Boost your motivation and feel engaged again

Boost your motivation and feel engaged again

Are you noticing that you do not feel motivated to sit down and start or continue with a task, even though you know that delaying it will make it even harder? The problem is that we cannot force ourselves to feel motivated. Instead, we can create the conditions to enable us to engage with our work.

What prevents us from feeling motivated?

Motivation is what moves us to do something. If we do not feel like starting with a task, we can reflect on the obstacles that prevent us from doing so. We may have a preconception about the task, for example, we may think it is not essential, or we may feel we do not have control or the necessary resources to do it well. Perhaps we are too focused on imagined adverse outcomes, so we delay getting started (Deci, 1995).

When we are tired, we do not have the energy to focus on work that demands sustained concentration and effort. It could also be due to our perception that the task is too complicated, and we do not know how to proceed. Sometimes, we may be afraid of making mistakes, believing that our work is not good enough, and  that we might fail to achieve our goal.

All these situations can be accompanied by worry thoughts that can distract us from considering alternatives to make progress. As a result, we may experience feeling stuck, which then triggers frustration and potentially affect our confidence in our ability to do good work, particularly when we anticipate negative feedback or potential negative consequences.

How can we restore our motivation?

Identify what is meaningful: When we know why we are doing the work, we can connect with the larger picture, and keep perspective. It helps to tolerate the day-to-day obstacles that get in the way. 

Be curious: We are curious individuals – novelty draws our attention, we want to find out what it is (Pink, 2009). To stimulate interest in the task by exploring its different aspects, and ask ourselves; “What other ways can I find to view this task or problem? What assumptions am I making? What evidence is there that supports/goes against my plan/action?”

Reframe the task: We can change how we view the task, not as something we are reluctant to do (an obligation), but as something we choose to do. We can then take a fresh look to understand the task: What makes it so hard? Do we need more information or guidance? Do need resources? 

It is important not to compare with others as we each have different skills and ways of doing things. Instead, reminding ourselves that learning new things takes time and that we will face challenges as we stretch beyond our comfort zone (Molinsky, 2017). With practice, the task will eventually become familiar, and by imagining the benefits of increasing our knowledge and skills, we can make an effort to get to work (Deci & Ryan, 2000).  

Build confidence in ability: Tap into your experience: “What similar situations may provide information for this task/problem?
To take action, we need to believe that we are capable, that we can make choices and decisions. Researchers refer to it as having an internal locus of control: we do something because we feel we have chosen to do it and believe we can persevere with our efforts (Deci, 1995). 

We like to be autonomous and feel that we make choices to do things that motivate us. It is the key to self-determination and resilience (Deci & Ryan, 1985). 

Practice self-compassionBeing kind to ourselves, like we are with our best friends. Self-compassion means acknowledging that we are human beings, that we can experience a range of emotions, including frustration, anger, sadness, and that this is part of our human condition. Then, as we work through our feelings, we can manage challenges and find a way forward (Gilbert & Choden, 2013).

Giving space to our emotions, without judgment, can help us manage them, and see them as a sign that something of value is at stake. They will indicate what matters to us so we can find a way to improve things (Neff, 2011).

A first step is not to evaluate our work while we are working on it. We can be very self-critical when we make a small mistake, or if we start to compare with how others seem to be doing it better. When noticing critical thoughts, we can take a moment to remind ourselves that the priority is to make progress. Then, take a break, and return to review it. Leaving the task for a while allows us to have some distance from it to evaluate it more objectively (Gilbert & Chidden, 2013). 

Strengthen confidenceWhen we have a sense of agency, we feel in control when facing a challenge. Self-efficacy is the belief in our ability to manage difficult situations, which allows us to tap into our resources to find a way to achieve our goals. 

By strengthening our confidence in managing challenges, we can build our capacity to respond more effectively (Bandura, 1997). It may include reaching out to those we trust for guidance and support, and who may offer a different perspective on the situation. By gathering information, we can build our resources and motivation to make the necessary changes to complete our task.

Redefine the meaning of failureIt can be disheartening when we realised that we made a mistake, or that we failed. We notice our motivation disappears, and we may feel reluctance instead.  

How we define failure makes a difference in how we react to events. What does the word failure mean to us? How do we define it? Perhaps as never being able to do things well? Or, not trusting ourselves to achieve results? Does it prevent us from taking action or pursuing our goals? Often it is not so much the mistake itself, but the consequences that may follow.

To respond to failure constructively, we can adopt a scientific approach that includes experimentation through trial and error. This method is an essential part of finding out about what works and what does not. 

We can then review the steps we took to identify where things went wrong to use the information to make adjustments to improve our work. Here, mistakes are an integral part of learning (Dweck, 2016).

Manage expectations: Sometimes, we have self-doubt or worry about our ability to achieve our goals. And at other times, we may think it will all be ok only to be disappointed because things did not work out how we expected. In some situations, external factors beyond our control can influence the course of events. 

Visualise the goalTo maintain motivation for long-term goals, it helps create mental representations of the goal we want to achieve, or the behaviour we want to change to make a new healthy habit (Baumeister, 1996). For example, imagine researching a project, then writing up some notes telling a story to a trusted person who will be understanding and interested in what we have to say—the more detailed the steps, the more likely we will follow through with the task.




Amabile, T. & Kramer, S.(2011) The progress principle: using small wins to ignite joy, engagement and creativity at work. Boston: Harvard
Business School Publishing.

Bandura, A/ (1997) Self-Efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change, and thrive in work and life. Great Britain: Penguin Life.

Deci, E.L. (1995) Why we do what we do. Understanding self-motivation. New York: Penguin.

Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (1985) Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behaviour.
         New York: Plenum Press.

Dweck, C. (2016)
Gilbert, P. & Choden, (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives.
Great Britain: Robinson.
Molinsky, A. (2017) Reach. How to build confidence and step outside your comfort zone. Great Britain: Penguin.
Pink, D. (2009) Drive. The surprising  truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead Books.

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