What Motivates You In Life?

What gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning? Do you drag yourself out from the coziness to pour some coffee down your throat and just move from task to task from there? Or do you look further ahead to the presentation that you have to give that day or a lunch date with a good friend?

Maybe you can’t even pinpoint what motivates you in life. Perhaps it’s just a spark that fills you up without a need to be named. Or do you follow your inner wisdom and know that you’re on the right path?

It’s possible that you don’t feel motivated at all. You lug yourself into the shower and head to work with complete drudgery. You come home, eat dinner, go to sleep and do it all again the next day. You’re not really motivated; you’re simply putting one foot in front of the other.

What Motivates You in Life? Are You Working For the Money?

Is money your main motivator? Although many people would say that they work so that they can have financial freedom, that’s not necessarily what happens when you increase your income.

According to a Nielsen Survey, 25 percent of families that earn at least $150,000 per year still live paycheck to paycheck. Half of those who make $49,000 per year or less don’t have extra money to throw around.

Do you plan to work until you have enough money to buy you an unlimited amount of leisure time? If so, you may never feel consistently motivated.

There’s a difference between earning a decent income and saving money. Many people who work hard and get paid well don’t have a plan for saving, investing or retiring. They end up working hard their entire lives without reaching their ultimate goal, which is to sit back, relax and enjoy their earnings. They end up being motivated to pay the next expense that comes up, and they don’t really make the most of their lives.

Experts also say that money is not the best motivator. Most people who start their own businesses do it because they want to build a legacy, not because they want to make millions. The money is a happy bonus.

Money is often a byproduct of other objectives. Research has found that money is not the best motivator. Factors that influence behavior more than cash include:

  • Status
  • Autonomy
  • Connection
  • Fairness
  • Pride
  • Emotions

That doesn’t mean that money is not an influencer. It promotes self-serving behaviors that provide quick gratification. But money isn’t the biggest motivator in life. That’s why you want to sleep in on work days and wake up early on the weekends.

If you’re getting out of bed to follow a passion, you’re much more likely to be excited about it.

Money is the Way to Get What You Really Want

While you might think that money is the goal, it’s just a means to an end. If money motivates you, ask yourself what extra funds can bring you.

In other words, how would your life be better if you reached your goal income? What would your life look like if you were making bank? Perhaps the following would be true:

  • You would travel more often
  • You wouldn’t worry about paying your bills
  • You would have more time to spend with your friends and family
  • You would be able to pay for conveniences
  • You would have more time to spend doing what you love to do
  • You would feel accomplished
  • You would feel proud

Therefore, money isn’t always what you really want. It’s a tool that can make some of your dreams possible.

To consider how this fits into your life, consider doing a journaling exercise. Write down the amount of money that would make you feel successful. Then, write down what would be possible for you if you had the money.

Finally, ask yourself if there is anything on the list that you can accomplish now. Let’s take some examples from the list above.

If you think that you need money to travel more often, ask yourself how you can work that into your life now. Can you take weekend road trips to visit friends? Can you go on a day trip to the beach?

If you worry about paying your bills, consider taking steps to create a budget so that you’re fully aware of the funds that go in and out of your bank account. When you know what you need to make in a particular week to satisfy your expenses as well as miscellaneous purchases, you might not worry about paying bills anymore.

You might think that you don’t have time to spend with friends and family because you’re so busy working. Without changing your job or income, consider taking some time each week to connect with someone who is important to you. Reach out by phone or invite a friend out to coffee on your lunch break if you’re pressed for time.

Is Desire Enough of a Motivator?

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would do anything to get it? Maybe you were at your heaviest weight and none of your clothes fit comfortably. You told yourself that you were completely motivated to make a change.

You ate healthfully and exercised for a few days. But eventually, you feel back into your old habits. In this case, desire was not enough of a motivator to help you achieve your goals.

Desire is a potent instigator. However, desire is not an effective motivator.

