Motivation - What is it, where it comes from and how to enable it

We've all endured that distinct lack of motivation to work.

It's a catch-22 though, work pays the bills, so it needs to be done even when you don't feel like it.

When you're procrastinating, cannot focus and struggle to get started, you start to feel inadequate.

Efficiency and productivity drive results. When you can't muster the energy to produce this, you become frustrated.

In a motivational slump, you feel disappointed, question your enthusiasm for your job and feel guilty that you're not performing to your full potential.

Everyone will inevitably experience a period of low energy, feeling removed from their work and would rather be on vacation or on the couch watching Netflix.

But, you don't need to remain stuck in this rut. This guide covers what you need to know about motivation, where it comes from and how to build habits that will make you efficient and productive - even if you have a low-energy day.

make today tolerable at work quote
Credit: Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

The origin of motivation

Why do we do the things that we do?

Like spending hours answering emails, when we should be crunching monthly reporting numbers. Or surf Instagram's latest filters when we should be writing an article.

To understand the choices we make, we need to identify how human nature influences motivation.

Humans are designed to seek pleasure. Our mind makes us want to do things that fill us with joy and avoid things that bring us pain.

Which of these two will bring you instant pleasure;

  1. Gossiping with a colleague
  2. Filing month old paperwork

The issue is, not everything that's expected of us at work is enjoyable, but while motivation is a tricky thing to grasp, it's not impossible.

Motivation kicks in when your dopamine spikes. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter our brains produce to nudge us into getting things done. It's the reason why we can focus and achieve great things that contribute to productivity.

It's safe to say that we need a healthy dose of dopamine in our lives, but, there isn't a magic pill for it; our brains produce it. So let's learn how to leverage dopamine to support your motivation and productivity.

The two types of motivation and their impact

Our largest concerns when working are the "act" of doing work, to avoid procrastinating and put in the effort. To act though, we need to grasp what is impacting our ability to do so.

Motivation, like procrastination, is an emotional issue. People will attempt to solve their problem through logical means of thinking, * "If the desire is there, I'll be motivated, right?"*

Not exactly. Goals are just as important when it comes to unlocking and sustaining motivation at work.

Like your desire. What is making you want to act?

Everyone has a different motivation for doing their job well.

Some people work for the love of their industry; others for professional fulfillment. Some people love the clients they serve; others enjoy diverse problem-solving. Some work to support their families, even when they don't love their jobs, going home to a happy and healthy nest they have created is what drives them.

The human reward system has been explored for years by researchers, breaking down the two types of motivation into:

  1. Extrinsic motivation - Feeling motivated by external rewards like a pay praise, or an award.
  2. Intrinsic motivation - Feeling motivated by internal rewards like an accomplishment, inner drive, or happiness.

Motivation isn't just about what it is that's driving you; there's also the goal. What is it you're working towards?

An external reward, for example, to be considered for the next leadership job opening.

Or maybe you find happiness through internal rewards like learning something new.

It's a powerful thing to balance both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. But, inner motivation is often harder to come by when we live in a world of outward incentives; money, fame and promotions. Motivation comes in different forms, and it's important to identify yours to help inspire action.

intrinsic vs extrinsic motivators
Credit: Infographic by Exploring Exemplary Science Teaching

How to find what motivates you

In short, I can't give you a list of your "potential motivators." This task requires some self-examination.

How did you get to where you are today?

What do you need to do, to get to where you want to be next?

When considering your motivators, think of some occasions when you were excited and engaged in accomplishing a task. Reflecting on this time of high engagement can help you understand what type of work motivates you.

Make a list of these occasions and list what drove you to feel motivated. The "why" behind this feeling could be the answer to what motivates you.

If you're struggling to find the "why," ask yourself questions these questions:

  1. How would I like to make an impact on the world?
  2. What do I genuinely love doing in my spare time?
  3. What job aligns with my core values?
  4. If money weren't an issue, who would I help and why?
  5. Who do I want to be in 5 years, and how does this person act?

Answering these either aloud, or in writing, can help you discover what motivates you and lead you into work that's aligned with what drives you.

I enjoy evolving myself based on my core values; health, fitness, spreading awareness about rescue animals and advancing my knowledge through biohacking. Now, I bang out articles in one day because my passion for writing stems from my core values.

When you live an inspired life inline with your core values, you'll feel engaged to accomplish work that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning; then, motivation will naturally occur.

Habit building will motivate you to work

As I said, just starting is powerful enough to get you motivated. But, what if you still don't feel like it? What other strategies can you use?

Having a plan of attack for the day ahead can do wonders for making steady progress.

Whatever it is you are working towards will dictate how motivated you are to achieve it.

Like, toiling through the first draft of a novel to become a published author, or slogging through a task to meet a deadline before your boss requests over time. The end goal of becoming a published author is a far more motivating outcome than avoiding overtime.

