How to find Motivation: what REALLY works (according to a Psychologist)
Wondering how to find motivation that lasts? Here’s how to get it and what most people get wrong about motivation according to this Downtown Los Angeles Psychologist.
In this post: we explore how to get motivation that lasts, why the techniques that most of us use don’t work and what practical steps make it easier to work towards sustainable motivation.
By Jeff Creely, PhD (Psychotherapist, Licensed Clinical Downtown Los Angeles Psychologist)
The secret on how to get motivation is actually very simple. However, most of us have been taught to use techniques that work in the short-term. These techniques end up making us feel LESS motivated long-term. It makes us spiral into feeling much worse about not getting anything done.
Let me explain.
How most of us try to get Motivation and why it doesn’t work long-term
Need, should, have to, got to, must.
We use these words like whips to ourselves motivated.
Sometimes they work for a short while. However a while they stop working and you can easily feel much worse, thinking “What’s wrong with me? Am I lazy? Why can’t I motivate myself?”
You try to motivate yourself over and over again an you tell yourself you NEED to do something, but eventually, that motivation just runs out like all the times before? You end up feeling guilty AND exhausted – and with a pain in your stomach. That pain is the feeling of deep disappointment in yourself and a sense of dread for what’s ahead.
So, you punish yourself with stricter expectations for tomorrow or you get angry with yourself for not jumping at the sound of your verbal whips: “you NEED to” or “or you HAVE to”.
By using pain as a tool, you think you’re helping yourself. You tell yourself you’re being disciplined, but you’re wrong.
Punishment isn’t how you’re going to get motivation
We’re forgetting what punishment is: a deterrent. A deterrent is something that’ll help you NOT do something.
Punishment is great at getting someone to STOP doing something. You punish behavior in a child to suppress something they’re doing. Parents use punishment because it’s immediate and effective in the short-term to STOP behavior.
We punish ourselves because our parents punished us. Sometimes we think that’s what loving ourselves looks like.
The truth is, punishment is ineffective at getting us to DO things.
When we’re trying to motivate ourselves to work harder at something, to be more creative, or to be braver, we need to motivate ourselves to DO something. And that’s something punishment is really bad at.
How to get Motivation that lasts
Real motivation requires you to convince yourself to care.
When you’re talking motivation; you’re also talking values. Effective motivation comes down to caring. You need to know what you really care about.
Motivation requires you to talk to yourself and remind yourself how a specific action relates to something that’s important to you, something that you care about.
Practical tips on how to get motivation
- Write down what you DO care about
A practical step that can help you feel motivated is listing things you care about – big and small.
Take some time. Write out everything you can think of: intangible values, tangible dreams, things you love, experiences you hope to have, the works.
- Connect what you care about with what you need to do
When you’re having trouble feeling motivated, question yourself: “How does this task move me toward the things I want?” and allow yourself to answer honestly. If it doesn’t, why are you asking yourself to do it?
If it does, talk to yourself honestly. “I want you to have (a lovely thing in your life) and this action is one of the things it takes to get there.”
- Focus on the way actions move you towards what you do care about
Whenever you want yourself to do something, think of what value you’re living out by doing it.
Rather than looking back to what you’re running away from (be that work, effort, the possibility of disappointment), focus on what you’re running toward and how this step contributes to moving forward – even if it’s a small step.
This sounds simple, but many times it won’t feel that simple. And that’s ok.
Be kind to yourself, and try your best to set your eyes on where you’re heading – even if it’s slow. Taking a tiny step is further than not taking a step at all.
- If that doesn’t work, it’s time to delve deep
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably really fed up by yourself, feeling frustrated, tired, and in no mood to talk.
Perhaps you feel afraid that even if you do the thing you’re asking of yourself, you still won’t get it, that thing you care about.
Or perhaps the things you listed are actually things other people care about; not you.
Perhaps the task in front of you feels too big and intimidating; perhaps deep down you don’t think you really deserve these lovely things, or perhaps it just feels weird to talk with yourself.
It’s going to be difficult to keep your eyes on the things you want. And sometimes it’s hard to know what’s getting in the way.
That’s when therapy can be helpful. A psychotherapist can help you see what’s not working when you’re feeling stuck. But even if you don’t see a psychotherapist, keep this in mind as you try to encourage yourself.
Motivation to act flows in two ways: we either hate ourselves into change or love ourselves into change. Loving yourself into change is kinder, but it’s also the only way that works.
Get support in finding long-lasting motivation
If you think therapy could help you figure out where you’re stuck, my door is always open. I’m a Psychotherapist, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, based in Downtown Los Angeles. You can connect with me here.
You can also look for other other therapists or counselors in your area below: