Three Ways to Generate Self-Motivation

  • 6 mins read

Whether you’re the boss or working for one, the ability to self-motivate and be highly productive is increasingly important. In today’s competitive job market, you can’t expect to collect a paycheck for just showing up on time.

In the 1980s, at least 90 % of people worked for someone else. That’s changed; about one-third of people in U.S. work for themselves, either fully self-employed or as part-time freelancers.

  • In 2006 the Government Accountability Office produced a report that found that 31% of American workers were employed on some kind of contingent basis, including as freelancers, part-time, or temporary workers.
  • According to a 2014 survey by the Freelancers Union together with freelance platform Elance-oDesk, 53 million Americans, or 34% of the population, qualify as freelancers.
  • By 2020, more than 40 percent of the American workforce, or 60 million people, will be freelancers, contractors, and temp workers according to a study conducted by software company Intuit.

Regardless of employment status, successful people take the initiative, do whatever it takes, and go beyond minimal work requirements. They are self-motivated and able to find unique sources of energy that drive them to high performance.

How can you generate self-motivation and energy on those days when you feel tired, overwhelmed, or perhaps even bored? How do you tap into your determination and drive?

Isn’t All Motivation Self-motivation?

Motivation is a theoretical construct used to explain behavior, the reasons for people’s actions, desires, and needs. Motivation is what causes a person to want to repeat a behavior– as when we form habits.

There are many perspectives on motivation theories, and working adults are familiar with rewards programs, bonuses, and organizational incentives designed to encourage performance. But external motivation works only for a limited time and not in all situations.

Many people are familiar with Maslow’s Pyramid or Hierarchy of Needs. According to American psychologist Abraham H. Maslow, people are motivated by unsatisfied needs. The needs, listed from basic (lowest/earliest) to most complex (highest/latest) are as follows:

  • Physiology (hunger, thirst, sleep)
  • Safety/Security/Shelter/Health
  • Social/Love/Friendship
  • Self-esteem/Recognition/Achievement
  • Self actualization/Achievement of full potential (can never be fully accomplished)

While this list of needs explains why people become motivated, it doesn’t provide applicable tips as to how to use this information to boost your own self-motivation.  It is helpful, however, for linking meaningful values to goals, as discussed further on.

Self-motivation involves higher levels of personal involvement that motivate us beyond contracts or expectations of others. When we are driven to express our own desires, interests, values and strengths, we can achieve incredible levels of development and performance. It’s termed intrinsic motivation because it comes from internal sources.

Nothing is stronger than intrinsic motivation, and when we connect with it, we exert considerable effort without any expectation of reward. The performance itself becomes its own reward. When we use internal capabilities of self-awareness, self-regulation and self-motivation, we act in ways that enhance knowledge, trust, and personal power–all fundamental to success.

3 Steps to AWEsome Self-Motivation

The solution to finding self motivation, energy, and drive lies in tapping into three concepts represented by the acronym AWE:

  • A = Autonomy: Establish control and self-determination
  • W = Why: Link tasks to meaningful values
  • E = Establish choice: Make a small decision, then act on it

1.  Autonomy

A prerequisite to motivation is the belief that one has some degree of control over  actions, choices, and environment. When people believe they are in control, they work harder and push themselves more.

 “Autonomy is our human need to perceive we have choices. It is our need to feel that what we are doing is of our own volition. It is our perception that we are the source of our actions.”  ~ Susan Fowler, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging

As adults, we never lose the need for autonomy. Productivity significantly increases for blue-collar workers in manufacturing plants who are given the ability to stop the line. So does the productivity of white-collar workers in major investment banks who report a high sense of autonomy.

A sense of autonomy is so crucial to human needs that people who believe they have control over themselves often live longer than their peers.

2. "Why?" Link Purpose and Value to Tasks

If you want to stir up motivation and energy, ask yourself why a task is important. Why should you do this? Then ask the "So what?" question five times, drilling down to core values about why even the smallest of chores will lead to important results.

Unless you know the big picture reasons for doing something, you won’t be self-motivated. Knowing the "why" behind a task can turn any chore into a meaningful challenge because you associate it with a purpose, passion, or desire to be of service to others. It is often easier to make efforts for friends or family or for a cause greater than ourselves.

3. Establish Choice, Then Act

One way we prove to ourselves that we have control is by choosing and making decisions. To create self-motivation, take advantage of opportunities to make choices which provide a sense of self-determination.

This suggests an easy method to trigger the energy: find a choice; make almost any choice that allows you to exert control. For example, if you need to write an article, make a list of possible subtopics you want to cover. Or start by writing the conclusion. Whatever small choice you make will start the project and generate self-motivation and energy.

It’s the feeling of self-determination that gets us going. When we can link it to why it matters, to our noble values and sense of meaning, it is even more powerful.

There’s a lot of truth and wisdom in the 1930s Serenity Prayer that can be applied to almost any situation:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

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