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Evidence Based Techniques For Sustaining Motivation

According to Ayelet Fishback, we need to reframe our relationship with setbacks and motivators.

The image is spliced in half, on the left there are two silhouettes under a sunset. One is punching the air, the other is climbing up a hill. On the right there is a sticky note with 'Intrinsic Motivation' written on it.
Credit: KieferPix/ ShutterStock, Vitalii Vodolaszskyi/ ShutterStock

How do we stay motivated and succeed? Dr. Ayelet Fishback is a social psychologist who gave a TED Talk explaining our relationships with motivation and provided cognitive tricks which can be used to keep on top of our ambitions. I have condensed that information for this article.

Seeing how far we’ve come increases our motivation


You are the person who decides on the perimeters. For example, suppose you’re tracking your progress in learning German. And you can’t get to grips with understanding last week’s principle of conjugating some verb or other. Instead of beating yourself up for last week, you can look at your overall progress since beginning your lessons.

Seeing progress motivates us to keep going. You may have heard the phrase: success leads to more motivation which leads to more success which leads to more motivation. Well, this is basically it.

Ayelet Fishback also notes that we also have a choice in how we frame our disappointment. If we look back on our progress over the last week and see that we have not made much progress, do we look at it as a lack of progress or a lack of commitment? Our disappointment is healthy if we view it as a lack of progress. Our disappointment will push us to work a bit harder in these instances. Suppose we view it as a lack of commitment. In that case, this is where our thoughts start to take shapes like ‘I haven’t made progress because I cannot make progress’ and ‘I did not exercise yesterday like I said I would, which means I just don’t have it in me to exercise daily’.

Think of the Journey, Not The Destination

That sounds so trite. But to put it in other words: We will feel more motivated to do something if the activity feels like an end in and of itself (or enjoyable). In an experiment Fishback did, where the participants could listen to ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles or a loud alarm, most people chose the alarm because it had the external motivator of money. However, those same people, later on, regretted their choice. So what does this mean?

Reframing how we look at a task is important. Reframing it as interesting, fun, energizing, or finding anything enjoyable about the task itself can do wonders for our motivation. Personally, not underestimating the role of intrinsic motivation was game-changing for my motivation. When it came to writing essays for university, for example, instead of thinking of intrinsic motivators, I used to think about external grades. I would get too worked up over making the assignment perfect. I would beat myself up over it not being perfect. This would lead to me eventually losing motivation. If you’re anything like I used to be, maybe focusing on the intrinsic motivators is just what you need?

Practising What You Preach

Lauren Eskreis-Winkler, Angela Duckworth, and Ayelet Fishback found that ‘when students, job seekers, and overweight individuals gave others advice on studying, finding a job or eating healthily – they were more motivated to follow through [with accomplishing the task themselves].’

When I first heard this, I was kind of uncomfortable with the idea. I was thinking: ‘Who would I be, having not done the thing, teaching others how to do the thing?’ Ayelet Fishback comments on this too. Struggles are lessons, but computing this negative feedback is easier when you’re not the direct subject.

Motivated workout buddies. Credit: Dusan Petkovic/ ShutterStock

Most of us are familiar with this one, but motivation dwindles in the middle and increases near the end of a goal

One way to get around this is to break big goals into smaller sub-goals. This minimizes the middle length and maximizes the duration of your motivation. What does this look like? Think of weekly workout goals. Or setting a daily word count goal for your essay or novel.

If you liked this article, here’s some similar ones for you to enjoy:

The Quest For Success: An Insider’s Perspective On Motivation And Defining Goals

Power To The Podcast: 5 Inspiring Podcasts That Will Change Your Life

Written By

Cardiff Uni student who'd exchange a kidney for a lifetime supply of cappuccinos.

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