Secrets of staying motivated

Staying motivated seems to be a daily struggle for a lot of people. Those of us who have found this—luckily, perhaps—rather easy to do are no strangers to the oft-posed question, ‘How do you do it? How do you stay motivated?’ The answer is quite simple, really; it is simple enough that it turns a lot of people of, but that changes nothing. The secrets, if I may call it that, to stay motivated are contained in an exposition that need not be longer than two sides of a foolscap.

Motivation needs to be replenished

The first step is to think of motivation like water, nay, like alchohol. It is like water in that taking a sip is never enough; you need to replenish your stores every once in a while, all day long, all your life. And it is like alchohol in that you can quickly get addicted to it and this can be a terrible thing. This, in a nutshell, is why so many people think motivation does not work for them: it does work, but only briefly, only for a while after they devour their motivation—be it a book, a film, a quote or even time spent with somebody. They feel it never ‘works’ because it does never lasts.

That is lesson one: You cannot expect to get motivated once and for life, if you choose to get into it expect to keep refuelling yourself.

Take time off and use a crutch

Sometimes the trouble is not refuelling our motivation but having no idea where to get the fuel from. In such cases it helps greatly to look to something else that does motivate us. Your field might be mathematics, and you might feel unmotivated, but perhaps you are still excited about clay modelling or that painting project you started six months ago. Drop whatever it is that you feel unmotivated to do, even if only for a little while, and do something that you are in fact full of excitement for. But stay aware of this at all times because it is easy to get carried away and not come back eventually to your original task.

That is lesson two: When you feel unmotivated about something, drop it and work on somethng you do feel motivated to do, then return to the original task.

Is it motivation or discipline you need?

A lot of people far too often mistake motivation with discipline. They do not want to do something simply because they are too lazy to do it, but they put a spin on it making it look like they lack motivation because it sounds—and makes them look—better. However, the fact is that a lot of what we credit to motivation is due actually to discipline and consistency. This reminds me of what William Faulkner used to say: ‘I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.’ Motivation and inspiration are great, but a lot of them are born out of consistency.

Try to work on your discipline rather than on seeking things that motivate you; motivation then becomes a perk that pushes you further ahead on the path you are already set on rather than fuel that gets you somewhere in the first place.

And that is lesson three: Seeking motivation becomes more meaningful when you establish a constant foundation on which to build yourself; discipline is key to building such a foundation.

Understand promotion and prevention mindsets

Motivation comes in two forms: promotion motivation and prevention motivation. The former is the stronger and more obvious of the two, it is what drives people, and is what people commonly associate with motivation. The latter is a bit indirect and is rarely seen or used as a form of motivation to the point where, ironically, people who do use it might mistake it for an absence of motivation. In a study published back in 2017 researchers found that the best way to stay motivated is to identify your progress and switch from one form of motivation (or mindset) to another.

Promotion mindset is when you are motivated by your end result, by the outcome of your project—be it preparing for class or trying to get fit. This is when you think of the great changes you can bring about by teaching students or by hitting the gym regularly. However, you cannot rely on this alone as you progrss towards your goal. Halfway through switch to prevention mindset, where you start focusing not on the end result but on all the things you have to stop yourself from doing to get there. For example, you might start off by planning everything you want to do for your students—such as fun new activities and dividing focus across a broad set of topics—and the things you want your students to do; but, as you progress, slowly switch to taking note of things you want to avoid—such as unplanned class hours, or too many wayward activities that teach little—and the things you want your students to avoid.

That is lesson four: Once you know what you want to achieve, track your progress and transition from a promotion motivation mindet to a prevention motivation mindset.

Cheer for yourself: set aside time and space

Goals come in various sizes: big or small, long term or short et cetera. If your goals are closer together, getting from one to another will itself serve as a huge motivator. En route, then, you might need a temporary boost or two at best. What is important, in the midst of all this, is to keep track of your progress and to do that effectively you need to set time aside for yourself, to examine where you were, where you are and where you want to go. Use this time also to do something completely unrelated that can free up or relax your mind. None of this has to be lone outing, though, so go with your spouse or colleagure or any friend you like. Or go out alone because that works too.

Equally important, create your space. Something as simple as a desk will go great lengths in helping you create a mindset for yourself that will drive you forwards. A little music in your earphones or some candles or even incense or a trip to the gym before work, pick from any of a million possibilities that exist to help you create a space for yourself—both physically and mentally—to help you find that zeal to work. The point here is simple: cheer yourself on, because no matter how much your family and friends cheer you on, you will go nowhere if you do not cheer for yourself.

In the midst of all this, however, do not fall prey to that oft-quoted reason for neither working nor feeling motivated: that there is something wrong with the place itself. Create your space and your time knowing that it is you who has to get somewhere and nothing outside you is to blame.

That is the final lesson: Create your own time and space—even if only mentally, without disrupting anybody’s physical space around you—and use that to cheer yourself on and create an environment that makes you want to work, all the while never becoming enslaved to it.


Keep at all this consistently and motivation becomes an extension of who you are. You will achieve self-sufficiency and, while you can continue to seek beacons elsewhere or in others, this will be by choice nor need because you will, yourself, always be what drives you on.

The ‘secrets’ for staying motivated then are pretty simple; as promised, they are in fact not much more than two sides of a foolscap.