The Secrets To Self-Motivation

You Are Faced With A Decision

On the left, there is something that you have to get done. You don’t feel passionate about it, there’s no excitement driving your behavior. You know that it needs to get done, though, so you do it. 

On the right, there is something that you get to do. It’s something that excites you, you’re interested in it, so you’re more than happy to give it your all and put in the effort required to complete it. 

In which of these situations do you feel that you would perform most effectively? Likely the latter, right? It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that you will perform better on a task that you find enjoyable and fulfilling. That second scenario sums up self-motivation quite nicely. 

Do you know the old saying you can do anything if you put your mind to it? It’s true. The problem is that sometimes our brains actively work against it, especially when it comes to motivation and achieving goals. 

You continually say someday when you talk about going traveling, losing weight, learning French, saving money or starting a business. In fact, according to Psychology Today, procrastination is one of the most common forms of self-sabotage (ref.)

It can be crippling. However, self-motivation is one way to keep procrastination at bay. Ron Siegel, a psychology professor from Harvard University, believes that the key to self-motivation is optimism and fun (ref.)

That begs the question, how on earth can you bring fun and optimism to writing a presentation, doing your taxes or even working through that pile of laundry sitting on the bedroom floor? It might not seem likely, but there is a neurological explanation. 

The Lure of Procrastination 

Your brain is a wonderful thing, but as amazing as it is it’s still holding onto some of the hard wiring embedded from our evolutionary past. In times of stress and anxiety, your brain kicks into fight or flight response.

So, when you are faced with a task that requires productivity or creativity, rather than being able to focus on the pleasure of the task, we get caught up in the anxiety of it instead. You can’t enjoy the potential reward that will come from completing the task because you’re too busy worrying about failure. Instead, you kick into survival mode and try to hide away from the uncomfortable situation. Hence the lure of procrastination. It feels safe and warm, even if it only further fuels your anxiety. 

The key to self-motivation is finding a way to essentially trick yourself into doing what needs to be done. It’s a form of manipulation certainly, but you have to learn how to apply the necessary triggers in order to elicit the response you need from yourself. 

The thing about achieving through manipulation is that it will only last for so long and your results will be limited. Ultimately, you’re motivated or you’re not. While some people thrive on goal setting and seeing it through, others don’t experience any thrill from it at all. It could be that you are afraid to go for it, that you’ve yet to find your passion or you’re struggling to light the fire. 

It’s easier to settle than it is to self-motivate because there’s comfort in settling and risk of failure in pushing yourself to achieve. We are all guilty of this in some way because at the end of the day, there are bills to pay and responsibilities to fulfill. The truth of the matter is, the things you fail to accomplish… it’s because you’ve got your motivation wrong. 

This makes it sound like you’re up against it, and you are, however, we know the secrets to self-motivation and can help you overcome the lure of procrastination. 

What Is Self-Motivation?

While self-motivation is something completely separate to self-discipline, the latter does play a crucial role in maintaining the former. Self-motivation isn’t enough. In order to achieve the goals that you set; you need to couple the two together. 

In a study focused on online students, it was found that even though they could all be classified as self-motivated (since they were voluntary learning online), the ones most likely to succeed were those with self-discipline. (ref.)

They were the ones who were more competent, fulfilled more of the set tasks, and were effective in achieving goals. So, self-discipline has an important role to play in maintaining self-motivation. 

This begs the question – what does self-motivation really mean? Let’s break it down to its most simple definition – it’s the force that drives you. It drives you to do what needs to be done, to chase your goals, to develop yourself, to achieve fulfillment. 

Generally speaking, self-motivation is wholly driven by intrinsic motivational factors. While it’s possible for extrinsic motivational factors to play a part, intrinsic motivation is longer lasting.

It’s also a key element of emotional intelligence. EI is a measure of your ability to both recognize and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. Within emotional intelligence, the role self-motivation plays is to highlight how you understand ourselves and others, how we relate, and how we succeed in achieving our goals.

Motivation has four core components:

  • The personal drive to meet, improve, and achieve a certain standard or standards.
  • Commitment or dedication to achieving your personal goals. 
  • The readiness or initiative to act on the opportunities that come your way. 
  • The ability to look at the goals ahead and maintain the optimism necessary to persevere. 

Self-Motivation In Action

It’s much easier to understand self-motivation when you see what it looks like in action. So, let’s look at some great examples of self-motivation.

Mary works in a coffee shop. It pays the bills and keeps her head above water. It’s a job. It just so happens to be a job that she enjoys. She goes out of her way to offer customers excellent service and speaks to everyone she meets. 

