Self-Motivation: Definition, Examples, and Tips
What is self-motivation? Learn more about what self-motivation is, how to show you’re motivated, and how to boost your motivation.
What Is Self-Motivation? (A Definition)
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 if we are 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 is no longer making us happy. Pretty much any behavior you can think of is thought to originate with self-motivation.
What Is Self-Motivation Theory?
Many psychological theories try to explain why we are motivated to do (or not do) different things. For example, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory suggests that we are innately driven to meet important psychological needs like belonging and self-esteem (Greene, & Burke, 2007).
Another theory, self-determination theory, suggests that each of us might have different levels of motivation based on how intrinsically or extrinsically motivated we are. This theory also suggests that universal needs such as competence, autonomy, and relatedness motivate our behavior.
What Is the Meaning of Self-Motivation?
Given there are many theories of motivation, the exact meaning of self-motivation is a bit murky. But overall, self-motivation is what drives us to do things. So that’s why self-motivation can be beneficial for helping you reach your goals, succeed at work, and even manifest your dreams.
Examples of Self-Motivation
Although most behaviors are self-motivated to some extent and can be examples of self-motivation, when we think about self-motivation as a desired trait, it’s generally because it helps us do things that are good for us and others. Here are some examples.
Examples of self-motivation at work
Examples of self-motivation at home
Examples of self-motivation in relationships
These are just a few examples of what healthy self-motivation could look like in different areas of your life.
Video: The Psychology of Self-Motivation
Oftentimes, people view self-motivation as a skill or set of skills. This skill is especially desired in the workplace because a lack of self-motivation might mean that the worker doesn't get their job done, leaves work for others, and maybe even costs the business money. So, what are some self-motivation skills that you might want to work on developing? Here are some examples:
Self-motivation can be described with a variety of different words. These words—or personality traits—represent different aspects of types of self-motivation. To better understand your own level of motivation, ask yourself if you have any of these traits. Or, think about which of these traits best describe you.
How to Show You're Self-Motivated on Your Resume
Now that you have a better sense of the different parts of self-motivation, how do you show you’re self-motivated on a resume? To start, identify the traits above that describe you. You might then include these descriptions on your resume. Be sure, though, to make sure you have examples to back up these traits.
For example, if you list one of your positive qualities as “resourceful”, then make sure you have an example of a time when you raised money that was needed, found someone with expertise to teach you something, or gained other resources that would be difficult for the average person to gain—all examples of being resourceful. By having these stories locked and loaded, you won’t get tripped up by interview questions about how self-motivated you are.
How to Boost Self-Motivation
Increasing motivation is probably something we all want to do from time to time. Even those of us who consider ourselves to be fairly self-motivated run into roadblocks that can prevent us from achieving success as we define it. So, in this section, we’re going to talk about a variety of different strategies that can be used to boost motivation. Which ones work best for you might just depend on your current circumstances.
Boost self-motivation by bonding with others
Past research among employees has found 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). Perhaps this might surprise you (it surprised me!) because when we think about self-motivation, we might imagine grueling schedules or long ToDo lists. But it actually makes a lot of sense.
As we mentioned earlier, one of our most fundamental needs is belonging or relatedness. And according to Dr. Matt Killingsworth, we enjoy almost every activity more if we’re doing that activity with other people. So if there is an activity that we’re having a hard time doing, making this activity social can make it more likely that we’ll actually do it.
Example of how bonding can boost self-motivation:
Boost self-motivation by finding something you’re good at
The same research study that we mentioned above also showed that feeling like we comprehend what we’re doing at work (and find it meaningful) can lead us to be more engaged (Nohria, Groysberg, & Lee, 2008). That makes sense, right? I don’t know about you, but I have a heck of a time motivating myself to do things I’m not good at. For example, in college, I dreaded doing my physics homework (which I was terrible at). And, even though I love eating good food, I don’t bake (because it rarely comes out tasting good).
According to learning theories, we stay 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.
Example of how competence can boost self-motivation:
Boost self-motivation by accessing 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). At times, it may be helpful to remind ourselves of these drives and how our actions can help us fulfill them.
Video: Mel Robbins | One of the Best Talks Ever on Self-Motivation
Self-Motivation Techniques & Tricks
Now that you know some of the drives that can help you stay motivated, here are some tricks from other areas of research that can help you boost your motivation across a variety of life domains.
1. 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 tiny—he means minuscule—habit. 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 soon you’ll be walking regularly. Check out this article on habits to learn more.
2. Use SMART goals
SMART goals are Specific, Meaningful, Achievable, Realistic, and Trackable. If we make sure that our personal goals are SMART, then working to achieve them can be easier. As an example, I use a ridiculously specific outline to make sure that I publish enough articles to grow this website. It includes the title of the articles that I plan to write, how many articles I plan to write each week and month, word counts, and success metrics like growth rate, income, etc…
After doing this tracking for a while, I now know what is achievable and what timeline is realistic. Plus, on days when I’m lacking self-motivation, I don’t have to exert as much energy to get started. I already have my outlines, templates, and research done. Then, all it takes is a reminder that this goal matters to me—it’s meaningful to me. That’s enough to get me started putting words on the page. Even if the writing wasn't good that day, I’ve maintained my motivation.
3. 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.
Here’s an example that happened to me today:
While writing this article, I got an important phone call about something that needed to be dealt with immediately. This happens all the time—we get interrupted and through no fault of our own, we have to stop what we’re doing, even if we’re feeling super self-motivated. That’s where things get tricky. Picking back up our motivation, getting the same amount of work done in less time, or finishing work when we hadn’t planned to is never fun.
Luckily, having implementation intentions helps keep us on track. Mine put me at ease because I know that IF I get interrupted and can’t finish my work when I planned, THEN I’ll finish my work the following morning (by getting up earlier, taking a shorter lunch, or working faster). It’s not always a perfect solution, but I usually still get everything done that I had planned.
Need some quotes to help inspire more self-motivation? Here are a few:
Video: How to Motivate Yourself to Change Your Behavior
More Articles Related to Self-Motivation
Keep reading about skills that can help you with self-motivation in the articles below:
Books for Self-Motivation
Want to keep learning about the science behind self-motivation? Here are some books to explore:
Boosting motivation is something we all want and need from time to time. Hopefully, these strategies and tools provided you with some useful ideas for how to boost your motivation and achieve your dreams.