Backpacker hiking through a meadow of wildflowers in the mountains.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Motivation & How To Make It Work For You

Motivation is an often misunderstood part of achieving a goal or building a new habit. Unfortunately, people have a lot of unrealistic expectations when it comes to their motivation levels.

Motivation is definitely important. But it is far from the magic bullet when it comes to achieving your goals.

Here are 5 things I bet you didn’t know about motivation. 

#1 – Motivation Naturally Fluctuates

It is natural for motivation to fluctuate day by day. It will feel like it comes and goes. Some days it will be stronger and some days it will be weaker. This is normal.

However, most people think that to achieve a goal, you have to maintain super high levels of motivation ALL. THE. TIME. This just isn’t realistic. 

Line graph demonstrating the fluctuating nature of motivation over time
What You Think Your Motivation Will Look Like
Line graph showing that people perceive that motivation will stay high all the time
What Your Motivation Actually Looks Like

#2 – You Can Plan For Fluctuating Levels of Motivation

Having a more realistic view of motivation allows us to plan for success. 

The reason you should start slow to achieve your goals, is that the high levels of motivation you have when you start a brand new goal doesn’t last.

If we start with a small amount of exercise that we feel very confident we can do every day, we can still achieve our goal, even on days when motivation is low. You only need a small amount of motivation to accomplish a small amount of work.

Person helping toddler walk across a log
Take baby steps when you start a new fitness goal.

But if we start big, and our motivation decreases as tends to do then we’re going to have a really hard time sticking to our goals. Starting big means that motivation has to stay very high in order to achieve our goals.

Then, as you  get used to exercising, you can slowly increase the amount of exercise that you are doing as your confidence and motivation build. 

There does of course need to be some amount of motivation for you to achieve your goals. Put your thinking cap on for the next section, where we will examine your personal motivators!

#3 – You Can Learn About Your Own Motivation

Once you have decided to change your habits and go after a fitness goal, slow down for a moment to think about your “why”. 

Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to make a change and achieve this goal? 
  • Why is this goal or habit important to me? 
  • What benefits will I see/get once I achieve my goal/habit? 

Grab a pen and paper and answer these questions in as much detail and with as much honesty as you can. Brainstorm as many benefits to achieving your goal as possible. 

Write everything down – before you continue with the rest of this post.  Once you’re all done, go ahead and continue reading.

#4 – There Are Different Types Of Motivation

Our “why”, or reasons behind making a change or setting a goal, tell us about our motivation.

You may not be aware of this, but there are many different types of motivation. For example, you might be motivated to achieve a goal for monetary reasons, to receive some sort of a prize, to receive praise, to make someone else happy, to feel more confident, to improve your health, or to look good on your wedding day etc.

There are so many different reasons someone might start a new goal. When you are first starting out, any type of motivation is good, so long as it gets you to do the desired action, like workout. 

#5 – Some Types of Motivation Work Better In The Long Run

If you want to stick to a goal long-term there are certain types of motivation that are better at withstanding the test of time.

Internal motivation is the highest level of motivation. Internal motivation is just a fancy way of saying that we are doing something because we actually enjoy it

As you might guess, we are a lot more likely to stick to a fitness goal that we actually enjoy doing!

Man hiking through a meadow with a mountain in the distance.
You are more likely to stick to goals you enjoy doing!

If I hate running, I’m probably not going to stick to a goal to train for a marathon. But if I love hiking, it is going to be a whole lot easier to stick to a hiking goal. Makes sense, right?

Another type of motivation that is great for sticking to habits long term, is doing it for YOU. For example, you are more likely to stick to a hiking goal if you are doing it because it makes YOU feel: strong, happy, confident, healthy etc. 

How To Make Motivation Work For You

Let’s look at the answers you wrote during the “What is Your Why?” activity above and see what it can tell us about your motivation to achieve your goal. 

How Many Benefits Did You List?

Were you able to list a lot of benefits of making your change, or only a few? This tells you something about the amount of motivation you have.

If you weren’t able to list many benefits (say 5 or less), it may be tough to stick to those goals. The reason being that you don’t see a lot of benefits to achieving them.

But don’t worry! This can be fixed with a little research. For example, if your goal is to walk every day – head over to Google, and search “benefits of walking every day”. You’ll be amazed at all the cool health benefits you can find!