She doesn’t need an external force to motivate her into getting up and going into work every day because she is self-motivated and finds fulfillment in what she does.

Mason comes home from school and immediately sits down at the kitchen table to complete his homework. He doesn’t need a parent nearby to remind him or to nag him to get it done. He’s self-motivated. He does the difficult work first because he wants to succeed, and he wants to learn. 

Michelle makes time to visit the gym on a daily basis. She doesn’t need a friend to force her or a doctor to scare her with health information. She spent time creating a schedule that included exercise. Michelle makes it happen because she’s self-motivated, whether there is someone standing by to encourage her or not. 

Self-motivation doesn’t rely on others to push your buttons or to trigger you into action. It’s something that you draw from within yourself, it comes from you. If you’re motivated to achieve goals or standards laid out by someone else versus your own satisfaction, then you’re not self-motivated. Though, if you do receive internal satisfaction from achieving the goals that someone else set, then you are and can be self-motivated. 

Additionally, it’s possible to be self-motivated in certain areas of your life while not in others. For example, Mason in example two could be self-motivated to develop and complete his homework, but he might need an external motivator to drag himself to soccer practice. 

The Secrets to Self-Motivation

Tip the Scales

What is your biggest goal right now? Think on that for a moment, and quickly jot down a list of the rewards and joys that will come from chasing and achieving it. These are things that should outweigh the tedious aspect of it. 

You can also create a cons list, but the pros should always outweigh those cons. You might be thinking that creating a list of pros and cons doesn’t sound like much fun. However, get this done and out of the way and it’s no longer hanging over your head. 

Visualize Success

Visualize exactly how you will feel, look, and live once you have achieved your goal. Close your eyes and imagine yourself finally achieving your goal. Your plan is to lose weight and you have finally done it. The road has been long, it’s been a battle. You’ve lost weight thanks to healthy eating, your skin has improved, your health has had a boost, and you look and feel amazing. Can you picture it? 

Allowing for you to visualize the process and success that will come will help your brain move into motivation mode versus fear. By visualizing it, you are stimulating your brain just the same as if you were actually doing the action you are visualizing (ref.)

Reap the Rewards

You don’t have to wait until you achieve your goal to reap the rewards. You should be rewarding yourself regularly throughout the process. This might sound like something you would use to motivate children, but even adults respond to this little trick. 

Think about it – if self-motivation comes from fun and joy, then a reward makes perfect sense. You reward yourself for reaching a milestone in your goal and while you’re at it you change the chemistry of your brain to make you feel more motivated. 

The majority of people believe that the brain releases dopamine as a reward. In truth, the brain releases it as it anticipates its reward (ref.)

The Right Rewards

The key to using the reward system is that you choose the correct rewards. Don’t make the mistake of choosing rewards that will sabotage your efforts. For example, if your goal is related to healthy eating or weight loss, then you shouldn’t use food or drinks as your reward. 

It’s easy to slip into the I deserve it attitude and set your progress back. Even your rewards should drive your progress and serve as self-motivation. 

Celebrate Small Wins

It’s easier to achieve short-term goals. The difficulty really comes in when you are aiming for long-term goals. It’s especially difficult to maintain motivation when you set a goal that will take months or longer to finally achieve. 

You already know that this isn’t going to happen overnight, but the journey will be far more bearable (and sustainable) if you take the time to acknowledge each small success that you achieve along the way. Celebrating your small wins will provide you with a healthy measure of self-motivation. It’s easier to get through the hard work when you focus on the fun and rewarding aspects of accomplishing goals. 

The Hardest Part

Have you ever noticed how children will put off eating their vegetables until the end of their meal? They think they can eat everything else and magically make those vegetables disappear and instead they end dinnertime in the most traumatic way imaginable. Adults do this, too. The difference is we tend to put off the most tedious or difficult jobs first. 

You should always start with the hardest part of your day. Get it over and out of the way and enjoy the rest of the day! Sure, it’ll sting, but it will be over and done with soon and you won’t have to worry about the rest of the day. 

Break it all Down 

It isn’t always fear that holds you back. Sometimes, it’s just being overwhelmed. It’s so easy to get caught up in procrastination when you feel overwhelmed. The key to maintaining self-motivation is to break it down into bite size pieces. Managing your workload and stress will help prevent that feeling of being overwhelmed. 

Goal Setting

It’s a crucial aspect to self-motivation, but the key is to set goals that are realistic but also reaching! You have to take the right amount of risk. As you proceed on your mission to achieve your goals you should be constantly seeking feedback to ensure you’re always improving. You have to dedicate yourself to go the extra mile to achieve your goals. 