When you set off on your path, you might have a great deal of momentum. However, as obstacles arise, desire doesn’t always give you the motivation that you need to deal with them.

One way to look at this is to consider that those obstacles kill your motivation. To navigate hurdles, you need to keep regenerating your motivation. Desire alone isn’t usually enough to renew your motivation.

Desire is a great way to get your flame burning, though. Use it as an initiator. When you feel the urge to do something, follow it.

Find Your Why

However, before you start taking action, move to the next step in revving up your motivation: why you want this in the first place. This is a question that can—and should—take you down a rabbit hole.

Katherine Keller, the author of this Entrepreneur article, explains that it’s like dealing with a child who won’t stop asking “why.” She describes her own story.

She set a goal to make $10,000 a month. She thought that her “why” was because she wanted to pay all of her bills, put money aside to do fun things with her family and have enough left over to save for the future.

Those are great reasons to want to earn money. However, when she dug deeper, Keller realized that she wanted to be able to create this financial security because she wanted her kids to feel safe and have fun.

She hadn’t grown up knowing that she would always have this type of security to come home to. She didn’t want her kids to have to experience that.

Upon further reflection, Keller also realized that the clock was ticking. Her son was going to be out of the house in eight years. She wanted to be able to give him the fun and safety that he deserved as soon as possible.

As you investigate your “why,” you’ll probably come up against some intense emotions. Those are helpful. Developing a story that pulls at your heartstrings will help you stay strong when you’re facing obstacles. Your “why” will keep you focused when your path feels incredibly difficult.

In other words, a strong “why” will keep you motivated.

Celebrate Your Wins

Our society is quick to punish people for bad behavior. This mentality trickles down to individuals.

Think about the last time you didn’t accomplish something or made a poor judgment. Did you punish yourself in some way? Usually, we don’t even realize that we engage in negative self-talk on a daily basis.

Do you give yourself recognition for doing things well? You probably get excited when you get a raise or rock a presentation at work. But you might not pat yourself on the back for being on time for work or making yourself a healthy dinner when you’re exhausted after a long day.

We often lash out at ourselves for small mistake. But we don’t feel good when we accomplish a small goal. Therefore, we’re missing out on feeling the rewards that can keep us motivated.

The Harvard Business Review reported on a study that they conducted to look into business performance as participants worked on certain projects. The participants were asked about their moods, motivation levels and other factors associated with their work days.

The results were very interesting. The difference between a good and bad day at work was progress vs. setback. People had the best days when they felt like they were progressing. They said that they had the worst days when they experienced a hindrance or obstacle.

On the days that they saw progress, people were in better moods and more motivated. They were also more interested in the work itself. In general, they were happier on those days.

Setback days made people unhappy. They also made people less motivated. A setback could cause people to withdraw from the work altogether.

It’s fascinating to note that the feeling of progress didn’t come from completing something major. Progress happened when small wins were recognized. A minor celebration could be something as insignificant as figuring out why an IT problem was occurring.

Events that only had a minor impact on the project as a whole had a major effect on motivation. In other words, small wins can bring about huge gains in motivation.

It’s easy to get into the habit of celebrating your wins. At the end of each day, write down three things that went well. It’s that simple to rewire your brain to notice the positive instead of focusing on the negative.

Become Addicted to Progress

As you pay attention to the things that you do well every day, you’ll get a boost of dopamine. We talk more about that below. For now, all you need to understand is that this brain chemical is associated with rewards.

It is the same chemical that’s released when you have an addiction to something potentially unhealthy, like alcohol or gambling. By rewarding yourself for good behavior on a regular basis, you can become addicted to progress.

This practice is something that Jerry Seinfeld discovered as he came up with a method to improve his discipline when it came to writing. He calls it “Don’t Break the Chain.”

The idea behind this concept is that you can be motivated just by creating a chain of events that you do every day. Seinfeld decided that he wanted to write every day.

