What is Motivation?
Motivation is what causes us to act, whether it is going to sleep to reduce fatigue or dancing to music to lift our mood. In everyday language, motivation is frequently used to explain why someone does something and is closely linked to our goals.
There are three major components of motivation:
- Activation: the decision to initiate a behaviour
- Persistence: Continued effort toward a goal even though an obstacle may exist. Persistence also involves continuing with the goal even though it requires significant investment of time, energy, and resources.
- Intensity: the concentration or vigour that goes into pursuing a goal e.g. one student might study for several hours a day for many weeks while another student might study the night before. The first has much more intensity in pursuing goals than the second.
There are three principal motivators
- Instincts: An instinct is a fixed and in-built pattern of behaviours. Such instincts include biological instincts that are important for an organism’s survival such as fear, cleanliness, and love.
- Drives and needs: many of our behaviours such as eating, drinking, and sleeping are motivated by biology. We have a biological need for food, water, and sleep; therefore, we are motivated to eat, drink, and sleep.
- Arousal levels: people are motivated to engage in behaviours that help them maintain their optimal level of arousal. A person with low arousal needs might pursue relaxing activities while those with high arousal needs might be motivated to engage in exciting, thrill-seeking behaviours.
There are two main factors that hurt your motivation
- All or nothing thinking. It’s understandably hard to take things slowly when working towards your goals. We all want to see things change quickly and in our favour; however, it is very important to remind yourself that reaching your goals takes time.
- One size fits all. Just because an approach worked well for another person does not mean that it will be beneficial to you. If something isn’t proving to be useful in helping you reach your goals or is leading you to feel unmotivated, look for a more suitable strategy.
What is External vs Internal Motivation?
External motivations are those that arise from outside of the individual and often involve receiving a reward. For example, working extra hours on a Sunday to earn penalty rates or running a race to win a gold medal. External motivation can also include trying to avoid punishment. such as studying because you don’t want to fail a class, and cleaning your room because you don’t want to get in trouble from your parents.
Internal motivations are those that arise from within the individual such as spending time doing brain training exercises for the personal satisfaction of solving problems and keeping their mind active. It comes from participating in the activity for its own sake. Other examples include participating in sport because you find it enjoyable, playing a game because you find it fun, baking because you enjoy trying new recipes.
While most people would suggest that internal motivation is best, sometimes it is not always possible. Excessive rewards can also be problematic, but when used appropriately, external rewards can be a useful tool; for example, you may not be interested in the job but you want money to live and travel.
External motivation can also be useful in a number of other situations:
- It can induce interest and participation in something in which the individual had no initial interest.
- External rewards can be used to motivate people to acquire new skills. People can then become more internally motivated to engage in the activity.
- External rewards can also be a source of feedback, allowing people to know when their performance has reached a standard deserving of reinforcement.
What are Strategies for increasing Motivation?
1. Identify values
What is really important to you? What gives your life meaning and purpose? You are much more likely to do something if you believe that it is important to you.
2. Set the bar low
When you are feeling low, you are not functioning like you would when you are well. Therefore, it is important not to have the same expectations of yourself. If you do, it is likely that you will feel overwhelmed and end up not completing the task and feeling ashamed about it. Set small specific goals. You can always do more if you are able to and break things down as much as you need to. Don’t expect yourself to clean the whole kitchen, just unpack the dishwasher or just unpack three glasses. Be realistic about what is really possible and achievable for you.
3. Practice self-compassion
If you beat yourself up for being “lazy and unproductive”, your mood is going to remain low and you will feel bad about yourself. Try instead to use some encouraging words that you would say to a friend or loved one.
4. Visualise success
Imagine yourself starting out on your first steps, seeing things through and achieving your goal. Imagine how that would feel and the feedback you would get from others.
5. Recruit support or ask for help
Confide in someone you trust and ask for their help. Ask a friend to hold you to your commitment. Ask your partner to engage in the task with you if possible. Pay for things ahead of time so you feel more motivated to follow through.
6. Envision how you will feel after the task
Even simple tasks like having a shower or cooking a meal can feel quite daunting when you are experiencing depression or anxiety. Rather than focusing on the effort that is required for the task, think about the way you will feel once it is completed. Think about how you will feel after the task rather than during it.
7. Make the goal to do it, not to enjoy it
It is normal that when a person is depressed, they will not be interested in or enjoy things the same way they would if they were feeling well. The idea is to just do things in spite of the thoughts and feelings you might be having.
8. Acknowledge success- reward yourself!
Review each day and acknowledge the things you have accomplished with words of praise or a tangible reward such as watching your favourite TV program or having a treat to eat.