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How to Self-Motivate?

Do not expect yourself to act like a robot. You are human. You can not just motivate yourself to do something anytime you or other people ask you to perform a task.

Having said that, what can you do? In this article I discuss a few potential ways to motivate yourself. See if they work for you. If they do not, do not force it.

1. Set specific goals.

For some people having specific goals is motivating. The key word is specific. If your goal is to have a “bikini body” by August or to “get ripped” by September, then your goal is not specific enough.

It is more helpful to be specific, to say that you want to lose 15 pounds, or 8% body fat, in three months.

A therapist friend of mine tells me that when she helps her clients set specific goals, they feel less anxious and more confident.

But at the same time, goals can worsen one’s anxiety. Why? As the deadline approaches, and as you realize you are not even close to achieving your goal, you get more anxious. So why did my therapist friend suggest setting specific goals can lower anxiety? Because she combined her suggestion with another, described below.

2. Set challenging but manageable goals.

The goals need to be specific but also challenging yet manageable.

What does that mean?

If I walk, on average, 45 minutes a week, setting a goal of walking only 15 minutes by next week, though specific, is not challenging enough. A goal of walking 450 minutes a week, on the other hand, is likely too challenging. A better goal might be walking for an hour next week, perhaps building to three hours of walking in a couple of months.

The specific numbers in this example are hypothetical, of course, and depend on the person in question, but the point is that we definitely want to push ourselves…but only a little. Why? Because, as mentioned above, if you have goals that you are unable to achieve, you are likely to feel worse about yourself, feel more anxious and more depressed.

I know, setting manageable goals is not as exciting as comparing yourself with a certain celebrity or some ideal body shape, and you might not be improving as quickly as you would have wished, but on the other hand, you are achieving your goals, feeling better physically and mentally, and becoming more confident. And so, you are more likely to keep going instead of giving up.

3. Reward yourself.

When you do well, you can reward yourself, for instance, by allowing yourself to spend 45 minutes playing a video game that you never get to, by treating yourself to a nice massage, etc. The reward needs to be something that you value but not something that you obtain regularly. If you play videos games for hours each day, an additional 45 minutes is not likely to mean much to you.

Note that sometimes rewards do not work; they can even make you feel worse. If you are about to give up rewarding yourself because you did not enjoy your hour of massage, first try a different kind of reward. For instance, what about going to the beach? A vacation with the family? Purchasing your favorite band’s record collection? Going on a fishing trip? Hiking? Gardening? An evening class in painting at the local community college?

4. Seek encouragement.

This can be encouragement from friends and family, but can also be from people online. For example, you can join forums related to the goal that you are trying to achieve (e.g.,weight loss, getting a college degree, etc).

In fact, just announcing your goals to others might encourage you to stick with your plans.

And when you take steps toward your goals, you can share that with others too. That is, do not wait till you have, for instance, lost all five pounds, but go ahead and tell your friends that you lost one pound this week. Let them congratulate you.

Of course I am not suggesting that you do something only to get encouragement. But encouragement from friends or from people online (especially in certain forums where the goal is to help each other) can provide you with motivating support.

5. Remind yourself why this goal matters to you.

Sometimes you might feel like giving up, so it’s important to remind yourself why you set this goal in the first place.

Ask yourself why does it matter to you to graduate? Why does it matter to you to lose five pounds? And so on.

Someone who lost considerable weight, for instance, said that he decided to lose the weight when the doctor warned him of an early death. This gentleman cared very much about his grandchildren and wanted to be there for them for many years, and that is what motivated him to start exercising and keep going.

So ask yourself why it is important for you to achieve this particular goal. Find a good answer. If you are not able to find an answer, maybe that is not the right goal for you.

How to Self-Motivate?

Arash Emamzadeh

Arash Emamzadeh attended the University of British Columbia in Canada, where he studied genetics and psychology. He has also done graduate work in clinical psychology and neuropsychology in US. Arash maintains a personal psychology blog and a blog for Psychology Today. Arash has a wide range of intellectual and artistic interests; he also maintains a poetry blog.

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APA Reference
Emamzadeh, A. (2018). How to Self-Motivate?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Jul 2018
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