The Science of Motivation: Making It Work To Your Advantage

Motivation is a fickle thing, and yet it often seems to hold our entire lives in its unpredictable little hands. When you have tasks that need to be done, relying on motivation to push you to do them is a dangerous game and one we’ve all probably played a few too many times. But is there a way to make motivation bend to our wills?

There might be. Well, not exactly, but there are ways to make sure that you’re maximising your motivation and making the most of it when it’s there. To master this, we’ll need to look into the science of motivation. So let’s get to it!

What is motivation?

In its simplest form, motivation is the thing that makes you want to do what you need to do in order to reach your goals. We find it so vital because when the work is difficult, we often don’t really want to do it, but we really need to do it. And sometimes, needing to just isn’t good enough.

There are seemingly endless theories about the various types of motivation, but what they all appear to have in common is that motivation is a response to a trigger. Think of when you feel most motivated; there’s always that something that makes you feel that way, right? The key is finding your motivational triggers — do so, and you’ll be unstoppable!

What sparks your motivation?

Often, the thing that sets off our motivation is thinking about what the outcome would be if we achieved our goals. So ask yourself: why are you doing what you’re doing? Maybe your aim is to make money or progress your career. Or, perhaps you’re in it for the simple joy of learning and self-improvement. Whatever the reason, pinpointing your ‘why’ is a good starting point for getting your motivation to work for you.

What’s blocking your motivation?

Now here comes the science-y bit. According to research, the promise of rewards is not the most effective motivator, despite how it may seem so! In fact, in cases where the reward is small, people are less motivated than they would be without any promised reward at all. This can have dire connotations for anyone working a job that they find unrewarding and can be the very reason for such low motivation. So promising yourself a biscuit if you finish your reports isn’t all that likely to work. You’ll probably end up giving up and eating the biscuit anyway, so you’re best off giving up that game before you start it.

There’s also the issue that we, as a species, are petty. Have you ever been all fired up to do something, then the second someone else tells you to do the same thing, you suddenly would rather do anything else? In situations like this, our motivation evaporates because we don’t like being told what to do.

When you feel forced into something, your motivation can suffer drastically, even if it’s something you usually enjoy or want to do. Again, this is especially bad news for anyone looking for professional motivation. It’s rare, in the world of work, that you’ll have the freedom to do what you want, when you want.

Taking back your motivation

After all that, your fight with motivation is probably looking pretty bleak right now. You’re probably wondering if it’s even possible to take control of your motivation when it clearly has a mind of its own — but don’t despair! You already have all the tools you’ll need to tame your motivation. It probably won’t bend to your will all the time, but you might be able to summon it a bit more easily with some simple changes to your mindset.

  1. First, try to make growth and self-improvement your main motivational trigger. This way, you can focus on the feeling of satisfaction you get from the small victories. Sometimes, the journey matters more than the destination, and taking note of your progress along the way to your goal is a great boost in motivation.
  2. Next, figure out what makes your goals so worthwhile. There has to be a reason why you’re working so hard for it, and you need to remember that reason in order to keep your motivation up. Even when it feels like you’re only working because you have to, remind yourself of how it benefits you and what you gain from it.

And finally, remember that you’re the boss of your motivation, not the other way around. Whenever you feel inspired or compelled to put in the hours to achieve your goals, that motivation didn’t just appear out of nowhere; you made it. Your passion, ambition, and sense of purpose brought about that motivation, and it’s yours to use as you please. So use it!

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