If you lack goals in the workplace to fuel motivation, how can you change this?

Enter the wonderful, rewarding world of habit building.

Habit building is an integral part of the process to reach your goal. You want to build habits around the process rather than just focus on the goal. Habits are not only self-motivating, but they flip your desire from outcome-focused (extrinsic motivation) to process-focused (intrinsic motivation).

In short, you'll feel motivated while doing the work, not just by what it can give you at the end.

When setting your workplace goals, consider:

  • Find your "why " - Building a habit is much easier if it means something to you and your core values. If you aren't sure what your core values are, take a moment to write down 3-5 things that are important to you like, leadership, creativity, honesty, efficiency or environmentalism. Once you've identified your values, set workplace goals inline with these, for example, enter into a leadership program and meet regularly with your boss for guidance.
  • Create an action plan - Big, audacious goals are easy to lose sight of without a plan of attack. If you set the bar too high, you can quickly become discouraged from getting started. So, break a large goal down into smaller goals to work towards systematically. You'll achieve these small goals sooner, feel a sense of achievement and build momentum towards the bigger picture. In a study using coffee reward cards, participants were given a card entitling them to a free coffee after ten coffee purchases. When participants were closer to earning a free coffee, researchers noticed they bought coffees more often to get to their goal faster.
  • Track your progress - Once you start to build momentum and see your progress, you guessed it, you'll stay motivated! Whether you are marking accomplishments off of a to-do list, or visualising your progress in focus booster, find a way that works for you.

james clear 1% better every day
Credit: Image by James Clear

The act of "just starting"

Trying to get started on a task when don't know how or, don't want to, is a motivation-drainer.

When it comes to motivation, a common myth is we need to feel motivated before we can start. Psychologists call this a motivation trap. * "Motivation does not precede action, action precedes motivation."*

In other words, don't want to feel like doing things to get motivated. Instead, set a small goal, like doing one pomodoro session and the momentum you build might be enough to keep you going.

The getting started part is a threshold people struggle with most. Almost all friction towards doing something comes from the start.

The same goes for procrastination. As writer and researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky says, "On a moment-to-moment basis, being in the middle of doing the work is usually less painful than being in the middle of procrastinating."

The key to building up your motivation when you aren't sure how to get there is to eliminate barriers that are hindering you from getting started.

Let's say you're struggling with the opening paragraph of an article. A hot tip as someone who writes articles regularly, just write a sentence; it doesn't even need to be great! You can edit it later but, the simple act of just starting will help you get into the groove. Trust me.

Getting back on track when you lose motivation

Your motivation will slump at a point. It could be a result of feeling overwhelmed, burnt out or just an "off" day that you can't explain.

While there's strategies to pick yourself out of this funk, these also depend on the person. So, here are a few to choose from:

  • Start small - You can inspire motivation by an action you take. It can come from something simple like crossing off a basic to-do list task. These little "wins" can be achieved quickly, and you'll start to build momentum towards daunting tasks you've been procrastinating on.
  • Get creative and challenge yourself - Often when we aren't motivated, it's because work has become monotonous and we aren't feeling challenged. Humans love to be challenged and finding that midpoint between boredom and anxiety is how we get into a state of flow. If you find that starting small doesn't help, then try the reverse and chose a task to get your brain fired up.
  • Let others know you're in DND mode - Feeling overwhelmed by a long to-do list can often lead to a lack of motivation. When this happens, you need to stop the influx of messages and get through the most important ones. Again, progress builds momentum.
  • This is temporary - Like a usual workday, almost any habit will be over quickly. Your workout will finish in an hour, and your article will be completed by tomorrow. Life is more convenient now than ever. Centuries ago, if you didn't kill for food or build a home, you would perish. Now, people moan about forgetting to charge their phone. Keep your perspective, life is good, and your discomfort is brief. Step into this moment of despair and let it strengthen you.

As mentioned earlier, build habits around the process, don't just focus on the goal. Similar to this, celebrate your achievements along the way too.

Leo Babauta from Zen Habits says, " Focus on getting any kind of victories. If you do 30 seconds, 2 minutes, whatever… you've had success! This is a victory, and a victory changes your mood. Defeat and tiredness can bring it down."

may the force be with you motivational work reminder
Credit: Photo by Lucrezia Carnelos on Unsplash

Are you ready to improve your motivation?

Just starting a task is one of the most powerful motivation strategies you can use. Not only does it help you rise above procrastination, but seeing your progress is a powerful way to boost motivation and productivity.

Shameless plug but, focus booster uses the pomodoro technique to help you achieve this exact outcome. Just by hitting start on the pomodoro timer for the day, you will enter a state of motivation in only 25 minutes. Try it out!

Once you turn this into a habit, then your motivation will become part of your daily routine.

What do you like to do to keep yourself motivated every day?