Surprising Ways to Get Motivated

Psychological techniques to help you get more motivated

Motivation is critical to success, so it is easy to understand why this is such a hot topic in so many different fields. Experts are always looking for new ways to do everything from improving student motivation to increasing the motivation to exercise.

There are plenty of theories and tips designed to help people get motivated, but some of the psychological factors that can influence motivation might surprise you. Did you know that visualizing success can backfire? Or that incentives can sometimes make people less motivated?

Use Incentives Carefully

If someone already enjoys doing something, then it stands to reason that rewarding them for the behaviour would make them like it even more, right? In many cases, the answer is actually no. Giving incentives for activities that people are already driven to perform can sometimes impair motivation.

Researchers have found that rewarding people for doing things that they are already intrinsically motivated to do can actually backfire. Remember, intrinsic motivation arises from within the individual. It is essentially doing something for the pure enjoyment of it. Doing the task is its own reward.

In instances where children are rewarded for doing something they already enjoy, such as playing with a certain toy, their future motivation to engage in the activity actually decreases. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the overjustification effect.

So be cautious with rewards. Incentives can work well to increase motivation to engage in an otherwise unappealing activity, but over-dependence upon such rewards might actually end up decreasing motivation in some cases.

How Can You Use This Concept to Increase Motivation?

  • Use extrinsic rewards sparingly.
  • Rewards can be effective if the individual truly has no intrinsic interest in the activity.
  • Try an extrinsic reward during the initial learning period, but phase out these rewards as the learner become more interested in the activity.

Introduce Challenges

When facing a task, which do you find more motivating – doing something easy that you’ve done a hundred times and could probably do in your sleep, or doing something that is within the realm of possibilities but requires learning something new or stretching your existing abilities? For many people, the first option might be the easiest, but the second more challenging option will probably sound more interesting and motivating.

If you are trying to increase your motivation to do something, like getting out of bed early for a run, breaking away from the same old routines and introducing new challenges can be an effective way to keep that motivational spark.

How can you make the most of this tendency? Challenge yourself. Sign up for a local marathon. Focus on improving your times or going just a little bit further than you usually do. No matter what your goal, adding incremental challenges can help you improve your skills, feel more motivated, and bring you one step closer to success.

Don’t Visualize Success

One of the most common tips for getting motivated is to simply visualize success, yet research suggests that this might actually be counterproductive. The problem is that people often visualize themselves achieving their goals, but skip over visualizing all the effort that goes into making those goals a reality.

By imagining that you have achieved the desired goal, you’re actually depleting the amount of energy you have available to devote to accomplishing the task itself.

Previous research has shown that idealized fantasies about the future typically predict poor achievement, and more recent research has found that mentally indulging in such visualization saps available energy.

So what does work?

  • Instead of imagining yourself suddenly successful, imagine all the steps it will take to achieve that success.
  • What challenges will you face? Knowing what you might encounter can make it easier to deal with when the time comes.
  • What strategies can you use to overcome those challenges? Planning ahead can leave you better prepared to overcome the difficulties you might face.

Take Control

People often feel more motivated when they feel like they have control over what is going to happen. Have you ever been part of a group where you felt like you really had no personal control over the outcome? Did you feel particularly motivated to contribute to the group?

One of the reasons people sometimes dislike “group work” is that they lose that individual sense of control and contribution.

What can you do to take back control in group situations?

  • If you are working in a group (or trying to motivate a group of followers), finding a way to make each person feel empowered and influential can help.
  • Give individuals control over how they contribute to how their ideas are presented or used.
  • Allow group members to determine what goals they wish to pursue.

Focus on the Journey, Not the Outcome

Constantly fixating on the outcome, on success or failure, can seriously impair motivation. In her research on different mindsets, psychologist Carol Dweck has found that praising children for fixed traits (such as being smart or attractive) can actually decrease motivation and persistence in the future.3

This type of praise, she believes, causes people to develop what is known as a fixed mindset. People with this mindset believe that personal characteristics are simply inborn and unchanging. They think that people are either smart or dumb, pretty or ugly, athletic or non-athletic, and so on.

How Can You Avoid Developing a Fixed Mindset?

  • Praising efforts rather than traits is the key, Dweck suggests.
  • Instead of just focusing on the outcome, on whether you will succeed or fail, try to focus on the journey toward reaching your goals.
  • What have you learned from the process? Remember, the journey is just as important as the outcome.
  • What actions have been the more effective and rewarding? By assessing your efforts, you can fine-tune your future actions to achieve better results.

Whether you are trying to lose weight, run a marathon, earn a degree, or complete some other type of goal, motivation plays a critical role in your overall success or failure. Some of these research findings might contradict your existing ideas about what works and what doesn’t in terms of motivation. Try incorporating a few of these strategies into your daily habits to improve your enthusiasm and drive to succeed.