Motivation

Defined

Motivation is a complex state of mind, as well as a set of specific behaviors, that we can use as a tool to help meet a particular goal or help us live out our personal values and beliefs (Wasserman, 2020). Motivation is considered to be a prerequisite to behavioral changes that improve health and wellness, and while others can help us find our motivation, the power behind it comes from within (Douaihy, 2014).

Motivation can be intrinsic, where the behavior is desirable because we derive joy or pleasure from it, or extrinsic, where the behavior is desirable because some external factor, like social validation, may come from it. Because of the incredible influence that social environments have on the adults we become, motivation is largely tied to how we see ourselves, and more importantly, how we see ourselves within our community (Ryan, 2000).

A broad range of social theories have been linked to motivation in order to help understand what it is that causes us to use certain behaviors, and what stands between desire and physically meeting our goals (Ryan, 2000). Our most primitive human motivations - access to food, sleep and safety, are described in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is only once those primitive needs are met, that we are then able to seek out more complex needs within the hierarchy - including social belonging and maximizing our own potential (Potter, 2020).

Self-perception theory offers insight into how our motivation is influenced by the way we perceive and interpret our own behavior, as well as by the words we say out loud when discussing our goals. This theory shows that we can derive a positive sense of self worth from acting, and describing our actions, in a way that is aligned with our personal values and beliefs (Douaihy, 2014). 

Self-efficacy theory describes how our personal belief in our own ability to complete a task determines how likely we are to attempt it, and how likely we are to work until completion. Meaning, if we are convinced we can accomplish something, regardless of whether we have the tools and resources to do so at the time, we are more likely to make a dedicated attempt to follow through (Douaihy, 2014). 

Self-determination theory expands on the insights above to show how motivation in adults is also thought to center around three specific psychological needs. Personal autonomy, social connectedness, and a desire to be competent at a chosen skill. When we are able to satisfy these three needs through our words, our thoughts and our behaviors, the result is an improvement to our mental health, overall well-being and success in our chosen endeavors (Ryan, 2000). 

Interestingly, self-determination theory also sheds light on what it means to experience a lack of motivation. Amotivation can be rooted in feelings of inadequacy, or a belief that the environment is heavily monitored and rewards are given only for certain behaviors that maintain the status quo. Someone with these beliefs may then only act in a way that seeks rewards or avoids punishment, without factoring in their own personal needs or desires (Otundo, 2020). 

A free worksheet on building motivation is below. The purpose of this worksheet is to use self-reflection, positive use of language, and perspective reframing in order to create a clear, structured pathway toward achievement.

We're not trying to find the right answer to, solve, or otherwise fix a problem. Instead we're creating the opportunity to view our values, beliefs and goals through a positive lens and improve our confidence in our ability to accomplish what is important to us. 

 

Explore the questions from the worksheet above in more detail below.

I want to increase my motivation to…

Here we consider a situation in our life that we would like to work through and resolve, even if the resolution is partial. The topic may be health related (healthier habits, decrease symptoms of depression, spend more time outside), social (make more friends, improve an existing relationship, join a community), or personal (read a book, pass a class, improve a work experience). 

We can benefit from choosing a situation that is specific and manageable if this is our first time using this worksheet. This will help focus the effort needed to work through the following steps and provide us with a short term personal gain. This will help reinforce the constructive thought processes presented in the worksheet in a way that encourages us to apply it to even more complex challenges in the future. 

This goal has meaning to me because:

As we think about and fully form our goal, consider what parts of this particular action or behavior change add strength to personal values and beliefs. Does this goal help improve health? Live with more independence? Live more Honestly? Respectfully? Does it improve self-control? We consider how this goal will influence our future situation as well as our future self-assessment. We then think on how meeting this goal will serve our needs as well as the needs of those we care about (Douaihy, 2014). 

When I think about what I wrote above, the following feelings, thoughts and ideas about myself, my skills, and my situation come to mind: 

Take a few minutes to reflect on the emotions, opinions, or perspectives that the previous question may have dredged up. Make an effort here not to pass judgment on whatever arises. Be honest about what thoughts and feelings we have that may aid us in meeting our goal, or may be blocking us. For access to an emotion list, click here.

Some of the thoughts that come up may be surprising, or seem as though they don’t exactly align with the topic at hand. That’s normal and it simply means that this goal has both conscious and subconscious meaning to us.

There are no right or wrong answers here, this is simply a moment to allow whatever is influencing this goal to surface and find a place.

Actions I have taken in the past that moved me toward meeting my goal:

Now that we know what the goal is, and why it is important to us, the next step is to reflect on the actions we’ve taken that align with our goal. What are actions we have taken in the past that, if we were to take them again today, would help us move forward on our path? This is a moment to reflect on what has been going right and give ourselves credit for the small changes that can add up to big ones. 

