Is motivation just a feeling or is there a scientific basis for why we sometimes can’t achieve our goals. Join us on a deep dive into the science of motivation, how to harness achieve your goals and tips powered by meditation.
“I’ll do it tomorrow.”
“I don’t feel like working right now.”
“I want to work out but I don’t have the time.”
“I’d love to write a novel someday but I’m too busy.”
Do any of these sound familiar? If you’re one of the 70% of Americans who feel disengaged at work, then they probably do.
Many of us have goals and dreams that we want to achieve, but finding and sustaining the motivation to succeed in those goals can be elusive. There has to be more than feeling and willpower behind motivation.
What is Motivation?
Motivation is the desire to make progress towards a specific goal.
“Despite its obvious importance, empirical research on motivation has been segregated in different areas for long years,” writes educational psychologist Kou Murayama in his paper “The science of motivation“, “…making it difficult to establish an integrative view on motivation.”
He explains that the definition of motivation varies across fields. While social scientists may define motivation through a behavioral lense, neuroscientists might take on a more material neuroimaging approach. It’s no surprise that experts in their respective fields tackle the topic from different perspectives – which is why a multidisciplinary approach is necessary to tackle the science of motivation.
Murayama breaks motivation down into four categories, but we’ll be focusing on two specifically for the purposes of this article:
- Reward and Motivation
- Competition and Motivation
Reward and Motivation
Before we dive in, we need to understand the most general types of motivation:
- Intrinsic motivation comes from within:
- It’s pursuing a challenge without any outside pressure or rewards, but simply because it brings about a sense of internal satisfaction. For example, you might work out because you value a healthy lifestyle.
- Interestingly, research suggests that receiving a reward can make us less motivated to accomplish a task. In a study conducted at the University of Munich, two groups of subjects were given a simple game to play where one group was promised a monetary reward for completing a task and the other was not. The group that expected a reward showed less “voluntary engagement” than those who were playing for fun. They called this the “undermining effect” because the reward did not increase motivation.
- Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources, like material rewards, avoiding punishment or persuasion from others.
- Maybe a loved one gives us some advice and encouragement on writing a novel so we feel inclined to want to start it.
- Many of us look to others for advice on our problems, or when we’re feeling a lack of motivation, but two psychologists have found that giving advice is actually more motivating than receiving it. Lauren Eskreis-Winkler, a Wharton psychologist who studies motivation, and Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago Booth wrote in MIT Sloan Management Review “Although giving advice confers no new information to the advice giver, we thought it would increase the advice giver’s confidence.”
Competition and Motivation
When we are faced with competition, we find two different ways to motivate ourselves: performance-approach and performance-avoidance (Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996).
- Performance-approach motivation is focused on outperforming others. From this perspective, people orient themselves toward the positive outcome of achievement.
- Performance-avoidance motivation is the desire to avoid performing more poorly compared to others. From this perspective, the aversion to loss is more important than the gain itself.
The subject of competition and motivation is still in dispute since other factors such as; perceived competence, perceived difficulty, and fear of failure also come in to play.
Tips To Achieve Your Goals
Sometimes our goals can be so lofty that achieving them actually seems impossible— and the impossible can be pretty demotivating.
If you’re feeling this way about your goals, try these simple tips:
1. Find Your Why
Think of intrinsic motivation as your “why”—the thing that drives you. When you discover your “why”, the sum of all parts within that goal becomes inspirational instead of daunting.
Say you want to open a restaurant. What is your “why”? Because you love to entertain? Because you have worked in the industry and think you have what it takes to run your own place? Maybe you have a strong family connection to a certain type of cuisine and want to share that with others.
Already, you’ve gone from the seemingly impossible goal of “opening a restaurant” to a more inspiring one, like “open a Haitian restaurant using my grandmother’s recipes because it brings me joy to share food that I love.”
2. Chunk Your Goals
Tony Robbins explains that having a goal in mind isn’t enough. You need to create a plan. The way you can do this is by writing down every milestone that you will need to accomplish before reaching your goal, and breaking those milestones down into more manageable tasks – or chunks.
From here, you can not only revisit your plan to track progress, but those small accomplishments along the way will provide a hit of dopamine to your reward center, keeping you motivated to continue the journey.
3. Develop A Routine
Sujan Patel explains in “The Science Behind Motivation” that “the more decisions we make, the more likely we are to become fatigued by these choices.” Essentially, motivation is more than using willpower.
It’s about creating routines that develop into habits. Once a behaviour becomes ingrained in your day to day, it becomes easier. Think of it as going on autopilot.
4. Eat The Frog
Once you’ve got your action plan, start with the most important task. Brian Tracy, author of “Eat That Frog” explains that successful people don’t try to accomplish everything on their list all at once.
Instead, they prioritize the most important task (or the thing they don’t want to do) and do it first. That might be going to the gym immediately after waking up or scheduling time when you get into work to tackle your least favorite task. By doing this, you develop discipline and learn to run towards challenges instead of shying away from them.
Motivation isn’t something that comes to you, you have to go find it, plan it, and action it. Set yourself up for success by discovering your “why”, mapping out your plan, putting routines in place, and meeting your challenges head-on!
Motivation Tips Powered by Meditation
Did you know Muse has a whole collection of guided meditations designed to help you get, and stay, motivated?
In the “Collections” section of the Muse app, you’ll find the “Motivation Collection”, a series of guided meditations by leading experts, including some Muse regulars like Emily Fletcher and Elisha Goldstein.
- In “Find Your Why”, author and mindfulness coach Palma Michel explains so many people think they don’t have enough willpower, but that actually we all do in the areas that matter most to us. She says that fitness goals are easy to achieve for someone whose health is their priority, but may be more challenging for someone focused on their career.
- “Releasing Self Doubt” with Chrissy Carter is an excellent guide to finding more confidence— in the face of others, at work, at home, or in personal relationships. Listeners choose an affirmation that inspires them to feel more confident in that specific place they wish to target. For Crissy, it’s “I am enough” but she explains that your personal affirmation can be whatever you want it to be, and that it can change based on your needs.