How to get and stay motivated

Motivation is a powerful, yet tricky beast. Sometimes it is really easy to get motivated, and you find yourself wrapped up in a whirlwind of excitement. Other times, it is nearly impossible to figure out how to motivate yourself and you’re trapped in a death spiral of procrastination. This page contains the best ideas and most useful research on how to get and stay motivated.

This isn’t going to be some rah-rah, pumped-up motivational speech. (That’s not my style.) Instead, we’re going to break down the science behind how to get motivated in the first place and how to stay motivated for the long-run. Whether you’re trying to figure out how to motivate yourself or how to motivate a team, this page should cover everything you need to know.

Motivation: What It Is and How It Works

Scientists define motivation as your general willingness to do something. It is the set of psychological forces that compel you to take action. That’s nice and all, but I think we can come up with a more useful definition of motivation. 

What is Motivation?

So what is motivation, exactly? The author Steven Pressfield has a great line in his book, The War of Art, which I think gets at the core of motivation. To paraphrase Pressfield, “At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”

In other words, at some point, it is easier to change than to stay the same. It is easier to take action and feel insecure at the gym than to sit still and experience self-loathing on the couch. It is easier to feel awkward while making the sales call than to feel disappointed about your dwindling bank account.

This, I think, is the essence of motivation. Every choice has a price, but when we are motivated, it is easier to bear the inconvenience of action than the pain of remaining the same. Somehow we cross a mental threshold—usually after weeks of procrastination and in the face of an impending deadline—and it becomes more painful to not do the work than to actually do it.

Now for the important question: What can we do to make it more likely that we cross this mental threshold and feel motivated on a consistent basis?