The Art of Self-Motivation and How to Stay Inspired

The Art of Self-Motivation and How to Stay Inspired

Self-motivation is the key to success and perseverance. While it's beneficial to have people who believe in us and cheer us on, there will be times when we will need to rely on ourselves.

Self-motivation is also essential for staying on track once we start a project. If you are like most people, you can probably recall a time when you were excited about a new project and started working enthusiastically, but after facing the first serious obstacle, all your motivation dissolved.

Self-motivation is especially important when things are not going as planned when results are poor, and when we are feeling stuck. It is essential for personal growth and professional success.

As we progress through a challenging task, we may begin to feel unprepared. We may even be tempted to quit and return to our comfort zone. Self-motivation helps us stay the course and withstand the discomfort.

Understanding Self-Motivation

Although the term self-motivation implies that it is intrinsic, in some cases, people might make use of external motivators as well. For some, money, appraisal, and recognition are the best motivators. However, without these external factors, motivation rapidly declines, and the person will most likely lose interest. Conversely, when we are intrinsically motivated, we stay consistent even when results are not evident.

Stories of successful people show that, although they often do things that they are passionate about, they are also very effective at completing tasks that might be unpleasant but essential for success. Perhaps self-motivation is even more important for tasks that we are not interested in and don't bring joy or excitement.

Types of motivation: intrinsic vs. extrinsic

One of the best-known classifications of different types of motivation draws a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation is traditionally seen as doing something for external reasons, such as getting an award (money, recognition, appraisal) or to avoid punishment. Since it is not related to internal factors such as interest, joy, or curiosity, the incentive is lacking when external factors are not present. For example, if the teacher says that a particular lesson will not be included in the test, students who are not interested in the topic will probably not even read it.

Some authors, such as Ryan and Deci (2020), believe that this generally accepted dichotomy between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is too simple. They proposed the Self-Determination Theory (SDT). According to SDT, motivation can be described as a continuum on which one end is amotivation, and on the other is intrinsic motivation. Between them, there are four types of external motivation.

A brief description of each follows.

Amotivation - is characterised by a lack of intentionality. It occurs as a result of a lack of competence, interest, or value.
External motivation  - Ryan and Deci (2020) emphasised that there are differences between various types of external motivation relative to the perceived locus of causality. This is important because behaviour which was once externally motivated can, over time,  become more autonomous or even intrinsic.
External regulation - characterised by external rewards and punishment.  
Introjection - the locus of causality is still somewhat external. However, instead of avoiding external punishment and seeking rewards, a person with introjected motivation seeks approval from self and others.
Identification - a person with this type of external motivation also sees the personal importance of some actions and behaviours. It is evident that self-endorsement and locus of causality are somewhat internal.
Integration - a person with this type of motivation identifies with the value of the activity and finds it congruent with other beliefs and values. The locus of causality is internal
Internal motivation - typical for intrinsic motivation is the presence of joy, interest, and satisfaction. Of course, the locus of causality is internal.

Strategies to Boost Self-Motivation

Self-motivation can be learned. Small but consistent steps are required for developing good habits. Below are some simple, proven strategies that can boost your self-motivation.

Setting clear goals and objectives

Many great ideas have failed because of poor planning. Often, when we are excited about an idea, it is easy to rush in without setting proper goals and steps. However, when we are inevitably faced with obstacles, enthusiasm is not enough. We need clear steps of action.

Setting goals and objectives also helps us track our progress and fuels our self-motivation. Seeing progress motivates us to keep going and enhances our goals.

If you need help setting goals and objectives, don't be afraid to ask a friend or coworker for support. Working with a coach can also help you develop this skill.

There are many programs developed particularly for people like you. Be patient while finding what works for you. For example, creative people often struggle with time management and productivity. They often report that well-known techniques simply don't work for them. C-flow is one program that provides an alternative solution for people who have great ideas but get stuck during realisation. Instead of trying to fit into some predefined mould, it is designed for the way you work and think.

Developing a growth mindset

Paradoxically, focusing on the process rather than particular goals will increase our enjoyment and chances of success.

Staying open-minded and curious will help us stay motivated even when things are not going as we planned.

You might not be where you want to be but look around. Maybe exactly at this place, you can find new learning opportunities or discover new goals.

Embracing challenges and learning from mistakes

Many people dream about fast and easy success. However, the odds for that are not high. Mistakes are a fundamental part of almost every success story. High achievers also make mistakes. However, they seek solutions and use mistakes to learn more about themselves and the process.

Next time you fail (and you will for sure, like each of us), don't think of it as a sign that you should give up. Through the process of eliminating "wrong" answers, we get closer to a solution.

Cultivating resilience and perseverance

Even when we planned well, worked hard, and learned from our mistakes, there may be a time when the results are unsatisfactory. Staying patient and being resistant to stress are also important skills that will help us maintain our motivation during hardship.

Practising self-compassion

Finally, one of the most important things for mental health and subjective well-being is practising self-compassion. Progress is not linear, and you may have moments when you are not motivated and tempted to give up. It is important to recognize when you need a break instead of forcing yourself to keep going despite a lack of energy and capacity.

Self-compassion also helps you bounce back from failure (especially if it is your fault) and try again.

How to Stay Inspired

The Self-Determination Theory provides guidelines on developing lasting intrinsic motivation. Experiencing joy and interest naturally motivates us to continue pursuing certain activities and goals. However, understanding the importance of a particular task for the greater good can also lead to more autonomous motivation. This is the case for two types of external motivation that were previously described: identified and integrated motivation.

