People motivate themselves in different ways depending on where they are in pursuing a goal, new research finds.

Usually they motivate themselves with hopes and dreams of reaching their goal.

For example, someone wanting to lose weight might think about the clothes they will be able to wear.

Psychologists call this promotion motivation as the study’s authors, Dr Olya Bullard and Dr Rajesh V. Manchanda, explain:

“Promotion motivation encourages people to focus on hopes and aspirations, it makes people think of their goals in terms of attainment of something positive, and it leads individuals to favor approach-oriented “eager” strategies in goal pursuit.”

However, as people get closer to their goal, they get more defensive.

Why? Because psychologically, it becomes less about the benefits and more about avoiding a slip-up

“…prevention motivation encourages people to focus on responsibilities and duties, it makes people think of their goals in terms of avoiding something negative, and it leads individuals to favor avoidance-oriented “vigilant” strategies in goal pursuit.”

Across a series of five experiments, the researchers found people moved from promotion to prevention motivation as they got closer to their goal.

So, if you are at the start of a journey towards your goal, follow this advice: Focus on how reaching it will help you fulfill the hopes and aspirations you have for your life and employ approach strategies to help you stay motivated.

For example, you can make a list of the “right things” you can do to make goal progress, take note of some of the positive things you will attain by reaching your goal, and reward yourself when you make progress in the early stages of goal pursuit (as long as the “reward” does not undermine your actual goal progress, of course!).

Once your are getting closer to your goal focus on the duties you have in your life and how goal attainment will help you feel that you are taking care of these responsibilities.

In addition, employ avoidance strategies to help you stay motivated.

To use similar examples to the above of activities likely to stir up your motivation: make a list of things “not to do” to stay on course toward your goal, write down the negative things you will prevent from happening by reaching your goal, and give yourself a break from something you don’t enjoy when you make progress in later stages of goal pursuit (again making sure that the break does not undermine your goal progress).

Competition is one of the best motivators, a new study concludes.

It works much better than friendly support, which could actually backfire and reduce motivation.

The research involved college students being encouraged to attend classes at the University fitness centre.

The programme was managed through an internet-based social network.

The researchers tested the effects of four different types of social network interactions, some involving competition, others not.

The results showed that when competition was involved, attendance rates at fitness classes were 90% higher.

Dr Damon Centola, one of the study’s authors, said:
“Most people think that when it comes to social media more is better. This study shows that isn’t true: When social media is used the wrong way, adding social support to an online health program can backfire and make people less likely to choose healthy behaviors. However, when done right, we found that social media can increase people’s fitness dramatically.”

Whether it was individual or in groups – competition emerged as critical to motivation.

Dr Jingwen Zhang, the study’s first author, said:

“Framing the social interaction as a competition can create positive social norms for exercising. Social support can make people more dependent on receiving messages, which can change the focus of the program.”

Dr Centola speculated on why social support may not have worked:

“Supportive groups can backfire because they draw attention to members who are less active, which can create a downward spiral of participation.

Competitive groups frame relationships in terms of goal-setting by the most active members. These relationships help to motivate exercise because they give people higher expectations for their own levels of performance.”

In comparison, competition kept people pushing for more:

“In a competitive setting, each person’s activity raises the bar for everyone else. Social support is the opposite: a ratcheting-down can happen.  If people stop exercising, it gives permission for others to stop, too, and the whole thing can unravel fairly quickly.”

What else can you do to improve your motivation?

There are three common motivational techniques that have been tested by psychologists.

For one:
Thinking “I can do better” really can help improve performance.

Self-talk like this increases the intensity of effort people make and even makes them feel happier as well.

The study compared the motivational power of self-talk, such as “I will do better” with imagery and if-then planning.

Imagery involved imagining doing better and if-then planning is making a plan to act in a certain way.

All three techniques improved performance, but self-talk was consistently the most powerful.

For the study over 44,000 took part in a competitive online game.

The researchers tested the three techniques in four different ways: to help improve the process, outcome, arousal-control and instruction.

The results showed that the greatest improvements in performance were seen for self-talk when focusing on the process and outcome.

Imagery also did well when focusing on process and outcome.

The study’s author explain:

“imagery and self-talk focused on motivational outcome and process were associated with faster performance, higher arousal, and greater effort, than participants in the control group.

Self-talk process and outcome were associated with significantly more intense pleasant emotions.”

Perhaps one of the reasons that self-talk is so effective is that people believe it is going to be effective.

The study’s authors explain:

“whilst findings show the positive effects of imagery and self-talk strategies when focused on outcome and process, it appears self-talk process [strategies] had additional advantages in that participants believed it was an effective mental preparation strategy to use.

self-talk is perceived to be beneficial, possibly because it is simpler to learn than imagery, which shows that some people struggle to learn imagery.”

And last but not least. Easy Ways To Improve your Motivation!

Just Do It

The trouble with most things is that it can be difficult to know where to start: there might be several easy bits, or it might be difficult to tell what should be done and what shouldn’t.

Planning can help with this, but planning is also a trap. Too much planning and not enough actual doing is another form of procrastination. Take a tip from writers, artists and creatives down the ages: just start anywhere! You may chuck away the stuff you start with, but at least it gets you into the project.

No Excuses

OK, now all sorts of excuses are crowding into your mind.

Be aware that these will come, and they’ll come big.

Here are a few of the excuses that you have to be aware of and shut down immediately once they enter your mind

  • Not feeling in the mood to do it
  • Believing that you work better under pressure
  • Thinking that you can finish it at the last minute
  • Blaming sickness or poor health
  • Waiting for the right moment
Be aware of anything that’s expressed like an excuse and label it as such. It’s natural, but it will also stop you getting anywhere.

Use Your Brain

Here are two ways of thinking about a task:

  • Abstract: Wouldn’t it be great to write a song expressing how I feel about the state of the world right now?
  • Concrete: What’s the first line?

When you are getting started on a task, it’s much better to think about the concrete steps you are going to take, rather than abstract aims and ideas.

Thinking concrete helps you get started.


Avoid over-thinking

Doubts will arise for even the most confident of people.

Unfortunately, doubts cause procrastination.

Here’s a little tip for side-stepping doubts: try doubting your doubts.

One easy way to do that is by shaking your head while thinking those negative thoughts.

There are other kinds of over-thinking which are also dangerous:

  • all-or-nothing thinking
  • impossibly high standards
  • catastrophising (thinking everything will be a catastrophe)

Being mindful of when we’re wasting mental energy rather than getting on with the task at hand can be useful.

Closing Thoughts

Roughly speaking there are only two reasons you do anything in life:

  1. Because you want to.
  2. Because someone else wants you to.

The reason I say roughly speaking’and might include is because the two types of motivation can be difficult to disentangle. Yes, you enjoy your work, but would you do it for less money or for free? Maybe, maybe not.

  1. Competence. We want to be good at something. Things that are too easy, though, don’t give us a sense of competence; it has to be just hard enough.
  2. Autonomy. We want to be free and dislike being controlled. When people have some freedom—even within certain non-negotiable boundaries—they are more likely to thrive.
  3. Relatedness. As social animals we want to feel connected to other people.

Look for these in any activity if you want to harness the power of self-guiding, internal motivation.

So, that should provide you with enough tools to stay motivated and get shit done.
Hope you liked this article and as always thanks for reading.

P.S. If you liked this post then you’ll like my books as well. You can get them on Amazon.



Lane et al., 2016