When an opportunity arises, you have to grab it. In order to achieve, you must possess resilience. You have to bounce back when you face setbacks and goal setting is part of that. 

Develop Yourself

Every day is a school day or, it should be. You should never stop learning. That means to you should continue to develop knowledge and spend time with people who are enthusiastic and supportive. 

Surround yourself with people who are self-motivated, it will rub off on you. In order to be resilient, you have to put yourself out there and take the blows and cultivating a positive mindset will be crucial in this. Another big aspect of development is identifying both your weaknesses and strengths. You should work on both of them, not just one or the other. 

Create a Plan

Map out your day, the week, month, and even the entire quarter. This will allow you to build a routine for self-motivational success and improve your time management skills as well. Self-motivation is much easier when you are organized and focused on being productive. 

Manage Unproductive Time

The time you spend online or playing games could be spent better elsewhere. However, you shouldn’t starve yourself of unproductive time. It’s important to manage it. If there are certain activities that cause you to lose track of time, set an alarm and allow yourself a specific amount of time to enjoy it. When the time is up, it’s time to get up and go about the rest of your day. You should also only enjoy unproductive time after you’ve tackled the biggest tasks of the day. Don’t let unproductive tasks turn into time bandits. 

Nix Multi-Tasking

Don’t allow the temptation of multi-tasking to lure you in. Always focus on a single task at one time. This will ensure your optimum performance and that buzz you get from ticking off your to-do list will make it much easier to maintain your self-motivation. 


You can only maintain focus for so long. Treat yourself to regular breaks to ensure you stay refreshed. Self-motivation may be easier if you use the Pomodoro technique. This technique was developed in the 1980s and is a popular tool. 

It’s something that makes studying easier for exhausted students, but it can work when you’re dealing with a difficult project as well. Work for 25 focused minutes and take a five-minute break. It’s as simple as that. 

If 25 minutes isn’t sufficient as a work interval, try 50 minutes and take a 10-minute break. Use your break to drink a glass of water, visit the bathroom, and just breathe. 

Final Thoughts

How is your self-motivation? Ask yourself these questions to determine whether you’re self-motivated or not (or if someone else in your life is). 

  • Can you do this?
  • Will this work?
  • Is this worth it?

If you can answer yes to all of these questions, then you are self-motivated. At least, you possess a strong measure of it. If you really believe in yourself then you possess a belief in yourself. 

You believe that the actions you have taken, will take, and plan to take are going to lead you to the goal you want to achieve. If you truly believe that it’s worth it, then you have taken the time to weigh the pros and cons and can see the former outweigh the latter.

There are four important Cs that sustain self-motivation:

  • Consequence

In order to maintain self-motivation, you have to truly desire the outcome that is associated with your actions, rather than taking action to avoid a negative consequence. 

  • Competence

Circling back to the three questions listed above, if you answered yes to them, then you already feel competent. 

  • Choice

Feeling as though you have a choice, that there’s a sense of autonomy, will help you maintain your self-motivation. It’s difficult to self-motivation if it feels as though you’re being forced into certain actions or behaviors. 

  • Community

Connections and community support are critical to believing you are capable, that you are powerful enough, that you are confident and competent. 

In order to maintain self-motivation, you must have a set of personal standards. This is what you will evaluate yourself against going forward. The questions above will be the force that drives you to try to live up to the standards that you have laid out for yourself. There’s your self-motivation. 

Why is self-motivation so important? 

If you are motivated enough to meet external standards, then what’s the problem? What’s the big deal? Self-motivation is a labor of love. It’s what you do because you enjoy it, you gain an internal reward (though, external rewards may also be involved). External motivation doesn’t stir up the same passion that tends to produce excellence and innovation. 

That’s not to say that external motivators are inherently negative. It’s a powerful resource in many areas of your life. However, if nothing triggers self-motivation in you, then it’s unlikely that you will find meaning and fulfillment in your life. 

You will work better, harder, and more productively when you rely on self-motivation. You’ll also be better prepared to deal with the inevitable stresses of pushing yourself to achieve goals. As you can see from the information provided above, you can develop your own self-motivation. Perhaps that is the greatest secret that people need to uncover. Just because you’re not self-motivated now doesn’t mean that you can’t be tomorrow. 

The skills that are required to develop and maintain self-motivation are skills that you have control over. Sure, it’s easier to boost your self-motivation when you do a job that interests you. 

The key is to maintain your self-motivation when you are dealing with tasks and activities that you don’t necessarily feel passionate about. You can do it!