Every day you probably have to do at least one thing you’d rather not do.
Maybe you have to finish a boring work project, or go to the gym again, or stick to your diet when you’d rather spend the day binging Netflix and eating Doritos.
Sticking to your long-term goals requires motivation.
But just like people, motivation is complicated! And understanding more about the science of motivation can help you stay on task at work and at home.
Psychologists have divided motivation into two types: Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation is when you are driven by internal factors: you do something because you find it fun or interesting or meaningful.
And extrinsic motivation is when you are driven by external factors: you do something because you’re getting paid, because someone tells you to, or because you’re receiving (or think you will receive) positive feedback from others.
Even though it seems like extrinsic motivators would be really effective (like, what could be a better reward than money?), most research actually shows that this isn’t the case.
Often, individuals driven by intrinsic motivations are more likely to stick with their long term goals
Studies show that intrinsically motivated people are more likely to keep exercising or quit smoking, or perform better in school than those driven simply by compliments, money, or a teacher’s praise.
In fact, providing people with extrinsic motivators like money may hamper creative thinking, making them worse at tasks that required problem-solving and out of the box thinking.
How can you use science to increase your motivation?
First, figure out what your intrinsic motivations are. What do you like?
What do you think is interesting or meaningful?
Let your intrinsic motivations be your guide!
For example, let’s say your goal is to exercise more often.
You’re more likely to stick with your goal if you do a type of exercise that you think is fun.
So skip the boring treadmill and try out a dance class or sign up for a volleyball league or play frisbee with your friends Studies have also shown that people who considered
an activity as “fun” rather than strictly “exercise” were less likely to compensate after with snacks and desserts.
So there’s actually multiple ways that fun physical activities could improve your health.
It can be harder to figure out your intrinsic motivations at work, but try to focus on what you like about your job.
Does your company work on issues that are important to you?
Do you enjoy being helpful to your coworkers or getting to solve problems?
Focusing on your intrinsic motivations could help you get through a particularly boring or difficult task at work.
Are you Still having trouble getting motivated?
It turns out motivation can be contagious!
You can increase your own motivation by surrounding yourself with other intrinsically motivated people.
In one study, students were taught by an instructor that they were told was either volunteering
(i.e. intrinsically motivated) or paid (extrinsically motivated).
Students taught by the volunteer showed greater interest and persistence in the activity,
suggesting that other people’s motivation can rub off on us.
So if you’re still struggling, perhaps it’s time to hit a crowded gym, a study group or a co-working space.
Ultimately, we can’t hack our brains to feel motivated all the time.
But by focusing on our intrinsic motivations – and surrounding ourselves with intrinsically motivated people – we can increase our ability to power through tasks and stick to our long-term goals.