Learn about motivation and how to feel more authentically motivated.
Motivation is an energizing force that drives you to take action. When you’re motivated, you feel excited and driven to start working towards a goal and to keep working towards that goal, even in the face of obstacles (Parks & Guay, 2009). It can even feel exhilarating to be genuinely motivated to work on a goal that you care about (Cook & Artino, 2016).
How Basic Psychological Needs Contribute to Motivation
We are more likely to be intrinsically motivated to achieve goals that fulfill three basic psychological needs (Cook & Artino, 2016). These needs are:
Autonomy: We all want to feel that we are in control of our actions. No one likes feeling that they are being coerced into doing something. For example, you’ll probably feel more motivated to study if you choose your own major.
Self-efficacy or Competency: You want to feel that you are competent. The task can’t be so difficult that it feels impossible, but it also can’t be so easy that you don’t feel challenged. If you’re a first-year college student, you probably wouldn’t feel motivated to study a graduate-level textbook. You also probably wouldn’t feel motivated to study a child’s textbook. The task should match your abilities.
Relatedness: You will feel motivated if you feel a sense of connection with others. You may feel more motivated to study a boring subject if you join a study group or if you learn that others in your chosen career path have also taken this class and studied this material. You can increase feelings of relatedness by building connections related to your goals and promoting environments that exhibit genuine caring, mutual respect, and safety.
In addition, you’ll feel more satisfied and more motivated if you can pursue goals that are consistent with your values and interests (Parks & Guay, 2009). If you can structure your professional, educational, health, domestic, and personal life around your values and interests, you’ll feel a greater sense of intrinsic and integrated motivation. This will make building habits and completing goals easier. When you’re acting in ways that support your values, you’ll likely feel happier and more motivated.
How to Get Motivated to Work
Generally, you'll feel motivated to work when you find your work interesting, when your work has clear and well-defined goals, and when you can link your work to a wider project. You can increase your motivation to work by addressing your basic psychological needs (Sharp et al., 2009).
You’re more likely to feel motivated if you feel a sense of ownership or choice over your work. When faced with a boring or unpleasant work task, you can increase your sense of autonomy and motivation if you can connect the task to a career path that you have chosen. Having some variety in your work can also increase your sense of autonomy and your feelings of motivation.
Work that is technically challenging will be more motivating than work that is too easy. You’re unlikely to be motivated by boring tasks that don’t fulfill your need to feel competent.
You’ll probably be more motivated to work if you have a sense of belonging within supportive workplace networks. Team-building exercises and happy hours with your colleagues may help you feel more connected and more motivated in your work. You’ll also feel a greater sense of motivation if you can connect your contribution to a larger project that is impactful and important.
Not all motivation is created equal. Intrinsic motivation, where joy is inherent in the performance of the act, and integrated motivation, where the act has become part of your self-identity, are the highest forms of motivation. So you probably feel happy and fulfilled when you work on something you love or when you work on something important to you.
Cook, D. A., & Artino, A. R. (2016). Motivation to learn: an overview of contemporary theories. Medical Education, 50(10), 997-1014.
Parks, L., & Guay, R. P. (2009). Personality, values, and motivation. Personality and Individual Differences, 47(7), 675-684.
Sharp, H., Baddoo, N., Hall, S., & Tracy and Robinson, H. (2009). Models of motivation in software engineering. Information and Software Technology, 51(1), 219-233.