I have the following skills, character traits, experience, recognition, family, friends and community that can help me meet my goal: 

This section of the worksheet offers a chance to reflect on the internal strengths, physical resources and external community available to us. The purpose being to create a sort of inventory of resources we can work with to get to where we want to go. 

Do we consider ourselves hard working? Creative? Trustworthy? Compassionate? Let's think back to a time when we were recognized by others as having a specific positive trait and include that. Are we good with computers? Team work? Encouraging others? Here we take some time to fully illuminate the positive aspects of ourselves, with a focus on our personal abilities and physical strengths. Think about our family or community as a resource, are there places or people we can go to for help if we need it? Consider including public services like the library or the food bank in this reflection. 

Negative self-talk may bubble up at this point and here we should avoid encouraging ourselves to use the strategy of avoidance in the short term. Let the thought rise up and then agree to deal with at a later time. Right now, the goal is building confidence and those negative thoughts aren't here to help. When the time is right to reflect on that negative self-talk, consider using the tools available through cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT is available by clicking here. 

Actions I can take on a daily basis that will help me meet my goal:

So far, we've reflected on the actions we've taken in the past that enhance our goal, and we've worked out what resources are presently available to us. Now, it is time to decide on actions that we feel are achievable and impactful toward reaching our goal. These actions can be small, like cooking a healthy meal once per week or reading 10 pages before bed. 

Consider the SMART acronym when deciding on these actions. The most useful actions written for this category are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time constrained (SAMHSA, 2021). For example, a smart goal may be written as ‘Every other day, I will spend one of my 15 minute breaks at work walking outside’.

Additional resources that would help me meet my goal:

This section of the worksheet is a place where we can describe resources we would like to build upon that will help us take the actions listed in the previous question. If we would like to walk at work, it may help to ask a pleasant coworker to walk with us. If we’d like to cook a healthy meal once a week, finding a good cookbook with recipes we enjoy or joining a cooking class may help. If we want to read 10 pages each day, joining a book club may offer us a level of accountability and socialization that increases the likelihood we’ll be successful. 

Let's now reflect on the skills, character traits, experience, recognition, family, friends and community that we may wish to enhance in order to meet our goal. What internal or external resources would make the process easier?

Remember, try not to pass judgment on the reflections that come up in this section. Seeking to improve our circumstances, and opening ourselves up to be receptive to help from others, takes a great deal of strength.

Actions I can take in the future that will grow my additional resources include:

Using the information from the previous question, let's consider two actions that will be both achievable and impactful in connecting us to the resources we described above. Calling up a friend or coworker, searching for local or online book clubs that relate to our interests, or walking at home for 15 minutes a few times a week may help us reach our goal.

Just like previously, consider the SMART acronym when deciding on these actions. The most useful actions written for this category are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time constrained. For example, a smart goal may be written as ‘Every other day, I will spend 20 minutes researching recipes using the foods I like as search terms’.

If I accomplish my goal, I will feel:

Now that we’ve put in a great deal of effort defining our route to meeting our goal, let's take a moment to reflect on how exactly we will feel once we attain it. Identifying these positive future feelings, and keeping them in the forefront of our thoughts about our goal, will be helpful in maintaining focus and encouraging us to continue to take positive actions.

When I get discouraged, I will remind myself of the following affirmations:

Affirmations are positive phrases and thinking patterns that are useful in challenging self-sabotaging or negative thinking. In the event that we become discouraged from our goal for whatever reason, we can use affirmations to reaffirm our belief in ourselves, and our belief in the value of the goal we describe above. For help writing an affirmation that is meaningful, click here to visit the affirmations strategy page.

Identifying Motivational Blocks

Our social environments and community critically impacts how we see ourselves and assess our personal strengths and weaknesses. These environments can accurately predict how well we meet our basic physical and psychological needs both as children and as adults (Otundo, 2020). The behavior that our community presents to us as socially acceptable or socially rewarded defines our understanding of what is and isn’t possible, and the process of rethinking what it means to live authentically can become clouded by the limits pushed on us by our community. 

Ambivalence about something develops when there are strong feelings about the benefits and weaknesses of two approaches to a challenge. For example, eating healthier. We may fully understand that we’ll feel better without that second pack of chips, yet also understand that making a healthy meal will take time and energy to complete.

Ambivalence is a normal human reaction when addressing a change in behavior. If pushed toward one option, we may defend the need for the other option due to the desire to be in control of our major decisions. Ambivalence can cause us to reject the influence of others who we envision as not in a position to understand the full impact of the outcome (Douaihy, 2014). 

When looking inward toward our values, beliefs and personal goals, we may not feel a sense of empathy for our own needs, nor experience our own needs as acceptable or worthwhile. These feelings may come from internalized messages from our family or community, they may be rooted in fear, or they may have an origin that cannot quite be placed. Addressing these emotions positively is aided by both unconditional positive regard (click here for more information on unconditional positive regard) and the use of affirmations (click here for more information on affirmations) (Douaihy, 2014).