There are also a few simple changes to your daily routine that can positively impact your motivation.

Finding your  purpose

When we are working on something important to us, lack of recognition and obstacles don't affect us. We enjoy the process. Sometimes half of success is finding things that we genuinely care about.

The painter Vincent Van Gogh, despite his obvious talent,  struggled to sell his art during his lifetime. It is said that he only sold a few paintings and often exchanged them for food and painting supplies. Luckily, that didn't discourage him or prevent him from painting.

Surrounding yourself with positive influences

We've all been inspired by someone else's action or accomplishment. We like success stories because they show us that ordinary people can achieve amazing things. You can find inspiration by listening to podcasts, reading blogs, etc.

People around us also influence our thinking, behaviour, and motivation. Make sure that you are surrounded by people who inspire you and encourage your progress. Show support for others, and it will return to you.

Seeking new experiences and learning opportunities

Growth occurs outside of our comfort zone. We all know that, however, many of us stay in unfavourable situations (bad jobs, miserable relationships) simply because uncertainty scares us more.

You don't have to quit your job, move across the world, or end all your relationships. Start with small steps. Next time, during a work meeting, don't be afraid to share your idea. Ask for things that you want. It may take a few attempts, but you will certainly be rewarded for your efforts. You're sure to feel good about it, too, because you'll finally be standing up for yourself.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance

It is hard to stay motivated when you are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Rest is equally as important as hard work. It is also important to have joy in your life. Work-life balance will fuel your success and enrich your personal life.

Practising gratitude and mindfulness

Staying present and grateful will have a positive impact on your motivation. Instead of getting discouraged by how far you are from achieving your goals, focus on what you've learned so far. Be grateful for the journey.

It is all about perspective. What you have now was something you only dreamed about at one point in your life. Enjoy. And give yourself a break.

Tools and Techniques for Self-Motivation and Inspiration

Although each of us has our own unique strategies and techniques for motivating ourselves, there are some tools that many successful people use. Try them and pick what best works for you.

Here are some ideas:

Visualisation and affirmations - for some people imagining future success serves as a great motivator. Others find that affirmations help them stay inspired.

Journaling and self-reflection - writing can help us stay present and affirm what is happening right now instead of worrying about the future. Also, reading some of our journal's previous entries might remind us of how far we've come and the obstacles we've overcome.

Creating a motivation board or playlist - if you have difficulty visualising your success, you can try creating a motivation board. Choose a few pictures that represent your important goals. You can also make a playlist that puts you in the right mood  (if you like to exercise, then you already know how certain music can motivate you to do another set in the gym).

Engaging in activities that promote creativity and relaxation - when we feel good, we are more creative and have more energy to do things that we like. If you want to boost your motivation - cultivate joy.

The Role of Coaching in Self-Motivation and Inspiration

Coaching is one of the most effective ways to develop and maintain self-motivation. While you are the one who needs to do the hard work, a coach can help you create strategies to achieve your goals.

We're all unique, and sometimes we may need help discovering our true selves and what works best for each of us. An added benefit of working with a mentor or coach is the good example or success story the coach provides. That can be a great motivator during a crisis. Finally, a good coach has not only skills and knowledge but the real-life experience that might be useful to you.

The process of finding the right coach is not always easy, so don't be discouraged if the first choice isn't a good fit. Pay attention to their qualifications and expertise, but also trust your gut. It is equally important how you feel about them.

Many studies show that one of the key factors of success in the psychotherapy process is the therapist's personality. One meta-analysis (Barkham et al., 1991) showed that up to 8% of psychotherapy effects could be associated with a particular therapist - the so-called "therapist effect." This study included 362 therapists and 1,4245 clients. It is reasonable to assume that something similar occurs in the coaching process as well. Find someone you like and trust.

Self-motivation is a lifelong journey. Learning more about motivation will help you foster it and use it for your growth. Self-motivation is something that you can practise. Research (e.g., Ryan & Deci, 2017) shows that even extrinsic motivation can be transformed into intrinsic.

Never underestimate the power others have on your self-motivation and inspiration. Other people can inspire us and show us their strategies and tools. You might also already be an inspiration for someone without even knowing it. Encourage others to find their path and maintain motivation.

Finally, it is important to stay active and open to opportunities. You will not cultivate motivation just by reading about it. If you are struggling to apply what you've learned,  coaching may be a good option for you. The coach will instruct you on its application in real life.


Barkham, M., Lutz, W., Lambert, M. J., & Saxon, D. (2017). Therapist effects, effective therapists, and the law of variability. In L. Castonguay & C. Hill (Eds.), How and why are some therapists better than others? Understanding therapist effects (pp. 13–36). Washington, DC: American Psychological Press.

Froiland, J. M., & Worrell, F. C. (2016). Intrinsic motivation, learning goals, engagement, and achievement in a diverse high school. Psychology in the Schools, 53(3), 321–336.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2020). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation from a self-determination theory perspective: Definitions, theory, practices, and future directions. Contemporary educational psychology, 61, 101860.

Taylor, G., Jungert, T., Mageau, G. A., Schattke, K., Dedic, H., Rosenfield, S., & Koestner, R. (2014). A self-determination theory approach to predicting school achievement over time: The unique role of intrinsic motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 39(4), 342–358.