When he did, he would mark off that day on the calendar. Soon, he realized that it became important to keep that chain of marks going. He kept writing because he didn’t want to break the chain. If you practice this motivation method, you might find that it becomes more difficult to quit than to keep going.

The Science Behind Motivation

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be more motivated than others? Now that we’ve talked about motivation from a perspective that you can relate to, we’re going to bring some science into it. Researchers have found that motivation comes from a region of the brain called the nucleus accumbens.

Neurotransmitters send chemical messages from your brain to your body. Some of these neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, help transform thoughts into actions.

Dopamine follows a reward pathway that goes through the nucleus accumbens. High levels of dopamine in this brain region alert us that we’re going to feel good if we take a certain action. In other words, the chemical messenger delivers a reward before we perform the pleasurable task.

In other words, it encourages us to do something that we predict will feel good. Dopamine also prevents us from taking risks that could result in negative consequences.

Scientists have noticed that people get a dopamine surge when they’re feeling particularly stressed or hurt. The dopamine may help to mitigate the pain.

People who might identify as achievers tend to have higher dopamine levels in the areas of the brain that influence motivation and reward. Those who may be seen as slackers have more dopamine in the brain regions that are linked with risk and emotion.

According to Science Daily, dopamine is released to either urge us to act or avoid something negative. Although researchers used to believe that dopamine was released once we experienced pleasure or satisfaction, now they’re realizing that it may be a tool that we use to follow through with our desires.

In other words, dopamine is a motivator.

Boost Your Dopamine Levels to Increase Your Motivation

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to measure dopamine levels in individuals at any given time. However, you can use some tricks to get the dopamine flowing.

Dopamine is released when we accomplish our goals. Therefore, it’s important to set goals that you can achieve. These can be as simple as obligations on a to-do list or incremental goals that support your five-year plan.

The idea is to set up as many goals as possible so that you can continue to celebrate (and get a dopamine rush) as you achieve them. You don’t want to bombard yourself, though. Overwhelm can paralyze you and sap your motivation in an instant.

Make sure that your goals are reasonable and realistic. They should be minor enough that you can achieve them without struggling too hard but challenging enough that you grow every time you complete one.

You can enhance your dopamine levels in other ways. Some tips for naturally increasing dopamine are:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Meditating
  • Managing stress
  • Getting a massage
  • Getting enough high-quality sleep
  • Listening to music
  • Taking probiotics
  • Exposing yourself to sunlight

Do Less To Become More Motivated

Many people will tell you that they feel more motivated when they’re up against a deadline. If they have a paper to write within three weeks, they might ignore it until three days before. At that point, they feel a fire to get it done.

They tackle it with extreme focus and single-mindedness. They get it done quickly and efficiently.

These types of people are often not convinced that they can schedule their lives to work like this without the pressure that comes from completing the task at the last minute.

The reason that they finished their project so efficiently isn’t necessarily because they were under pressure. It could be because they were focusing on one thing.

The research behind this concept is not conclusive. It seems that some people really are addicted to the last-minute rush. They are sensation-seekers, and they may rely on stress to give them the stimulation that they crave. Those people might consider elevating their dopamine levels in the ways described above so that they don’t have to rely on procrastination to make them feel good.

But many people simply believe that they work better under pressure. Because of this, they don’t even try to start a project sooner. So their reality isn’t that they work better under pressure. It’s that they only work under pressure.

If they attempt to give themselves more time to complete a project, they come up with plenty of excuses to procrastinate. They may tell themselves that they have more time than they thought or that they’ll work better tomorrow, when they’re in the mood. These beliefs aren’t necessarily true; they’re just ways of justifying putting something off.

Stop Multi-Tasking to Gain Motivation

The fact is that when people are under pressure, they are usually hyper-focused. If you have a term paper due tomorrow, you’re probably not going to worry about the test that you have next week or the laundry that’s in the dryer.

