How do I stay motivated?

By Kate Pauley – MFTC

verified by Psychology Today

Are you having trouble staying motivated and getting things done?  Firstly, know that you’re not alone.  Both kids and adults are struggling to stay productive while working and schooling from home.  Luckily, the concept of intrinsic motivation may help you to get motivated and accomplish all that you’d like to as we move into this holiday season.

Types of Motivation

First, it’s important to understand the two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.  Extrinsic motivation comes from external sources; the theory is that external rewards drive behavior.  Extrinsic motivation could look like getting a small bonus at work for completing an assignment, treating yourself with a sweet treat after accomplishing a task, or giving your child verbal praise for completing their homework.

It is difficult to stay motivated by extrinsic motivation because the reward comes from outside of ourselves, something we have no control over.  So how do you stay motivated when your boss stops rewarding your behavior or you fill up on candy and it’s no longer rewarding.

This is where intrinsic motivation comes into play.  Intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that comes from within; the behavior itself is rewarding, so you do it.  The simplest way to think about intrinsic motivation is with our biological needs (hunger, thirst, sex).  For example, we are motivated to eat to satisfy our hunger -it feels good to eat, so we do it.  Psychologically, this same concept applies: we like to learn, so we read; we love to write and so we journal; we enjoy the outdoors, so we go running for exercise.

How to Intrinsically Motivate

You may be thinking to yourself that intrinsic motivation would be great, but you don’t actually like the thing that it is that you need to do, (possibly your job or your chores, etc.), so how do you utilize intrinsic motivation?

To discover what intrinsically motivates you:

Think back to what you used to love to do as a kid. 

Here’s an example: maybe you were that kid who loved to organize games for the whole neighborhood to play.  You can’t necessarily lead your coworkers through a series of games throughout the day, but maybe there are opportunities to bring playfulness or joy into your workspace.  You may be more motivated to show up to work and pay attention in your meetings because you feel good by making others feel good.

Allow yourself to get bored.

The next time you don’t have any plans, give yourself the space to do nothing.  Then see what you gravitate towards. Are you called to read? Cook? Call a friend? Paint? Let these desires guide you to what intrinsically motivates you.

Use Intrinsic Motivation

Once you know what motivates you from an intrinsic perspective, use it in everything you do!  How can you motivate yourself using what you love to do in all areas of your life: your work, your family, your friends, your health?

Let’s look at an example.  Say you identify that what really motivates you intrinsically is connecting with other humans on a deep level.

  • At work, you can use this desire to connect to learn about what motivates your employees. While you are connecting and learning about them, you are actually becoming a better manager.
  • At home, you may find yourself being motivated to cook so that you can get to dinner where you are having new and interesting dinner conversation topics.
  • Maybe you call a friend and do a virtual workout and coffee date together so that you are motivated by the connection, but you are also serving your physical health.

These are just some examples of how you can apply the concept of intrinsic motivation to your life.  You may notice that you become more curious about things as you

1. Are seeking ways to utilize your intrinsic motivation and

2. You are genuinely interested in whatever area of life you are working on.

When need be, don’t shy away from extrinsic motivation, but know that it only goes so far.  For long-lasting, sustainable motivation, look within and uncover what really drives you and then use it to create that life you are looking for.

Fowler, S. (2020, March 06). The problem with intrinsic motivation. Retrieved November 09, 2020, from

Santos-Longhurst, A. (2019, February 12). Intrinsic Motivation Theory: Overview, Factors, and Examples.

Retrieved November 09, 2020, from

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