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How to get motivated even when you don’t feel like it

28 Mar 2024 5 min read
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Ruby Liu MY

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Self-exploration
Psychology in everyday life
Workplace
Mental health 101
Community mental health

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What are you striving for? Is it your studies, your career, your family, love, a sense of purpose, or something else entirely? When your goals stand as guiding lights in the distance, leading you along your journey, have you ever considered the underlying motivation behind them? Are you pursuing what truly resonates with your heart's desires?

A team of academics from Cornell University conducted a comprehensive study on the psychology of motivation. They enlisted the participation of 449 individuals from various backgrounds, including students, gym-goers, and museum-goers. The researchers sought to understand their goals at the start of the year, encompassing areas such as career advancement, debt repayment, and health enhancement. They also explored the participants' perspectives on the importance and enjoyment associated with their goals. Two months later, the researchers followed up with the participants to evaluate their progress towards these goals.

The study yielded intriguing insights. It was observed that individuals who valued the enjoyment derived from the fitness process dedicated more time to their fitness activities, surpassing those who prioritized the long-term health benefits. Similarly, among university students studying in libraries, those who found the study content appealing devoted more time to revising. Interestingly, no significant correlation was found between the perceived importance of the study content and the amount of time invested in revision.

The study revealed a fascinating pattern: the influence of enjoyment on goal progress surpassed that of importance. In other words, experiencing greater joy in the pursuit of a goal was linked to increased perseverance. In the realm of psychology, this inclination to engage in activities purely for the pleasure and satisfaction they bring is known as "intrinsic motivation." On the other hand, when our actions are driven by external factors like financial gain, praise, or power, it falls under the umbrella of "extrinsic motivation".

Psychologists define motivation as the process of initiating and sustaining a behavior to achieve a goal, representing the driving force behind our actions. Deci and Ryan's (1985) self-determination theory categorizes motivation into three distinct types based on the degree of autonomy:

(1)  Intrinsic motivation

It stems from internal factors, such as personal interests, curiosity, satisfaction, and a high level of autonomy. It is when individuals engage in activities for the sheer enjoyment, meaning, or interest they provide. For instance, many people watch the manga series 'One Piece' because it excites them, or a cyclist takes pleasure in embarking on a bike trip around the island. Those driven by intrinsic motivation perceive the activities themselves as the goal, and they pursue what brings them joy, fulfillment, or fascination. They may become so engrossed that they lose track of time. Possessing strong intrinsic motivation grants individuals a sense of competence and autonomy, enabling them to make decisions and witness their gradual progress towards their goals.

(2)  Extrinsic motivation

It arises from external factors, where the action itself is seen as a means to accomplish a specific goal. For instance, when visiting the dentist, the visit itself is not the ultimate objective but rather a step towards achieving clean and healthy teeth. Extrinsic motivation can be further categorized based on the level of autonomy:

  • External regulation occurs when individuals engage in actions to obtain rewards or avoid punishment. For example, studying diligently to avoid failing a test.
  • Introjected regulation refers to actions driven by internal pressures, such as feelings of responsibility, fear, anxiety, or the desire to maintain self-esteem. It involves conforming to external expectations, although it may not align with one's authentic self. For instance, seeking a well-paying job to meet family expectations.
  • Identified regulation occurs when individuals willingly engage in activities because they understand and recognize their value. For example, reading and studying to gain knowledge and explore the possibilities of the world.
  • Integrated regulation involves individuals consciously aligning their own values with a task or activity. They combine their personal values with the pursuit of the goal. For instance, learning about different cultures and languages through geography and foreign language classes due to a genuine fascination with exploring the world's diverse cultures and people.

(3) Amotivation

It refers to a state where individuals lack autonomy and intrinsic motivation, resulting in a lack of drive or interest in satisfying their own needs. For instance, someone who is uninterested or unfamiliar with mathematics may feel completely disconnected from the subject matter, perceiving it as meaningless. In this state, the individual may struggle to find any motivation or purpose in engaging with the content.

Indeed, research has demonstrated that individuals with a strong intrinsic motivation for learning and work tend to exhibit higher levels of engagement and commitment. However, it is important to acknowledge that motivations in real-life situations are often a blend of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

For example, when it comes to studying, one's motivation can stem from the enjoyment of absorbing knowledge and the intrinsic satisfaction it brings. At the same time, the extrinsic motivation to pass an exam or meet academic requirements may also play a role.

Similarly, the motivation behind getting married can involve a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. While the desire to form a family and experience the joy of companionship may be intrinsic motivations, meeting the expectations of one's family or societal norms can be considered extrinsic motivations.

How to enhance motivation?

Self-determination theory suggests that intrinsic motivation and behaviour is based on three psychological needs, including:

  1. Autonomy: The ability of individuals to make their own choices and take action.
  2. relatedness: a sense of connectedness to others 
  3. Competence: the ability to demonstrate competence in a specific field.

When our goals meet these needs, motivation will naturally increase. When setting goals, we may consider these three directions.

  1. The Power of Personal Interest in Pursuing Long-Term Goals: When planning to achieve your long-term goals, it is advisable to select activities that genuinely interest you. For instance, if your objective is to establish an exercise routine and you derive enjoyment from being outdoors, appreciating the scenery, and basking in the sunshine, you might opt to go for a run along the seaside rather than working out indoors. By choosing an activity that captivates your interest, you will experience a greater sense of purpose and autonomy in your pursuit. Furthermore, consider inviting friends to join you in these activities. This not only fosters a sense of connection with others but also helps you build a supportive network as you progress towards your goals. Having companions alongside you can provide additional motivation and encouragement to stay committed and complete the tasks at hand. By combining your genuine interests with social support, you enhance your overall motivation and increase the likelihood of achieving your desired outcomes.
  2.  Finding Meaning and Purpose in Tasks: Often, we may find ourselves acting based on external motivations. However, it is also valuable to consider the intrinsic benefits we can derive from a task. Does the task align with our passions, interests, strengths, and goals? By identifying the relevance and value of the task, we can tap into our internal motivation, derive enjoyment from it, utilize our talents, and enhance our sense of competence.
  3.  Infusing Fun into Tasks: Listen to music, ask a friend to join you, and consider completing them at a beloved coffee shop or venue. Studies indicate that immediate rewards are more effective than delayed rewards in maintaining our motivation towards achieving a goal.
  4. Take a moment to acknowledge and savor the positive emotions that accompany immediate gratification while striving for long-term objectives. For instance, if your aim is to improve your fitness and well-being, you can accomplish this by adhering to a nutritious meal plan each day. You can make an effort to appreciate the pleasurable aspects of food, such as its freshness and natural flavors devoid of excessive artificial additives.

Discovering and embracing both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation empowers us with autonomy and a fervent passion for life. Intrinsic motivation arises from our inner desires and values, propelling us regardless of external factors. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from external rewards and recognition, driving our efforts in various areas. As time passes and experiences shape us, our motivation may evolve. It's essential to remain mindful of our evolving aspirations and align our actions with our authentic purpose. By doing so, every moment becomes a radiant spark illuminating our path to fulfillment.

Self-exploration
Psychology in everyday life
Workplace
Mental health 101
Community mental health
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Ruby Liu MY

Well-being Promotion Officer of Jockey Club TourHeart+ Project

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