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Motivation: How to Move Beyond Square One

Updated on August 15, 2018

To be Unmotivated is Human

To start is the most difficult thing to complete. Change is always stressful and shifting from the comfortable present to the seemingly demanding future is indeed bumpy in varying degrees. To be unmotivated is human. No person on earth has got it going all the time. In reality, there are simply those days when you feel like not hitting the gym, slacking on your report, or procrastinating your diet plan. Worse, there are times when you seemingly have the exploding energy but you just cannot get around to it. Do not worry, these inconsistencies are life’s spices and you just need to learn how to navigate through these roadblocks.

Tips for Motivation: The Road to Success

Develop a blueprint

As what the popular quote says: To fail to plan is to plan to fail”. Needless to say, it is tough to begin something vague or too abstract. One key to overcoming a seemingly amorphous job is planning the specific details. Writing your thoughts down and eventually coming up with concrete steps on how to move from day one to two can make the job more achievable; hence more motivating. With a clearer approach to things, you can feel the much needed momentum building up. To wit, a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology that those who specified the date and place of their weekly exercise yielded higher results than those who did not. The results implied that being precise in your motivation and intention can double the odds of your performance.

Moreover, having a plan B can make you feel more confident in starting the action. You would have more security knowing that you have more or less exhausted all the possible routes to your desired outcome. Success does not happen accidentally. A great thing started from an idea but it did not stop there; plans on how and when to achieve it together with hard work followed. Clear cut steps will prevent you from being distracted and exerting effort on unimportant materials and processes. Undeniably, all inordinate things started on paper.

Gear Up!

What are the tools that you need to have to execute your first move? This may be ideas, inspirational music, pertinent apps, or carpentry tools. One of the key motivators in this area is a brilliant idea. Reading related books, watching videos like TED talks, and asking experts can help you rev up for that sweet takeoff.

Also, based on Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, observing other’s behavior can motivate others to imitate the said action. It would then be fruitful for you to look into how others did it. Hopefully, their inspirations can do the trick in making you see things less of a grind and more of opportunities.

The environment is another significant part of your tools. It is said to be the invisible hand that can influence how we feel:


Human beings innately respond to rhythm, tone, timber, and the other elements of music. Our brains and bodies are designed to respond to different kinds of sounds. Therefore, music and emotion, which is tightly linked to motivation, are inherently connected. For instance, experimental studies have shown that listening to French music can motivate shoppers to buy French wine and Jazz music can increase appetite. It would then be a good idea to identify the nature of your project and listen to a song or beat that has an affinity with it. At first, it may be difficult for you to find that “right” song as our perceptions are unique, but through trial and error, something would just click and rhythmically push you to take that move.

Videos/ Movies/Books/Speeches

Remember how you felt after that movie? How you felt enraged after watching the news on that terrorist attack? Videos are powerful tools that can vividly tap into your senses and can meaningfully spur you to action. The mass media has been hugely operational in persuading minds because of its ability to move emotions. With words, images, and sounds’ knack to transform you into a parallel universe, you can be urged to do great things.


The various hues you around you can consciously and mostly unconsciously affect your behavior. According to chromology, certain colors can trigger specific emotions. Physiologically, red increases blood pressure, pulse rate, and metabolism. In studies, it was found out to raise levels of metabolism, aggression, affinity, and general activity. Red may then be an effective color in pumping you into action. Also, green has been linked to productivity and creativity; making it an ideal color when working with problem solving, aesthetics, and other ideas.

Uniform/ Clothes

You are what you wear. Research participants who were asked to wear a lab coat were found out to be more accurate in their responses than their counterparts who wore their everyday clothing. In another version of the experiment, the participants were all asked to wear white coats but the first half were told that they were wearing painters’ coats while the other half were told that they were wearing physicians’ coats. Consistently, those who believed they wore physicians’ lab coats had better performances. What kind of project are you working at? Dress for it and you will rise to the occasion!

Warm Up

From engines to mental states, revving up is always part of the initial process. These routies or rituals help us ease into the seemingly threatening challenge. We seldom dive into unknown waters as it is our instinct to protect ourselves and one way of doing that is ensuring facts at a certain level.

For example, doesn’t it feel less painful if something is gradually taken away from you as compared to having it snatched away in mid-blink? Also, waking up and immediately getting dressed for work would be less of a challenge if you make it a routine to give yourself 10 seconds to systematically stretch while lying on the bed before sitting up, and eventually standing up to face the day.

The principle is to first do something ratherly easy to do before the abominable task. Human beings are hard wired to warm up: we learn to crawl before walking and running, before the body and conclusion is the introduction, arithmetic class comes first before physics, and intimate relationships start from acquaintances. It is our nature to fall into patterns just like our habits. Thus, if you already have your warmup routine, everything else will fall into place. If you aim to write 30 pages, first think of the initial 3 paragraphs, then the first 5 pages, and so on. Eventually, these warm-ups will be ingrained habits that can trigger automatic performances toward your goals. Ergo, identify your tiny steps towards your giant leap and before you know it, you are in mid-air, about to land.

Moreover, your warmup routine can serve as a pre-success move that can transform you into a juggernaut. Since a good feedback normally encourages a good effort, the little accomplishments along the way can optimize performances.

Identify effective rewards

Since time immemorial, rewards have been used to motivate behavior. It is then crucial to pinpoint the specific reinforcers that can truly give you that extra nudge. Ask yourself, “If I finish this, I will give myself a ____”. Genuinely identify the top 3 things that can significantly motivate you and link them to your present task.

