How to Get (and Stay) Motivated All Year Long

Harness the power of motivation to think and act more like a leader.

Posted Jan 14, 2020

Finding the motivation to make a change is one thing; staying motivated to realize a change is another story. If you’re looking for inspiration on how to get and stay motivated, look no further than to leaders in business and other fields. 

As a business psychologist, I meet a lot of people who possess exceptional talents and gifts. In my experience, without the motivation to cultivate these talents and gifts, individuals rarely are able to tap into their full capacity and rise into leadership roles. In fact, if there is one thing that separates leaders in business, politics, and other fields from the rest of the pack, it is motivation. As a result, it is important to understand motivation and how it influences our behavior. It is also important to understand the specific types of motivation that support leadership. 

The Inner Workings of Motivation

Mid-century psychologist Abraham Maslow thought that motivation is about the satisfaction of needs. These needs range from physical needs (e.g., hunger, thirst, and sleep) to more complex needs such as safety, social relations (e.g., love), self-esteem, and self-actualization. 

Since Maslow, many other psychologists, have also sought to understand motivation. Self-determination theory (SDT), for example, maintains that individuals do best when their needs are being met. SDT theorists describe the process as “motivational regulation.” Motivational regulation is broken down into two central categories: controlled regulation (i.e., doing something to achieve a concrete result) and autonomous regulation (i.e., doing something for pleasure or its own sake). These categories are also broken down into four subcategories: external, introjected, identified, and intrinsic. 

In a 2019 Frontiers in Psychology article, Taylor Peyton et al. define each of the four subcategories of motivation in detail. An external motivational outlook is “driven by desired rewards or punishment avoidance (i.e., controlled regulation).” Introjected motivation is any motivational outlook that is “connected to ego enhancement or to the avoidance of guilt or shame.” Both external and introjected motivation are examples of controlled regulation. 

Peyton et al. also define identified and intrinsic motivation. An identified motivational outlook is a “state in which the individual participates in activities to be congruent with valued personal goals.” An intrinsic motivational outlook is “a state in which a personal sense of self is expressed by the individual when participating in an activity.” An intrinsic motivational outlook is the ultimate realization of autonomous regulation. 

Why Leaders Are Autonomously Regulated  

Motivation is a recurring issue for leaders as they move up the organizational hierarchy. Greater responsibility not only means higher stakes, but it often means that one needs to be prepared for less affirmation and fewer kudos. After all, the more responsibility one assumes, the more likely they are to be subject to criticism rather than praise daily. 

This naturally means that the higher one rises in any organization, the more likely it is that their motivation will need to be autonomous. But what if you’re the type of person who generally relies on controlled regulation (external and introjected motivations), not autonomous regulation (identified and intrinsic motivations)?

Get and Stay Motivated 

Step 1: Develop Increased Self-Awareness of Your Motivational Outlook

If you are externally motivated, ask yourself, “What are you afraid of? What are your latent fears (e.g., that you aren’t loved, respected, or good enough)?” Build greater self-awareness about how your latent fears may be holding you back or motivating you to engage in behaviors that aren’t aligned with who you are and where you want to go. 

Likewise, if you have an introjected outlook (i.e., you’re motivated by fear or guilt), ask yourself, “Why am I so often motivated to do things to avoid feeling ashamed or guilty?” Then, turn down the volume on the voices telling you to do things out of shame-avoidance or guilt. Shift your energy to be more productive. 

Step 2: Identify Your Values 

Leaders nearly always rely on autonomous forms of regulation (i.e., they have an identified or intrinsic motivational outlook). Thus, their motivation isn’t about meeting basic needs or avoiding negative feelings (e.g., shame or guilt) but rather about participating in activities because they align with personal goals or fuel one's self-actualization. This is why autonomous regulation pivots around establishing clear values. To achieve this goal, you need to know who you are and what you stand for (i.e., you need a personal brand that is aligned with your purpose).  

Step 3: Link Your Values to Your Work 

Once you have developed increased self-awareness and muted those voices motivating you to pursue things for reasons that don’t serve you, focus on linking your core values to your work. 

Perhaps you’ve been motivated to work because you’re afraid that if you’re not working hard enough, you won’t be able to provide for your family. If this is the case, you’ve been relying on controlled regulation. In fact, fear has been a critical factor in driving your work. Try shifting your motivation from fear to love for your family. The energy motivating your work will be more positive and generative, leading to more significant gains over time. 

Also, don’t forget to re-engage with your core values often and even daily. What do you believe? What people, projects, or ideals are you committed to most? Do these people, projects, and ideals align with your values? 

When your sense of self is expressed or actualized by the work in which you’re engaged, you’ll know that you're on the right track. In other words, your motivational outlook will look more like that of a leader than a follower.


Deci, E. L., and Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior. New York, NY: Plenum.

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harpers.

Peyton T, Zigarmi D and Fowler SN (2019) Examining the Relationship Between Leaders’ Power Use, Followers’ Motivational Outlooks, and Followers’ Work Intentions. Front. Psychol. 9: 2620. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02620

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78. doi. 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68