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Three Steps to Put Your Motivation on Overdrive

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There are many ways we try to motivate ourselves. We add incentives, promise ourselves rewards, and sometimes even use positive self-statements. But when it comes to motivation there are really only three things we have to keep in mind: Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose. I call this the MAP of motivation. Without these three core components, any attempt to motivate ourselves is usually short lived. So let’s take a look at how you can use the MAP to supercharge your motivation.



Anytime you are trying to change your behavior there is always a new behavior to be learned, assimilated, and integrated into your life. However, one thing that makes integrating a new behavior difficult is when we don’t understand it, or don’t feel confident doing it. Changing behavior is highly linked to self-confidence and self-efficacy (the degree to which we feel we are capable of change). And not surprisingly, the more capable we feel – and the greater our feelings of mastery – the better our motivation toward the change becomes. In order to build a sense of mastery into a new behavior, there are a few things we can do:


Learn Something

Let’s say you are trying to lose weight. How can you incorporate learning something that will help you with this goal? Perhaps you can educate yourself about the role of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) in energy metabolism, and practice altering your diet until your energy is at a peak. Or maybe you can learn about how to use strength training to build muscle and lose fat, and design a program for yourself that utilizes what you have learned. You can also use goals as learning incentives. For example, you can enter a running race (a 10K, half marathon, or marathon) and then devote yourself to learning how to train for the race. All of these are effective ways to turn the task of losing weight into an opportunity to learn something new, and ignite your motivation in the process.


Create a Challenge

Challenges are fantastic ways to draw upon our innate desire for mastery. In a competitive environment (even if we are competing with ourselves), we are naturally compelled to engage, perfect, and use our strengths to meet the challenge. Using the weight loss example from above, we can create a challenge to run (or walk) ten miles in one week. Or if you are already running (or walking) ten miles, you can increase the challenge to fifteen miles. Similarly, you can create a challenge to add to “double days” where you go to the gym twice in one day for one week. You can also use challenges to change eating behavior. For example, you can challenge yourself to see if you can eat no later than 6 p.m. all week, or if you can eat 200 fewer calories every day of the week for one week. Challenges like these turn the often dreary task of changing behavior into a fun game with challenges to be mastered.


Reach a Goal

Mastery is highly linked to setting, pursuing, and reaching goals. And goals themselves, are powerful motivators when they are used in concert with mastery. For example, choosing the goal of running a marathon (or 10K) that involves learning how to train for the race not only ignites the desire to reach the goal, but also the innate desire to grow and master new skills. Some other goals that incorporate learning are: signing up for a tennis tournament and learning how to perfect your tennis game; entering a bike tour and learning how to train for the event; signing up for a vacation that involves riding horses and taking riding lessons to prepare. Adding goals such as these shift the focus from how best to change behavior to how best to reach the goal – which does much more for our motivation.




Making important decisions – especially those that involve making a change – for many reasons is highly linked to a sense of autonomy. For one thing, people are much more likely to follow their own intentions than those of another person. Additionally, a sense of control over the decisions (and the process of change) is a crucial component of motivation. When we feel like the choices we make are in our control, and serve our own interests (as oppose to trying to appease someone else), not only do we feel a sense of ownership over them, but we are also much more motivated to do them. Here are a few way we can incorporate a sense of autonomy when we want to adopt a new behavior:


Choose Your Own Goals

Especially when you are trying to do something that you haven’t done before, it’s so easy to allow another person to choose goals for you. In some ways, it’s easier on you too – you don’t have to think about it. But autonomy depends on you making the decisions about what you want. And it starts with your goals. So let’s say you are trying to lose weight. Ask yourself where you want to be next week, next month, in six months, and in one year, and then set these goals for yourself. If others tell you your goals are unreasonable, that’s fine, they are not their goals, they are your goals. If you fail to reach them, you will look back, ask what you can learn and what you need to do differently, and then start again. The process is yours and when you take ownership of it, your motivation soars.