Person using laptop to search on google
Do some research to find more benefits of your goal.

Try to find at least 10 benefits and write them all down somewhere. On days you are feeling less motivated, say these benefits out loud. You may be able to talk yourself into getting your workout done when you weren’t feeling like it.

Do You Have Internal Motivation?

Next, check if you have anything on your “why” list that sounds like “I enjoy _______ activity.” 

Statements like these suggest internal motivation, which is ideal.

For example, if you just want to get in shape, don’t force yourself to do exercise you hate! There are plenty of exercises out there. Try to find some that you like. Or at least ones you don’t hate.

Woman riding a bike along a river with mountain views.
Choose types of exercise that you enjoy!

Depending on the goal, it is not always possible to get to internal motivation. For example, you may need to cut sugar out of your diet, but you may never enjoy not eating sweets. 

And that’s okay. But, if you can switch things up so that you enjoy them more, do! 

Who Are You Working on Your Goals For?

Last, look for clues in your answers to see if you are making these changes for yourself, or for others. 

For example, an answer that says “because it makes me feel good about myself” or, “it gives me confidence” tells us that you are doing the goal for you.

Answers like, “I want to get healthy so I can be around to see my grandkids grow up.”, may sound like it is for others, but really this is for both YOU and your grandkids. That is a great motivator!

However, answers like, “I am doing this so ______ person stops nagging at me”, means that you may be working towards a certain goal to please someone else. 

Remember, it is more likely that you will stick to a goal long-term, if you are doing it because you want to and because you are ready to make a change. So make sure there is something in it for you!

Take-Away Messages

  • Motivation naturally fluctuates. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.
  • Plan for natural fluctuations in motivation by starting slow.
  • In the beginning, any type of motivation is good if it gets you working towards your goal.
  • But if you want to stick to a habit long-term, do it because:
    • It’s something you love to do!
    • It makes you feel good about yourself.

Share the knowledge!

Author: clarissa.cabbage

Clarissa is a teacher, a coach, and an avid adventurer! Armed with a master's degree in Exercise and Wellness, she is on a mission to teach people how to build healthier habits that support the adventurous lifestyle of their dreams. There is nothing Clarissa is more passionate about than helping people get active and live their lives to the fullest!

18 Replies to “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Motivation & How To Make It Work For You

  1. I struggle really bad with fluctuating motivation and it can really damage my progress towards my goals. I’m getting used to the pattern of fluctuation now and I know there are things I can put in place to help manage it.

    1. Thank you for the comment Ffion! Fluctuating motivation can definitely be tough! I think it’s important to:
      1) Recognize that it is normal and that everyone struggles with it.
      2) Expect it so that when it does happen, it doesn’t completely derail you.
      3) And as you said, figure out what works for you when your motivation is on the lower side, so that you have a plan in place when it does happen!

    1. I’m right there with you! It can be super frustrating. I try to just go with the flow and much as possible. I try every day, and if it’s a good motivation day I do all that I can, if it’s a bad motivation day, I just do what I can manage.

      I find writing to be a whole different beast than exercise although of course both can be habits. But for writing you also need inspiration. While I sometimes have the motivation to sit down and write, I don’t always have the inspiration to be able to do so. I am still working on that!

  2. Good things to know about motivation. People can often beat themselves for not feeling it, but it’s just a normal part of our day and life. You can’t always be grinding.

    1. Exactly Giulia! I think a lot of people feel like failures before they’ve even made a mistake, just because they have the expectation that motivation should be high all the time! I’d like to help people set that expectation straight so they can have a plan in place to work through those lower motivation days and come out the other side successful.

  3. I tend to struggle a lot with motivation when I’m tired, which I guess falls into the fluctuating motivation catagory. It can be hard when all you want to do is curl up on the sofa, especially when you’re faced with something that you don’t really want to do!

    Something like blogging I’ll always be motivated to do, but something like housework I’ll put off as long as I can ?

  4. I hear you with the housework Amy, I am exactly the same! And you’re right, doing anything when tired is very hard. Thank you for the comment and the read Amy! ?

    1. Thank you Lisa, I am glad that you enjoyed it! I think it’s important to have realistic expectations for our motivation so we can make it work for us. Thanks so much for the comment!

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