The Science of Staying Motivated

Staying focused can be tough, especially while working remotely during COVID-19. It's even more difficult to motivate a team and communicate effectively over zoom calls. Here are actionable tips from LIFE Intelligence, the all-in-one app to improve work productivity and wellbeing.

Motivation is the human desire to do or create in order to accomplish a goal. It’s that drive that pushes us to do better, be faster, and compete against ourselves or others. Without it, you may find yourself feeling bored, lazy, or even anxious.

There are many theories around motivation and how to control it, but many come down to you. You can either be your biggest roadblock or your biggest fan. Your job is to make sure you’re being the correct option at the correct time. Some theories include:

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1. Arousal theory: This theory is all about what feels good to you, mentally or physically. If you find it pleasing to do or to accomplish, you may feel more motivated to do it.

2. Attitude theory: This theory discusses how internal processes and personal feelings toward the task at hand correlate to how motivated you are to complete it. Luckily, that means if you change your mindset toward the work, you can accomplish nearly any goal.

3. Group and norm theory: This theory explains how working in a group is likely to keep you hard at work, in an attempt to maintain the quality of the work the group produces. This means, for some, the simple presence of others can help you achieve your goals.

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4. Humanistic theory: This theory illustrates that people have cognitive reasons for completing certain tasks. In Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, in order to be motivated to complete acts of self-actualization or self-esteem, you must have more basic needs of social, psychological, and safety met first.

5. Incentive theory: This theory suggests that people are driven to do things because of the possibility of outside rewards.

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic—originating from within yourself—and extrinsic—originating from outer sources. It all depends on the goal at hand, but many agree that intrinsic motivation is the stronger of the two. Intrinsic motivation is self-doubt and self-consciousness working to benefit you. Proving your self-doubt wrong and realizing you can do exactly what you put your mind to can feel worlds more satisfying than a simple congratulations from outside motivators.

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However, everyone is different. Some are more motivated by outer sources. The metaphorical carrot, string, and stick, a perfect example of extrinsic motivation, could also be vital in learning about your own motivation. What makes you want to achieve your goals? Something inside you, like proving yourself or someone else wrong? Or something more physical, like chocolate or money?

Especially amidst the throes and woes of quarantine, learning about your own motivation may seem hard to come by as you may feel you don’t have any to speak of. In this seemingly endless present with an uncertain future, people are becoming somewhat restless, pacing the floors of their minds thinking of things to do. I can’t read another book today because I did that yesterday and the day before that, but I can’t stay on Twitter all day long. With just a hint of motivation, you can turn your days from vague intervals of time bleeding into one another into the moments you look back upon, proud of the things you accomplished.

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So how can you create motivation when you have none?

1. Begin right where you are. Ask yourself how you feel in your current situation. If you’re feeling bored, tired, or restless, you may actually already have a layer of motivation hidden under a layer of indifference. According to the attitude theory of motivation, the key is transforming how you think. Instead of sinking into your boredom, let it be the catalyst to achieving your goals. If your attitude toward the journey is positive, you are sure to reach the destination. Think about what motivates you. What would make you feel good right now? Is achieving the goal enough for you, or do you need some incentive?

In the LIFE Intelligence app, we discuss goal-setting strategies in Mission 3 (out of 9 total missions on self, career, and relationship development). This involves first developing self-awareness about your values. This helps you find purpose in your work and goals. Goals must have meaning and seem achievable. So, it isn't enough just to think about the process: you need to reflect on your why.

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2. Set goals for yourself. Good, achievable, realistic goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound). In detail, picture the person you want to be, what you want to be doing, where you want to be, etc., and give yourself an amount of time by which you want to have achieved that personal status. Without specification, you may find that your goals are too broad to make plans for. Instead of hoping, “I want more money,” think something like, “I plan on discussing a pay-raise with my boss by the end of the quarter.” That way, instead of looking at the big, sometimes overwhelming picture, you’ll allow yourself to digest it in smaller, manageable pieces.

3. Have a conversation with yourself. Get to know why you have set these goals and why it has taken you until now to realize them. Get to know your cognitive reasons for wanting to achieve certain acts, as in the humanistic theory of motivation. Ask yourself, “What is holding me back?” In many cases, the answer is yourself. We are our own biggest critics, and sometimes, without extrinsic motivation (i.e. a deadline or a reward), things don’t get done as we’d like them to. However, talking to yourself about how you can change your mindset, to compete with yourself for yourself, you can establish and strengthen intrinsic motivation.

Continue the conversation by asking, “When can I start?” Many times you imagine your future self as someone who has it together. They’re motivated, they get their work done, and they’re happy to do so. But you can become that person today with a little practice.

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4. Start planning as in-depth as possible on how to achieve your goals. What steps have to be taken to get from Point A to Point B? What will you do when obstacles come your way? Who can you reach out to if you need help? The more you prepare yourself for forks in the road, dead ends, or sudden detours, the better off you’ll be when they may arrive.

5. Give yourself a reward. Oftentimes the goal itself is rewarding enough but it is still important to celebrate your victories. In some cases, upping the reward little by little is what keeps some going back to their goals. Use this accomplished goal as a lesson as to what you would like moving forward. How much incentive works best for you?

6. Repeat. Accomplishing goals is a journey like any other. You win some. You lose some. You learn always. Learning about what motivates you can help you strengthen your motivational power so that when new goals come around, all the work you’ll need to put into them will seem like a walk in the park.

December 6, 2020
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