How to Get and Stay Motivated

Sometimes it is really easy to get motivated, and you find yourself wrapped up in a whirlwind of excitement. Other times, it is nearly impossible to figure out how to motivate yourself and you’re trapped in a death spiral of procrastination. This page contains the best ideas and most useful research on how to get and stay motivated.

This isn’t going to be some rah-rah, pumped-up motivational speech. (That’s not my style.) Instead, we’re going to break down the science behind how to get motivated in the first place and how to stay motivated for the long-run. Whether you’re trying to figure out how to motivate yourself or how to motivate a team, this page should cover everything you need to know.

You can click the links below to jump to a particular section or simply scroll down to read everything. At the end of this page, you’ll find a complete list of all the articles I have written on motivation.

I. Motivation: What It Is and How It Works
What is Motivation?
Common Misconceptions About Motivation
II. How to Get Motivated and Take Action
Schedule Your Motivation
How to Get Motivated (Even When You Don’t Feel Like It)
How to Make Motivation a Habit
III. How to Stay Motivated for the Long-Run
How to Stay Motivated by Using the Goldilocks Rule
How to Reach Peak Motivation
What to Do When Motivation Fades

I. Motivation: What It Is and How It Works
Scientists define motivation as your general willingness to do something. It is the set of psychological forces that compel you to take action. That’s nice and all, but I think we can come up with a more useful definition of motivation.

What is Motivation?
So what is motivation, exactly? The author Steven Pressfield has a great line in his book, The War of Art, which I think gets at the core of motivation. To paraphrase Pressfield, “At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”

In other words, at some point, it is easier to change than to stay the same. It is easier to take action and feel insecure at the gym than to sit still and experience self-loathing on the couch. It is easier to feel awkward while making the sales call than to feel disappointed about your dwindling bank account.

This, I think, is the essence of motivation. Every choice has a price, but when we are motivated, it is easier to bear the inconvenience of action than the pain of remaining the same. Somehow we cross a mental threshold—usually after weeks of procrastination and in the face of an impending deadline—and it becomes more painful to not do the work than to actually do it.

Now for the important question: What can we do to make it more likely that we cross this mental threshold and feel motivated on a consistent basis?

Common Misconceptions About Motivation
One of the most surprising things about motivation is that it often comes after starting a new behavior, not before. We have this common misconception that motivation arrives as a result of passively consuming a motivational video or reading an inspirational book. However, active inspiration can be a far more powerful motivator.

Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Getting started, even in very small ways, is a form of active inspiration that naturally produces momentum.

I like to refer to this effect as the Physics of Productivity because this is basically Newton’s First Law applied to habit formation: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Once a task has begun, it is easier to continue moving it forward.

habit motivation

You don’t need much motivation once you’ve started a behavior. Nearly all of the friction in a task is at the beginning. After you start, progress occurs more naturally. In other words, it is often easier to finish a task than it was to start it in the first place.

Thus, one of the keys to getting motivated is to make it easy to start.

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