Choose Your Own Approach

Like goals, the methods we use to reach them are so easily influenced by others. Especially when you are trying to do something you haven’t done before, the easiest thing for others to tell you is how to do it. But when you follow another person’s methods – like goals – they become theirs, not yours. That is not to say that you can’t take instruction or advice – you certainly can – but ultimately, you must choose how you use that advice. For example, while you may seek the help of a personal trainer to lose weight, and this trainer teaches you the important parts of strength training and nutrition, you should not rely solely on the trainer’s advice. Instead, continue to educate yourself, incorporating useful aspects from everything you learn into something that uniquely suits you. Choosing your own approach in this way is a powerful way to take ownership over your goals, and ignite your motivation.


Choose Your Own Trajectory

Once you have met your goals, where you go from there is up to you. While others may tell you that the next best thing for you to do is compete in a race, become a fitness instructor, or a weight loss counselor, the life path you follow (your trajectory) is yours to choose. Ask yourself what is most important to you, what brings you the greatest sense of achievement, satisfaction, and joy. And go after it. If others tell you it is not right for you, or not possible, that’s fine. Maybe it’s not right for them. This is your life, and your path to follow. And when you follow it, so does your motivation.




Having a sense of purpose lies at the heart of everything we do. Purpose not only connects to something larger than ourselves, but also helps us to attach our efforts to those around us, in a way that makes what we do a contribution to the greater community. When we find a meaning beyond ourselves, transcending our self-interests, it gives what we do tremendous impact – not just for others, but for ourselves. Not surprisingly, people are much more motivated when they feel their efforts help others. Here are a few ways you can use sense of purpose to help shift behavior:


Ask Yourself Why What You Do Matters

Anytime we change a behavior or start something new, there are always questions, self-doubt, and ambivalence. What we are doing is new, and we are not yet sure it is right for us (or that we will be able to accomplish it.) It is when we ask questions like this that we most need to be aware of why what we are doing matters. Ask yourself, what will be different for those around you if you make a change, or what contribution you can make to those around you through this change. If your goal is to lose weight for example, maybe the perception of your children will be radically shifted when they see you work hard and accomplish something that is very challenging. Or perhaps, when you are able to finish your masters’ degree you will be able to work in a field where the lives of others will be changed through your efforts. Understanding deeper reasons such as these helps you see that what you do has a unique and specific purpose – which does wonders for motivation.


Ask Who You Can Help

Knowing that others are affected by our efforts is huge component of motivation. Especially when we see how what we do changes the lives of those around us, it ignites an innate drive within us to continue what we do. And this can be extremely useful when starting a new behavior (or anytime motivation wanes). So ask yourself, who can you help, or who are you best and uniquely equipped to advise, inspire, or counsel? Maybe by becoming fit, for example, you will feel distinctly suited to advise other people who face challenges like yours. Or perhaps, becoming fit will connect you with your talent for motivation and you will start groups to help others reach their goals. When you can attach your efforts to helping others, not only are their lives improved, but so is your motivation.


Ask What You Can Help Others Do

The more specifically we understand the ways in which what we do matters to those around us, and the more uniquely we can bridge our efforts to the goals of others, the greater our motivation becomes. Especially when we see that our contributions helped others to reach their goals, we feel driven to continue helping. To identify just what you can help others to do, ask yourself, what goals can you help those around you reach, what can you help people accomplish, or in what ways can you help improve the lives of others. Understanding just what you can help people accomplish not only connects you to their accomplishments, but also, very powerfully, to your own motivation.


So the next time you want to motivate yourself, you might think twice about the carrot and stick approach, and instead look for a little mastery, autonomy and purpose.



Claire Dorotik-Nana is the author of Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards. For more information on Claire or her work, visit

Photo by Neda Andel ~SLooK4U Blog

Three Steps to Put Your Motivation on Overdrive

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2015). Three Steps to Put Your Motivation on Overdrive. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Sep 2015
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