How Do I Get Motivated? – There Is No Magic Bullet

"How Do I Get Motivated to..."

A question that I see and hear often is something along the lines of “ how do I get motivated to…” do something. It could be working out, eating healthy, going the extra mile to get ahead at work, or anything else people aspire to do but often struggle with.


Have you ever asked this kind of question, even if just to yourself? I have. When you ask the question in this way, you're usually looking for a "magic bullet" to fix your motivation problem. Unfortunately, there really is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to figuring out how to get motivated.

There is no "secret sauce"

Anyone who tells you they have “the secret” to motivation or says something like “you just need to...” do this one thing is oversimplifying the matter without understanding the specifics of what drives or inhibits your motivation. I’ll use an example to illustrate my point.

Let’s say that four people work for a small company where a long-time manager will be retiring in six months. The president has announced that he plans to select the manager’s replacement from within the company. These four people have roughly equivalent skill sets and are all qualified for the promotion. The President also announced that anyone who applies for the position will have to take on some additional workload, intended to stretch the candidates to test their ability to learn, adapt, lead, and solve problems. Essentially, they will have to audition for the job by their performance over the next few months. All four people apply for the job and believe that they truly want it. But as the weeks and months play out, they all struggle to get motivated and step outside their comfort zones and take on the additional work. The reason that each of them struggles is very different, as we’ll see.

Meet Mike

Mike has been working at the company for 15 years but he doesn’t really think of it as a career. He doesn’t mind the work, and he's even pretty good at it. But it doesn’t really give him joy or a sense of fulfillment, so he doesn’t find it all that interesting. He tells himself that the company has been very good to him, and that he could really use the pay raise that comes with the promotion, so he applies for the job. However, as the excitement of the idea starts to wear off and the reality of the extra work settles in, Mike finds it hard to sustain the motivation necessary to meet the President’s expectations.

Meet Tina

Tina came to the company 8 years ago because she had been traveling a lot at her old company, which was a problem for her. She has two children and spending time with family is a priority for her. She really likes the company and the work she is doing, and is open to the idea of building a career there. While she understands that the promotion might mean more hours per week, it would also mean more flexibility in her work schedule, which is important to her. Plus, she is trying to save for her kids’ college education and her husband’s company just cut back on his hours, so the extra income would be a tremendous help. As the weeks go by, Tina starts to realize exactly what getting that promotion would mean for her personal life. While she would definitely have more flexibility in her work schedule, allowing her to be at important events with her children, overall she would have less time to spend with them. Also, the added stress and fatigue caused by the additional workload would mean that the time she does spend with her family would probably be less enjoyable. After coming to this realization, Tina finds it increasingly difficult to get motivated to win the promotion.

Meet Frank

Frank started working at the company part-time while in high school and has been there ever since, totaling 17 years of service. He tremendously enjoys both the family atmosphere of the company and the work itself, and has no intention of leaving. Frank is well liked by everyone at the company and he does a good job. He would love the opportunity to have a bigger impact on the future of the company, so he decides to apply for the job. He is confident that he can handle the additional workload. However, Frank lives a sedentary lifestyle and doesn’t have very healthy eating habits. He's pretty significantly overweight and doesn’t have a lot of energy. He is able to handle the extra work for a couple of weeks, brute-forcing his way through the exhaustion he feels toward the end of every day. However, the workload eventually starts to take its toll, and his performance starts to suffer as he can’t get everything done, even though he really wants the promotion.

Meet Becky

Becky is a very bright woman who has been with the company for 12 years. Every manager she has worked for during that time has absolutely loved having her on their teams, because she is friendly, hard working, and willing to do pretty much anything that is asked of her. She enjoys sharing what she knows with her co-workers, which is why she likes the idea of being a manager. She also wants to buy a house next year, and the pay raise from this promotion would help her greatly to achieve that goal, so she applies for the position. As the weeks go by and the difficulty of the challenges increase, Becky starts to question whether she is “management material”. She has always had issues with self-esteem, and this experience only reinforces her inner voice that tells her she was foolish to think she could win the promotion. Consequently, she finds herself pulling back on her work a little bit, subconsciously sabotaging her bid to win the job.

Different reasons they can't get motivated

As you can see from these examples, these four people have four very different reasons they struggle to get motivated, and for the same goal. Mike isn’t genuinely fulfilled by the work even though he likes it. Tina enjoys the work but the job requirements don’t align with her value of maximizing family time. Frank loves the work but just doesn’t have the energy to do the job for the hours required. And Becky would probably be a great manager but convinces herself that she’s not worthy of the promotion. If one of these people asked you how they can get motivated at work, and you didn’t understand his or her specific situation, your advice would likely not work because it did not address the underlying problem.

The same is true for your own situation. The first step when trying to overcome any motivation challenge is to understand the underlying cause that prevents you from getting or staying motivated, and then figure out how to deal with it. Obviously this is an oversimplification. There are hundreds of different psychological and physiological factors that affect motivation, and they interact with each other in different ways for different people. But the concept holds true.

There is no magic bullet when it comes to “finding your motivation”. If you truly want to make a change in your life, you need to figure out the reason (or reasons) you have failed in the past, and go after that problem, rather than just trying another new and shiny motivation “trick”. That’s my goal with The Motivation Mindset. I want to help you figure out what's holding you back so you can kick down those barriers that are keeping you from living the kind of life and being the kind of person you’ve always wanted.