6 Simple Scientific Ways to Fire Up Your Motivation

From working at home to getting comfortable with juggling the blurred responsibilities of our personal and professional lives and responsibilities, the Covid-19 pandemic has obliterated most of our routines, and possibly interfered with our motivation.

Motivation tends to drop when you feel a deficit in three essential areas of life: your autonomy (your sense of your ability to direct your own life and choices), competence (your skills and abilities to handle challenges and opportunities as they arise) and relationships (the people you are connected to in life), Lora Park, associate professor and director of the Self and Motivation Lab at the University of Buffalo, shared with the CNBC Make It program.

The good news is there are simple ways to set up your life and re-establish a routine so that you might feel more motivated about your goals.

Here are some simple, research-backed ways to feel increased motivation in the days, weeks and months ahead:

Create Daily Rituals

A 2018 study out of Harvard University found that rituals — any predefined sequences of actions characterized by rigidity and repetition — increase people’s self-control and feelings of self-discipline (or autonomy).

“Rituals don’t have to be this elaborate thing, it could just be a very small routine that you do every day,” Park said. For example, putting your workout clothes beside your bed so you can exercise first thing in the morning is considered a ritual. So is taking time to meditate or walking your dog after work. Even spending a little time reading in the evening or watching the nightly news before bed can be part of your routines. The key is to make the time to do those things you care about or that bring happiness or relaxation a standard, consistent part of your day.

Over time, rituals automate your behavior, Park says. Once a habit becomes automatic, “it frees up your mental energy to then be able to focus on other things that require more time attention or energy,” she says.

Set Up Daily Routine ‘Cues’

We are all hard-wired to forge associations between ourselves and cues in the environment that trigger us to do something. This could be anything from knowing to answer a Slack message when you hear or see the notification to taking out your keys to unlock the door when you get home.

During unusual times that disrupt your regular routine like the Covid-19 pandemic, cues that would typically prompt you to do something (like walking into an office and feeling ready to get to work) have been disrupted. In fact, people who are working from home might be subconsciously confused by cues (like your refrigerator, couch or TV) that they would usually only encounter in the evenings or on the weekend.

Creating cues in your physical environment will help keep you on track, Lori Park says. For example, if you’re working from home, designate a workspace that signals “this is where I work, not where I eat a bag of chips”. That way, you’ll feel more professional and mentally prepared to work when you enter that space — and be able to disconnect when you’re in other places in your home.

Reward Yourself the Right Way

Rewarding yourself can help increase your intrinsic motivation or your desire to do an activity, Park says. However, research shows that the timing of the reward matters significantly in its effectiveness. You have to pair an activity with something that you find enjoyable to do during or right after the activity, she says.

For example, while you run on the treadmill, you could watch a favorite Netflix show as a “reward.” Or, you could have a treat like a cup of coffee or a piece of chocolate while you tackle a tedious work task. (The key is to make sure the rewards are not self-destructive, she adds. In that case, your reward can become a negative force by lowering your self esteem or increasing your self criticism).

Recognize and Celebrate Moments of Positivity During Your Day

Finding ways to cultivate positive emotions every day can have a significant impact on your mood, motivation and productivity, Park says. This can be as small as watching a funny YouTube video or as simple as sending a text to a lifelong friend, she says. Research has shown that experiencing positive emotions can improve your performance at work, as well as improve your physical and mental health, social relationships, community involvement and income.

Negative emotions, on the other hand, “tend to narrow your focus and make you not want to get out of your comfort zone,” she says.

Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

There are two main types of motivation that drive people: 

• intrinsic motivation, which is doing something for the pure enjoyment of the activity itself (aka “flow”), not focused on the outcome, rewards or even punishments; and

• extrinsic motivation, which is driven by external rewards or punishment.

“Your motivation can ebb and flow,” Park says. “So, you might start off very extrinsically motivated, but then over time as you get good at something, or it becomes part of your identity, then it becomes something that you truly enjoy.”

One thing that often gets in the way of motivation is when people internalize external pressure or feedback, and connect their performance to their self-esteem and ego, Park says. (In psychology, this is called “introjected self-regulation”). That’s because when your self-esteem and ego is wrapped up in your performance, negative feelings about yourself can hinder your ability to reach a goal.

So it’s very important to acknowledge where pressure is coming from and to cut yourself some slack.

Know What Triggers You

Everyone feels unmotivated sometimes, so it’s important to recognize what your triggers are, and adjust accordingly to help get your motivation back, Park says. For example, when you’re feeling overworked or burned out, and you’re lacking motivation, that can be a “screaming signal” that you need to slow down or take some time off, she says.

Another common trigger for a lack of motivation? Getting negative feedback. “It can be very demoralizing, in many fields, when things are rejected or you get negative feedback, criticism or bad evaluations,” Park says. In those moments, you may feel like your ego has been threatened. “One way to naturally rebuild the motivation is to put it away, do other things and then come back to it,” she says.

Research has shown that having a very specific and concrete a contingency plan for these moments when you feel your motivation dip can be effective, Park says. “Create a script in your head of what you’re going to be doing,” she says. “It’s kind of automating your behavior so that you don’t have to like completely paralyzed in that moment.”

Finally – a great way to set boundaries and maintain balance between work/life is to join the Silicon Valley Business Center and get out of the house completely as frequently as you need to. We have a huge variety of membership options to fit your needs – so contact us today to schedule a tour either in person or remotely by Zoom!