How to Jump Start Your Motivation

How to Jump Start Your Motivation

Motivation is sometimes hard to muster. This week we are talking about ways to check-in with yourself when you are not feeling motivated.

Since I am a teacher and cannot help myself, we are going to start by exploring a little psychology to gain a better understanding of how motivation works before we dive into the concrete strategies. We experience two kinds of motivation. Extrinsic and Intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation comes from pressure we feel from outside of ourselves. It might be a punishment. Like my parents will take away my car if I fail anything. Sometimes the motivation originates from the promise of a  reward. It might sound something like my parents are going to buy me a new computer if I make a 4.0.

On the other hand, Intrinsic motivation comes from within you. The feeling of enjoyment is the reward that inspires you to take action. An example of intrinsic motivation might be wanting to learn guitar just cause it’s cool and fun.

The latest research on motivation has found that we perform at our best when we are experiencing intrinsic motivation, our own internal enjoyment. We are much more likely to take action and follow through when we have an authentic internal connection to what we’re doing. Intrinsic motivation is especially important when trying to complete complex tasks, like earning a college degree.

On the other hand, doing something from a place of extrinsic motivation requires a lot more effort because it requires you to force yourself to do something to avoid a negative consequence or achieve a reward. Extrinsic motivation is great for straight forward tasks like cleaning your room, but can be harder to apply to complex long term goals like earning a college degree.

The key to sustained motivation is to connect those things we need to do to those things we want to do. For example: If you know with every ounce of your being that you love biology and want to be a doctor, but you absolutely hate math** and struggle to understand it. You can nurture your motivation for doing math by connecting it to your intrinsic motivation to become a doctor.

You can also nurture intrinsic motivation by believing in yourself and cultivating a positive mindset. Think something like, I can learn math with help and practice so that I can reach my goal of becoming a doctor. Rather than thinking I suck at math, I’ll never be a doctor. This can help you transform your desire to avoid math into motivation to learn math.

Getting motivated is similar to moving a giant boulder. It is nearly impossible to get moving, but once you get the boulder rolling it builds momentum quickly. Motivation leads to action, action leads to accomplishment, and accomplishment leads to more motivation. Getting motivation rolling might take a little activation energy, but once you have it going it will hum along.

If your motivation is waning it might be a sign that something is out of alignment. If you are struggling to maintain your motivation and need a little help here are some things that might be contributing to a lack of motivation that you’ll need to address.

  • Are you really tired?  When we are super tired we become super unmotivated, and we usually feel really tired at the end of a semester. We lack motivation not because we don’t care about our work in the world, but because we just don’t have the gusto to do our work in the world. Make sure you aren’t mistaking a lack of motivation with exhaustion.

  • Are you over committed? It is easy to lose track of things we need to do, especially hard or boring things when we have too much to do. Do you have any unstructured time in your life? If the answer is no, you might have overcommitted yourself and you are probably overwhelmed and tired.

  • Are you in the right major? Do you feel connected to your major? Are you interested in it? Do you connect to other students and faculty in your department? Do you have the skills you need to be successful? A lack of motivation is often a symptom of a poor major match. If everything you do related to your major requires extrinsic motivation you may need a major change. You can check in on this using our free training, how to know if you are in the right major, over at our website.

  • Are you surrounded by supportive people? Do the people around you support your dreams, do they care about your health and wellbeing, do they want you to do well. Are they pressuring you to not take care of the things you need and want to do. Don’t mistake procrastination to meet social pressures as a lack of motivation. Surrounding yourself with people who will hold you accountable, support you, and work alongside you can be the best way to get motivated.

  • Do you believe in yourself? Negative thoughts or negative self-talk can be very damaging to motivation. If you are telling yourself that you cannot do the work, reach the goal, or learn the material you will avoid, avoid, avoid. If you are feeling down remind yourself that you’ve got this and seek the support of friends, family, and healthcare professionals at your school.

  • Are you using too many substances? Substance use is a common aspect of college life, but like poor sleep habits it’s one of the worse things you can do while trying to grow and develop your brain. Be honest with yourself, are you adversely affecting your motivation and academic performance with substance use? If so, how can you cut back or get help.


**Please note Paul disagrees with the use of this metaphor. He believes everyone can learn math and you too can grow to love math for math’s sake. Math is the language of the universe. It’s everything.

How is your motivation going these days? Share in the comments below. Tell us your motivation level today and what actions can you take right now to find inspiration. Share with a friend who will support your efforts. As always, remember to stay positive and supportive.

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