We’ve all been there – we have a project at home or work that we’ve been putting off for days, weeks, or even months. It could be a home reno or a daunting work task you’ve been dreading – and the longer you put it off, the less you want to do it.
In psychology, we use the term extrinsic motivation to describe our will to complete a task for the promise of an external reward, such as money, food, or affection. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation describes our will to tackle something just for ourselves. This could be working towards personal goals such as becoming an expert at an instrument or computer program, or simply learning a new skill just because you want to. When we’re intrinsically motivated, we’re excited about our projects because they’re interesting or pleasurable for us, not because they will earn us praise from our boss or a bring in a higher salary. Intrinsic motivation endures longer than extrinsic motivation and is much more enjoyable. It’s the experience of enjoying what we’re doing because it’s fascinating and subjectively rewarding, rather than completing a task because of external repercussions.
When our intrinsic motivation is low, we struggle to even begin (much less complete) tasks that we might normally enjoy. Inertia can be difficult to interrupt sometimes – if you’ve been in a pattern of procrastination, or simply trudging through what you need to do to get by, you might start to feel frustrated with yourself. This is totally normal – and there are lots of ways to get yourself out of a “motivational funk” to feel more inspired and excited to tackle your days. Here are 6 tried-and-true tips to boost your intrinsic motivation:
1) Commit only 5 minutes
At the very beginning, especially if you’ve been putting off a project or task for while, commit just 5 minutes to starting. We often build things up to be worse in our minds than they are. I bet most of us have thought to ourselves, “wow, that really wasn’t that bad,” after finishing something we’ve put off. Making a task seem harder than it is isn’t unusual – unfortunately our brains tend to do this. But once we become aware of this, it’s easier to override. Simply starting with a non-negotiable 5 minutes often leads to continuing on when the 5 minutes ends. We likely won’t want to quit because this is how motivation works. Just starting the task is often all we need to do to get that motivation flowing – because it builds from our feelings of self-efficacy, achievement, and productivity. The more we feel that we accomplish, the more our intrinsic motivation will increase – and then we can “ride” that wave until we’re done.
2) Motivation grows from action, not ideas
Contrary to what it might seem, inspiration and passion are not enough to build consistent motivation. It takes more than simply having a great idea – taking action on the idea is what cultivates intrinsic motivation. Motivation momentum builds as you actively work on your goals, as motivation alone is not enough to get you to start, much less to commit to consistency. And it takes this action and a series of small achievements to build that motivation.
3) Rely on habits, not willpower
In the beginning of a project or task, it’s more effective to rely on habits and self-discipline, rather than inspiration. “Willpower” is not enough to consistently build intrinsic motivation – you have to start with a non-negotiable habit. Schedule “motivation building” into your day rather than relying on the belief that you’ll do it when you “feel like it” or are inspired. It’s likely the inspiration won’t come at all if you haven’t already been working on the task consistently. If you committed your 5 minutes yesterday to your task, but you’re struggling to start today, don’t make it a choice. Make it a rigid habit. Don’t ask yourself “do I feel like doing this right now?” Just schedule it in and do it. Eventually, you won’t have to convince yourself to start because your motivation will have increased enough that you’ll actually look forward to it.
4) Connect with your ambition
Remember your “why.” What kind of impact do you want to leave on this world and those around you? What do you really enjoy doing? What makes you feel “alive” and inspired? When you’ve started a task but are struggling to pick up where you left off – or you’ve hit a wall in your creativity – take a break. Use that break to reflect and even journal on why you’re doing what you’re doing. What inspires you? What are your goals? Why are you doing this task/project? Use these reminders to help you find inspiration once more. Ambition sparks motivation – so create your own goals and whole-heartedly believe in your ability to achieve them.
5) Remind yourself how far you’ve come
When you start to feel your motivation waning mid-project, remind yourself about what you’ve already accomplished. This doesn’t necessarily have to be related to the project at hand. Reflect on what you’re most proud of and – most importantly – how you got there. Use the sense of pride you feel to help nudge you along in your task. Use your desire to feel accomplished and proud of yourself once more to nurture your motivation.
6) Practice gratitude
Every time you complain that you “have to” do something, switch the words “have to” with “get to.” For example, instead of “Ugh, I have to do ___ later,” try “I get to ____ later.” This is a simple mindset switch that moves our headspace from negative to positive. It automatically reminds us that we’re in a place of privilege and what we’re lucky to have. If we’re dreading a work task, instead of complaining about it, we can reframe it to: “I get to do…. because I am employed.” This can be hard at times, but remembering how far we’ve come and what we’re grateful for is essential for maintaining your intrinsic motivation.
It only takes a moment or two of self-discipline to get started, the rest will start to come more naturally – and often faster than we think! We hear in exercise classes all the time, “Don’t let your brain talk you out of it, just do it! Your body will take you farther than you think.” The same idea applies here – all it takes is a simple decision to just start. There are always a million reasons not to do something – and if this is your decision-making strategy, very little will get done. Remember the reasons that you are doing something and use those to continually feed your motivation. Finally, make a commitment to yourself to do one thing each day that gets you closer to your goals. This could be personal or professional. If you want to become an excellent piano player, commit just 5 minutes each day to practicing and don’t bargain with yourself. Make practicing a non-negotiable habit and your motivation will begin to flow naturally, carrying you towards your goals.