you shift what you are doing to make it feel like more of a choice?
- If you can’t change what you are doing (e.g. perhaps it is a project at work you can’t change), what can you do to feel like you are more in charge of the activity?
Motivation is found to skyrocket when you are acting in accordance with your core beliefs and values. This makes perfect sense. Just imagine having to argue for something you don’t believe in. How tough would that be?
It’s also interesting to note that your valuing something also increases the likelihood that you will go after it in an autonomous way. In other words, Autonomy and Value are tightly linked!
In a 2010 research review, University of Maryland psychologists Allan Wigfield and Jenna Cambria noted that several studies have found a positive correlation between valuing a subject in school and students willingness to investigate a question independently. For example, if a student had a high regard and value for the importance of a specific subject, like math, they would be more apt to focus on and solve math problems on their own – without needing their teachers or parents to push them to do so.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What do you really value in life (or work, or in your family, etc.)?
- How can you relate your goals and key projects to those values?
- How can you restructure your goals or projects to be more in line with your core values and what you hold dearly in life?
Motivation grows, as competence and mastery of a skill increases. Research by Carol S. Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University and author of Mindset has noted that you are more likely to persevere in a task when you know that your hard work will lead to a benefit (e.g. like improvement in a skill or completion of a task). This insight is also is supported by the theories in the best-selling book Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
Competence does not mean being a master at a given skill, it simply means feeling like you have sufficient knowledge and are making progress that is commensurate with the effort you are putting in.
You can be a beginner and be competent. You can also increase your feeling of competence by putting in some hard work, and tracking progress against a goal.
I found this first-hand recently when I tried to take up Alpine Skiing for the first time in 20 years. I took 2 x 2 hour private lessons….and put in a lot of hard work over the course of two days testing out my newly learned skills. In the end, I came away with a strong feeling of being competent as a skier.
Was I able to bomb down black-diamond runs? Of course not!
But I was able to feel great about myself and highly competent. I clearly saw progress in terms of my confidence being able to make turns on skis, and get off the chairlift without falling flat on my face.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What areas of competence do you have?
- How can relate these areas of competence to your big goals?
- Can you increase your feelings of competence through building better habits or developing a specific skill?
- How can you track your progress more closely to make a stronger link between effort you put in and progress you are making against your goals?
How to Get Motivated In Your Life
In summary, the secret to motivation really comes down to three key things:
Be in charge of your decision (Autonomy)
Believe in what you are trying to do (Value)
Motivation grows as you develop your skills and expertise (Competence)
As you take a look at your projects and goals (you do have a clear set of goals written down right?) spend some time and go through each, thinking hard about your Autonomy, Value and Competence around each goal.
If you feel like you are lacking in any area…ask yourself some questions around each to see how you can address them.
It will help to write down your answers to the questions I’ve noted in this blog post, and read your answers back to yourself. Reading your own answers (and re-reading them a week and a month from now as well) will inevitably create some new and powerful insights in your own mind that will help you get motivated and stay motivated for the long-term.
Ravi Raman has spent the past year living his dream of traveling the world, after spending 14 years leading teams in the tech industry. Ravi also spends his time as a plant-based ultramarathoner, yoga teacher and personal development blogger. I encourage you to check out his site and see what he has to say about personal development and getting motivated!