Negative Reinforcements

When it comes to reinforcements, the first thing that must have popped into your head are rewards or positive reinforcements. However, we also have what we call “negative reinforcements”. These motivate you to accomplish a certain task to lessen or better yet, eliminate an undesirable situation. For instance, you may be mentally “up” to start that report because you do not want to have that cloud on your head for the whole week. You may also ask the help of your friends by asking them to send you annoying text reminders until you have shown them the actual output that you have been putting off.


In relation to this is a therapeutic technique, “motivational-interviewing” which was developed by Miller and Rollnick. The key idea is to shed more light to the gap between the present and the desired behavior. You can apply this to your demotivated state by asking yourself the pros and cons of procrastinating. Visualize yourself simply hovering before the starting line and its discrepancy as compared to savoring the finish line. Hopefully, this can make you see that the impending work is less of a blob of a work.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Rewards

Rewards are classified into two: intrinsic and extrinsic. As you may already know, extrinsic rewards are external and tangible ones like money and fame whereas intrinsic pertains to internal and intangible rewards including sheer joy and altruism. The thing here is you should be able to know how to wield these tools to your optimal favor. According to research, incorporating an external reward to an already enjoyable task will diminish intrinsic motivation. Hence, make sure to give yourself an external reward only if the job at hand is essentially unappealing.

Look for connections between your unique passions and your current chore as finding the intrinsic reward would be far more igniting. Frederick Herzberg’s motivation hygiene theory posits that we are often more motivated when the situation promises personal growth.

Move It!

The body affects the mind and vice versa. It is too much of a hurdle to convince yourself that you are in the mood to perform without lifting a finger. At first, you may feel lethargic but once you got into the groove of a Zumba workout, it is quite impossible not to feel pumped. Hence, movements like washing your face, sipping strong coffee, taking a good walk, and deliberately smiling can help you be mentally engaged.

It often takes 5 minutes for something to kick in. This adjustment period helps your mind and body get acquainted with the work. So before giving up on how you feel about something, give it at least five before throwing in the towel. For a few minutes, fiddle with some words, notes, postures, steps, or any action close to your main assignment. Indeed, “fake it until you make it” has been proven over and over again.

A popular talk by a Harvard professor, Amy Cuddy, on how posture can significantly affect the mindset and actual performance in just a matter of five minutes pointed out the potency of “power poses”. These postures are open and occupy more space like chest out and spread arms as compared to being slouched. The results showed that the study participants who executed power poses 5 minutes before a job interview were rated higher and were perceived to exude more confidence.

Find your flow

A renowned Hungarian positive psychologist, Cziksentmihaly proposed that flow or being genuinely engaged in a task requires the right formula for a task to be excitingly challenging. Perhaps, you never got around to starting your project since it seems threateningly humongous or boringly simple. If it is the former, break your big task into smaller chunks and develop subgoals. Also, you should promise yourself that you would focus on the chunks and while isolating the overwhelming bigger picture at the back of your head to make it realistically manageable. Failing to do this may lead to an even worse procrastination. On the other hand, strive to make your seemingly puny task more challenging by going beyond the stated requirement or aiming to finish it sooner than expected.

Other Tips:

Give Yourself a Break

We all have the instinct to be drawn to something out of the ordinary. You may have difficulties writing your first sentence and you have been at it for 3 consecutive hours. You just could not figure out how to start fixing your room and you have been staring at the mess for 15 whole minutes. There are times when you indeed need to snap out of it and take a cup of coffee to psyche yourself. Nonetheless, you ought to be wary that the coffee break or power nap will not distract you from your goal. Make an honest promise to go back to serious work after the 10 to 15-minute icebreaker.

In addition, use this time-out to identify the crux of your demotivated state and solve it. For instance, you may have been unable to get on with it because you are simply tired, hungry, or angry. In relation to Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” theory, we are only motivated to pursue more idealistic goals such as integrity, actualization, and relationships after we satisfy our basic needs such as food, air, and rest. Just like machines, we need to push that reset button to be able to function more smoothly.

Call a friend

As social beings, there are times when what we need is that extra support from a peer. Starting a business with a partner can be less daunting; planning a party with a friend can be more productive, and doing laundry with the friendly neighbor can actually be fun!

Yes you can!

The aforementioned discussions will remain to be abstract thoughts without your confidence in achieving them. Anxieties and doubts kill creativity, courage, passion, and all the other good things that can bolster your motivation.


Mantras have been proven to change behavior as they tap into your cognitive aspect which can direct your emotions and actions. Self-affirmations have not become popular for no reason. Having a pep talk with yourself may look ridiculous so make sure to do it privately or mentally when in a crowd.


Albert Bandura’s work on self-efficacy delves into the role of the belief in one’s abilities regarding a certain task. If your self-efficacy is lower than your actual ability, you will not be motivated to perform optimally and may shortchange yourself by performing below what you can realistically achieve. This is what we usually watch in talent competitions where coaches bring out the best of the contestants by helping them to believe in themselves. On the contrary, when the level of self-efficacy is way higher than the actual ability, too ideal goals may be set and the resulting failure would lead to demotivation. It is best to have self-efficacy levels that are SLIGHTLY ABOVE the actual abilities in order to have optimum outputs.

Life happens whether you like it or not. With the above-mentioned tips, you can now figure out a system for each unique struggle.


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