Six strategies to improve your motivation

Motivation is different for each and every one of us. It is influenced by our personality, preferences, past experiences, how we were raised, our current situation as well as our own and other people’s expectations of us.


There is no right way to ‘do’ motivation, but we can figure out what works for us and learn to use that knowledge to construct our own, tailor-made motivation strategies. Some of the following suggestions will suit you more than others, but if there is something in your life that you would like to feel more motivated to do, give them all a go and see which you can adapt for yourself.

1. Say what you want in positive terms

We often strive to do something that we are describing as a negative such as, stop smoking, lose weight, or leave this dead-end job. Goals expressed like this give us nothing to aim for. I mean, imagine going into a restaurant and when asked for your order you say, “I don’t want chicken.” I’m guessing you would get a surprised look, and are unlikely to get a meal, never mind one you want to eat.

Our brain doesn’t process negations, so when we use the word ‘don’t’, it basically ignores it. As in the example of saying you don’t want chicken in a restaurant, there is no obvious outcome to aim for. What we are left with is an intention vaguely related to something like smoking or eating, so your brain is likely to assume you must want a snack or a cigarette! Guess what happens next?

To rephrase these goals in a positive way, instead of losing weight we might say, “I want to fit into a smaller size of clothing”, or instead of stopping smoking, “I want to save the money I was spending on cigarettes for a holiday in the autumn.” Or instead of trying to leave a job, “I want to find a job I enjoy.” Take a moment to check if you can state your goals and intentions in terms that describe what you want, rather than what you don’t.

2. How do you see this activity?

We always talk about motivation as being an active process, which implies that not doing something is a passive act. However, not doing something usually also has an active component, just not in the right direction.

For example, I once worked with an actor I’ll call Sarah who wanted to feel more motivated to do her annual accounts. I asked what she thought of when she imagined sitting down to do her accounts. She thought for a moment then shared that she saw herself in a gloomy, dark room, with a heavy feeling in her whole body, like she had weights attached to all her limbs.

I asked what she thought of when she felt motivated to do something. She loved to exercise and described how when she thought about exercising, she was in a bright happy place, feeling energised and knowing she would feel great afterwards.

You can see that Sarah didn’t just fail to prioritise doing her accounts, she had imagined this task as such an awful experience, that she was actively avoiding it.

Sarah agreed to play around a bit with this and when she introduced a bit of light and lightness to her imagined scenario of doing accounts, she laughed and said it immediately felt more appealing to do.

We all do versions of this. We think about doing something and either use our motivating strategies, or our demotivating strategies to proceed or not. Take a moment now and think about what in your life you would like to do differently. Then pause and consider how you are thinking about it. Are you imagining it as an exciting or helpful activity or an unappealing punishment exercise? Think of something you always feel motivated to do. What are the differences between the two? If you notice obvious differences, like the example above, try adjusting an element or two from the motivated to less motivated and see if they make a difference. You can always change them back if you prefer.

When we hesitate to brush up our CV or apply for a new job, we might be imagining wasted effort or rejection. If we could instead see this effort as another step towards our ideal career move, rather than making it about getting a specific job it feels more appealing. It takes the win/lose element out of it and makes it a constructive task on the path towards that overall desired career destination. Then instead of focusing on how hard the next step is, you remain connected to the overall purpose and experience higher levels of motivation.  

3. Is this even something you want?

Sometimes we avoid taking action because we simply don’t want to. I have worked with people who have come to realise that the career they are struggling to pursue was someone else’s well-intentioned dream for them, a parent, teacher or partner. When they have really thought about it, they want to do something else entirely.

It is always good to think about why you are trying to do something when part of you is seriously resisting. If it is what you want to do, then you can examine more closely what is stopping you, which can be anything from lack of confidence, lack of qualification or not having the clarity to take the first step. All of those you can do something about.

If you realise it is not something you want, you can make new plans around what you do want instead and stop putting energy into half-heartedly working towards something you are not committed to.

4. Is it within your control?

Another hiccup in motivation can be when we make our goal something we can’t actually control. For example, setting a goal like, “I’m going to get that job”, is not helpful because unless you are part of the recruitment process, the decision about who gets the job is completely out of your control.

What is within your control is to write the best application you can, research the job and company and prepare thoroughly for an interview. So a goal like, “giving it your best shot” is 100% within your control and if you do that, you can congratulate yourself for achieving what you set out to do, regardless of whether you get the job or not. And the effort isn’t wasted either way. If you don’t get this post, you will have done useful groundwork for your next application.

5. What are the downsides of doing this?

We don’t often consider the downsides of our goals, but subconsciously, if we have doubts or worries, we will likely quietly sabotage our efforts. So I highly recommend hauling your worries out into the sunlight and addressing them. Sometimes it’s the thought of success that scares us. Will I have to move? Will I lose my friends? Will I cope with the pressure? Am I good enough?

Sometimes the worries are practical, it may take too much time to exercise the way I want to, or if I change career now my friends and family will think I’m mad, or I don’t want to risk investing in this training in case I get into debt.

All of these are valid worries. When we admit to ourselves that our goal has potential downsides, we can do something about them. You can take smaller steps to test if this is the right choice. We can identify skills gaps we have that we need to address, or we can even decide that a slightly different path would be a better option at this time. We can talk to the people whose reaction is worrying us. Then if their reaction is unhelpful, you have got that out of the way and can decide how much that matters anyway.

Sometimes as soon as someone says their worry out loud, they laugh and say it is not a problem. But until they said it aloud, it was cycling around their head like it was a legitimate issue and it stopped them from taking action.

6. How will you know you have achieved your goal?

Staying motivated is helped by seeing progress, so how will you mark that? Identifying milestones and setting short-term and longer-term goals can let you clearly mark out your progress. It is very easy to forget what you have achieved to date, but when you are tracking it, you have evidence. We often disregard how far we’ve come, it’s as if we shrug off completed steps and keep the focus on the road ahead. But tracking progress and reviewing it regularly can be just what we need to maintain our motivation.

Is what you are working on something you want to incorporate into your life as an ongoing life change, such as healthy eating or regular exercise? Or is this something with an endpoint, such as reaching an income that gives you the lifestyle you want, or feeling fulfilled in your career, or having a secure plan for your future?

An endpoint can be important. I have worked with professionals who just focussed on getting the next promotion and the next one after that until they got themselves promoted away from the part of the job they loved. For example, teachers who left the classroom to become Heads, or nurses who left the wards to become managers or administrators. It’s always worth pausing from time to time to check that you are still working towards goals that are right for you at this point in your life.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful, however, know that I have barely scratched the surface of the topic of motivation, so remember that another great option is to find a coach who can work with you and your specific situation to help you develop your motivation skills.

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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Written by Muriel McClymont, Leadership, Confidence and Resilience Coach
London SW19

With over 15 years coaching experience Muriel works with clients to help them connect to and develop their Leadership, Confidence and Resilience skills.

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