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Motivation is a psychological process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behavior.

It begins with a particular goal in mind that we want to fulfill, then follows with the actions needed to make that goal into a tangible reality.

A goal can be anything we want to achieve: happiness, relationships, money, health, education, or whatever.

And whether we recognize it or not, we all have certain goals in life, even if they aren’t things we would normally consider “goals.”

This is because every action has an intention behind it. We feel a desire for something, then we take action to make it happen – even something as simple as feeling thirsty and grabbing a glass of water is a goal-oriented behavior.

This article gives you a mechanistic breakdown of how motivation works and things to keep in mind when pursuing long-term goals.


Overcoming inertia

An object at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by a force. This is just as true for physics as it is for psychology and motivation.

Our lives often remain stagnant – with the same routines, habits, and patterns – unless we apply some force to make a change.

There are two main types of “force” that can change our daily patterns:

  • Intrinsic force – Force that comes from enjoyment of an activity and exists within the individual rather than relying on external pressures.
  • Extrinsic force – Force that comes from seeking a reward or avoiding punishment (common examples: money, grades, social pressure, etc.)

Both types of force can be very useful.

We can tap into intrinsic force by discovering our most important values and passions in life. Often it is easier to find motivation to do an activity if it resonates with you at a core level.

And we can use extrinsic force by changing our habit loops. This means using external rewards to drive us toward new behaviors. For example, you may reward yourself after going to the gym by giving yourself an hour of freetime to watch your favorite TV shows.

You can really maximize your motivation by using both of these forces – that means identifying what really matters to you, but also building a system that gives you that extra push when your motivation may be running low.

All you need is the smallest amount of force to get you started. Once you overcome that initial inertia, you’ve taken a huge step forward. Now you just need to keep walking.


Keeping momentum

Once an object is in motion, it will stay in motion unless another force acts upon it.

So motivation isn’t just about getting yourself moving, but keeping your momentum despite all the other forces or friction that may be slowing you down and holding you back from reaching your full potential.

On any path toward your goals, you’re going to face some drawbacks, obstacles, and failures. This is the friction in your life that you’ll need to work through if you really want to succeed.

Here are key things you can do to keep your momentum:

  • Notice the daily victories. – Keep your motivation high by paying attention to the small victories you have on a daily basis. Progress toward your goals always happens one step at a time, there’s no overnight success.
  • Reframe obstacles as guidelines. – Many of the obstacles in your life don’t have to be seen as friction, but experiences that can be learned from to help improve yourself. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”
  • Try new things and stay curious. – Always be willing to try new things to keep your mind fresh and stimulated. If you get too familiar with the same activities, then your motivation is going to grow stale. Keep things interesting.
  • Cultivate a long-term mindset. – Individuals who master their motivation think about the effects of their actions far into the future. They see the bigger picture, and they are in it for long-term growth, not just short-term gain.
  • Be patient and relax. – Motivation is just as much about knowing when to take a step back as it is about knowing when to take a leap forward. Sometimes to keep your momentum you need to give yourself time to relax and rejuvenate.

A lot of motivation is just about keeping the right mindset. If you’re someone who has a lot of trouble finding motivation in your everyday life, you probably need to do some work on your attitude before you can start seeing success.


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