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5 Science-Based Tips to Boost Self-Motivation

Simple strategies to boost your motivation.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Are you having a hard time getting motivated? Are you curious about what leads to greater self-motivation or how you can boost yours? It may be time for some science-based tricks to boost your self-motivation.

Self-motivation is the internal state that helps us initiate, continue, or terminate a behavior. For example, we might be self-motivated to eat something when we’re hungry. We might be motivated to keep working a job so that we can pay our bills, or we might be motivated to break off a relationship when it no longer makes us happy. Pretty much any behavior you can think of can originate with self-motivation.

How to Build Self-Motivation Skills

If you want to build self-motivation, there are some key skills you can develop. Here are a few:

  • Initiative: The tendency to be proactive, take charge, or move forward before others do.
  • Drive to achieve: The desire to accomplish something versus working for external rewards like money or prestige.
  • Commitment to goals: The stick-to-it-iveness and persistence to reach goals.
  • Resilience: The ability to keep going in spite of difficulties.
  • Passion for work: The enjoyment of the work itself.
  • Eagerness: The desire to try new things and take on new challenges.
  • Desire to improve: The need to keep getting better (Goleman, 2018).
  • Self-efficacy: The belief that your actions will lead to desired results (Stajkovic & Luthans, 2003).

Tips to Boost Self-Motivation

1. Make goal-pursuit more social. Past research among employees has shown that the single factor that contributed most to commitment—which they considered a part of motivation—was a drive to bond (Nohria, Groysberg, & Lee, 2008). When we think about self-motivation, we might imagine grueling schedules or long ToDo lists but the truth is we can make motivation easier if we find ways to bond while pursuing our goals. So if there is an activity that you’re having a hard time doing, try making this activity more social.

2. Find something you’re good at. The same study we mentioned above also showed that feeling like we comprehend what we’re doing at work can lead us to be more engaged (Nohria, Groysberg, & Lee, 2008). That makes sense, right? If we’re good at something it’s probably less frustrating and we enjoy it more. Related research suggests that we stay most engaged and motivated when the difficulty of a task is in the sweet spot between being too hard—which can make us feel bad about ourselves—and too easy—which can be boring.

3. Tap into your drive to acquire or defend. ​Workplace researchers suggest that two more drives can motivate us: the drive to acquire things that boost our well-being (e.g., food, money, experiences, entertainment) and the drive to defend ourselves (e.g., our property, accomplishments, beliefs, etc.; Nohria, Groysberg, & Lee, 2008). So it may be helpful to remind ourselves of these drives and how our actions can help us fulfill them.

4. Build habits. Once we get in the habit of doing something, it becomes way easier to keep doing it. That means that learning how to build habits can be a really useful skill for becoming more self-motivated. To build habits, BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, says to start with a teeny, tiny, minuscule habit, and grow it from there. For example, if you want to get in the habit of walking a mile every day, start by taking one step outside your door, then a few steps, and keep adding a tiny bit at a time.

5. Set implementation intentions. Implementation intentions are kind of like a backup plan: They set up strategies ahead of time in case Plan A doesn’t work out (Gollwitzer, 1999). To create an implementation intention, you just set an intention that IF X happens, THEN you’ll do Y. For example, if you need to go to the dentist, then you’ll do your work later that evening.

Adapted from an article on self-motivation published by The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.


Goleman, D. (2018). What makes a leader? (pp. 39-52). Routledge.

Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: strong effects of simple plans. American psychologist, 54(7), 493.

Nohria, N., Groysberg, B., & Lee, L. (2008). Employee motivation: A powerful new model. Harvard business review, 86(7/8), 78.

Stajkovic, A. D., & Luthans, F. (2003). Social cognitive theory and self-efficacy: Implications for motivation theory and practice. Motivation and work behavior, 126, 140.

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