On the other hand, if you start your paper with plenty of time to spare, you might give yourself breaks to fold your laundry or get started on other schoolwork. You multitask, which doesn’t make you feel very efficient. Because you probably punish yourself in some way (usually by judging or shaming your lack of focus), you turn off your motivation.

That motivation doesn’t experience a resurgence until the clock starts ticking. But if you wait until the pressure is on, you might work yourself into exhaustion.

Can you train yourself to work with plenty of time to spare? You can, but you’ll have to change a lot of old habits, including your limiting beliefs and negative self-talk.

One way to change these patterns is to stop multi-tasking. Although completing a lot of projects in one day can make you feel accomplished, it is likely to lead to burnout. Plus, you’re probably not getting as much done as you think.

First of all, your brain can’t really multi-task. You can only think about one thing at once. When you’re multitasking, you’re jumping back and forth between more than one thought.

Talk about grueling! Doing this can also damage your brain, impairing your emotional and cognitive control.

Plus, when you’re trying to get everything done at once, you’re probably not very excited about the task at hand. Your mind keeps drifting to all of the other projects that you have to complete.

Training yourself to have a single focus can help you stay motivated. Imagine if you woke up in the morning and had only one thing to check off your to-do list. You could immerse yourself in it, doing all of the creative brainstorming and action steps that would be necessary to get it done. When it was checked off the list, you could move on to the next obligation.

Being able to devote all of your faculties to one task is rewarding. You might feel like you can finally show off your skills because you aren’t splitting them between various responsibilities.

Don’t Neglect Your Body

We’ve talked a lot about the psychological side of motivation. But have you ever noticed that you’re more motivated when you feel good?

A dramatic way to illustrate this idea is to think about how you feel when you’re sick. You don’t want to do anything. Even the thought of tapping out a text to ask for someone to bring you chicken soup can seem daunting.

Conversely, how do you feel when you’ve just come back from the gym? You’re probably alert. Your mind is clear. You have energy.

You’re ready to go.

Staying healthy and making sure that you give your body what it needs can keep you motivated even when your mind is trying to tell you otherwise. Everyone is different. Although some diet gurus make big claims about what kind of nutrients are best for you, you might want to experiment to determine what makes you feel good.

You may consider:

  • Eating more or less clean protein than you typically do
  • Trying a plant-based diet if you currently eat meat
  • Consuming some animal protein if you’re a vegan or vegetarian
  • Drinking more water
  • Consuming less caffeine
  • Eating more vegetables
  • Staying away from highly processed foods and artificial chemicals

Pay Attention to Your Body Language

Your body language may also affect your motivation. In a 2012 Ted Talk, Ann Cuddy said that your body language shapes who you are. She said that standing in a posture that exudes confident can help you harness your own self-assurance even when you’re feeling timid.

Cuddy calls this “power posing.” The idea behind it is that taking on an expansive posture makes you feel powerful.

Try it yourself. Stand in the middle of the room with your legs spread, arms out, and head back. Make a note of the way that you feel.

Now, sit down in that same spot. Hug your arms around your chest, and tuck your chin to your chest. How do you feel?

Studies on postural feedback show that it can influence many areas of life, including:

  • Job interview performance
  • Food intake
  • Hormones
  • Motivation
  • Learning
  • Leadership behavior

Next time you’re feeling unmotivated, try it yourself. To take on a power pose, keep your body open instead of hunched. Focus on expanding your chest and maintaining a straight spine. Don’t slouch.

Spread your arms. Take up space.

Holding a pose like this for just two minutes may increase your testosterone. This hormone is associated with confidence. Boosting your testosterone levels may also reduce stress.

Bringing awareness to your emotions and your body can help you find motivation in life. Finding your why, celebrating your wins and rewarding yourself frequently can make you feel like you have a purpose.

Motivation isn’t about the tasks that you complete; it’s about moving through life with purpose. When you have a reason to get up every morning (and your body and mind feel great when your alarm goes off), you’ll be more likely to grab life by the horns.

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