Motivation advice for this year? Celebrate the small wins

Motivation is a big topic at this time of year. Maybe you had a super productive January and you’ve really hit the ground running. Maybe you started strong and lost momentum. Perhaps you’re still waiting for your new year's motivation to materialise.


For the first time this year, I acknowledged to myself that I don’t feel good about a year that starts on January 1st. The first two weeks of my year were a chaotic tumble of deadlines and trying to get back up to speed after a Christmas break. Combined with a bit of illness, Mercury Retrograde and generally feeling sluggish because I was out of the routines that support me (and still living off roast potatoes and trifle).

It was only halfway through January that I stopped and actually did my intentions for the year. And it was also at that point that I spoke to a friend who said “Oh I always start my new year in mid-Jan - it’s the Gregorian calendar, works much better than 1st Jan.” Lightbulb moment.

But why do I mention this when I’m supposed to be writing about motivation?

Because motivation is not some 'one-size-fits-all, here’s the solution that will work for you because it’s worked for everyone' approach. It’s highly individual. It’s not something you can paste over a lack of self-knowledge. Yes, there are hacks and tools and habits that could potentially help anyone. But before I go on to outline some of those I feel like it’s really important for your starting point to be:

a) Do I know enough about how I work to understand how to motivate myself?


b) Am I connecting the dots between how I work and the motivation tools and techniques that I’m trying?

If the answer is no then the first thing you need to do is gain more knowledge of where your current approach to motivation has come from - otherwise everything else is going to be a big effort that will probably only result in short-term gains.

What is motivation anyway?

Motivation is often described as “the why” i.e. the reason we do something. But I think it’s actually more accurate to describe it as an internal process because it’s not just an intellectual thought or goal. It’s the motivation that stimulates us into action - it’s a trigger.

One of the reasons to ‘do the work’ on understanding yourself a little better before you start plugging into the motivational techniques is to get a clear sense of where your why is coming from. Because it’s all too easy to go charging off down a path, get halfway down it and realise it was being driven by something unhelpful – whether that’s a need to erase a past hurt, escape something, avoid something or not feel something. Get clear on your key drivers now and you’ll find it much easier to make long-term motivation a thing.

What do you know about dopamine? 

Probably that you like it. Because dopamine is a feel-good hormone that is all about pleasure. And it’s a neurotransmitter (often called ‘the happiness neurotransmitter’) that the nervous system uses to send messages between cells.

Dopamine gets released when we are expecting a reward - and that’s how you can use it for motivation. For example, if you associate going to the gym with feeling good, you’ll get a dopamine hit when you pack your gym bag. It’s also why we tend to be better at the things we genuinely enjoy - because we stick at them thanks to the dopamine that gets released when we think about them. In the case of the gym bag, this makes you motivated to go to the gym.

So, the real secret to sticking at something and being successful at it (i.e. to discipline, consistency and all those other resilience buzzwords) is to find out what you love about it and let dopamine do the rest.

What about these small wins then?

If you are looking to be more motivated in 2023 then this is one of the most powerful ways to do it: celebrate your small wins. According to research led by John D. Salamone and Mercè Corre, you will also get a hit of dopamine every time you make incremental progress or record a “small win.” When this happens, your body releases dopamine, which boosts your energy and perseverance. So, you are literally setting yourself up to succeed in the big things every time you note where you’ve succeeded in the small things.

This is one of those things that human beings dismiss often. Like self-compassion or taking things slowly, celebrating small things seems much less powerful and dynamic than going for it or smashing it. But when you put the dominant social narratives and Instagram memes aside the reality of how we tick is something very different. And when you learn to work with the reality of being human, you can change everything.

Other motivational tools

As I said at the start, we are all different and we are all going to need a different motivational toolkit. So, here are a few other tips and ideas to experiment with and try.

Stop procrastinating

This is both a habit and a form of self-sabotage. Because it’s a habit, you can change it by implementing another repetitive response. For example, start using the five-second rule where you give yourself five seconds from having the thought “I must do..” to starting to do the thing. Acting within that window will prevent your brain from coming up with reasons not to act and also start getting you into the habit of action instead of overthinking.

Stop forcing yourself

Have you ever struggled and forced and pushed and tried to do something or get somewhere and been unsuccessful - then the moment you stop, it happens effortlessly? Sometimes when you take that foot off the “I should” peddle you’ll find a natural internal motivation ("I want to") that is much more effortless and effective.

Take care of the basics

It doesn’t matter how many motivational mantras you have - or ‘proven’ tools - if you’re sleep deprived, not eating nutritious food, fogged by high consumption of sugar, alcohol, drugs, you don’t feel emotionally safe, you’re not leaving the house or not getting enough activity in your day, none of the rest of this is going to work.

Set your daily non-negotiables

What do you need to do every day to sustain momentum? Review these on a monthly basis and switch them up to support whatever direction you’re going in.

Establish some accountability

If you feel like you have issues with consistency, perseverance, discipline etc. then find a way to make yourself accountable for your progress so that you can start to improve on this. Coaching is a very effective way to do this - you’ll have actions to do between sessions that are designed to drive you forward. If you struggle to do them between sessions then we’ll delve into why - and that can create interesting insight into what’s really happening for you around motivation.

A coach like me will keep you on track, focused, excited and committed to your goals - and once you learn that it’s a process you can take forward into your life in a sustainable way. Book a free discovery call with me to find out how this could apply to your specific challenges.

Motivation is one of those things that can feel so out of reach when you’re struggling with it. But it’s actually a very simple response that anyone can access. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Winchester, Hampshire, SO23
Written by Alex Pett
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP certified coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She helps clients build confidence and self-belief, recover from burnout, develop self-assurance, intuitive connection and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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