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How to Increase Motivation: 15 Ways That Actually Work

Jun 1, 2023

Q: How does refueling work for humans? How do we discover renewed energy when the will to work fades out? How does a person keep going when his heart is not in it? 

A: M-O-T-I-V-A-T-I-O-N

Because when you run out of gas, what has simply happened is that you've lost motivation. 

During episodes of low motivation, many people describe a feeling of laziness, tiredness, and zero enthusiasm. ‘A gray cloud,’ ‘fading colors,’ ‘dark hole,’’ suffocating blanket,’ ‘cold, lifeless embers’ — the list goes on and on…, and on. 

Now, if you’d prefer to snap out of the doom and gloom of a lethargic spell and learn ways to get out of bed with more energy and enthusiasm, you must learn how to increase your motivation. You must learn to refuel. 

This article explains 15 science-backed ways to improve motivation that actually works. None of that clickbait stuff here.  We recommend reading with an open mind to recognize the strategies suited to you.

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Table of Contents

What You Need to Know About Motivation

You know that invisible yet powerful force that compels you to act toward achieving your goals? That’s motivation. Motivation pushes you to study for exams, do an extra rep at the gym, and show up at work when needed.

It propels us forward, even in the face of obstacles and setbacks. Motivation means every biological, emotional, social, and cognitive force that triggers human action. To be motivated means to be moved into action.

Staying focused and progressing toward our aspirations would be very challenging without motivation. Some researchers say up to 87% of employees would quit their jobs without some form of motivation. Ergo, we work and live because we’re motivated to.  

That’s why keeping motivation levels high as often as possible is vital. 

Motivation gives you the energy and enthusiasm needed to accomplish your goals. When motivated, you are way more productive, focused, and resilient. 

That said, feeling demotivated is entirely normal. We can’t all be superstars all the time. Multiple factors, including burnout, low attention span, a lack of clear goals, and anxiety, can sap our motivation. When this inevitable loss of motivation happens, the thing to do is pick yourself up and go again — because only you can do so. 

Understanding what motivates you is personal. We all have different things that drive us, and learning your unique sources of motivation can help you stay focused and committed to your goals. Some people are motivated by external rewards, such as praise or recognition, while others are motivated by internal factors, such as a sense of accomplishment or personal growth. Almost everyone is motivated by both.

3 Fundamental Theories of Motivation (with examples)

It would seem every psychologist has a theory of motivation. There are at least twenty theories of motivation. 

As cliche as this may sound, no theories explain every aspect of human motivation. We, human beings, are just too complicated and too different to be explained by a bunch of 200-year-old theories. 

However, learning the fundamental theories of motivation can help you better understand what motivates you, what doesn’t, and how to increase motivation when needed. In this section, we’ll cover five of the most popular theories of motivation and give you real-life scenarios of where they make the most sense.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow’s theory of motivation is arguably the most popular. Loved by organizations especially, Maslow’s theory does its best to explain our motivations from birth to death.

The theory is based on the concept of “needs.” Needs are things or a state of affairs essential to human survival and growth. Satisfied needs do not motivate us; dissatisfaction is what pushes us to act.  

Using a pyramid to illustrate the hierarchy, Maslow explains that all human needs can be classified into five:

  1. Physiological needs — air, water, food, sleep.
  2. Safety needs — security, health, ownership of property.
  3. Love and belonging needs — romantic relationships, belonging to a community.
  4. Esteem needs — self-confidence, getting the respect of others
  5. Self-actualization needs — morality, fulfillment, and happiness with one’s self.

Real-life example:

The feeling of hunger triggers the need to eat, which motivates us to find food. 

Although that’s an example of a physiological need, all other needs in the hierarchy work the same way. We need something necessary for survival or growth and are instinctively motivated to get what we need.

According to Maslow, every action we take is motivated by one or more needs. These needs motivate us, and without them, there’ll be no need to do anything. 

Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory

This theory lives in the workplace and is all about work and job satisfaction.

Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory proposes that two types of factors affect motivation and job satisfaction in the workplace: hygiene factors and motivators

Hygiene factors, such as salary and working conditions, are necessary to prevent dissatisfaction but do not necessarily lead to motivation or job satisfaction. Motivators, such as recognition and personal growth, are the key to achieving job satisfaction and motivation.

Real-life example:

Employees at a call center may have a comfortable workspace, adequate pay, and good benefits. However, they may not feel motivated to perform well or be satisfied with their job if they do not receive recognition for their achievements or opportunities for career growth. 

In contrast, if the employer provides regular feedback and recognition for the employee's good work, the employee is more likely to be motivated and satisfied with their job.

McClelland’s Three Needs Theory

Like the other people, McClelland paid a lot of attention to motivation. His theory is that people are motivated by three primary needs: achievement, affiliation, and power.

The need for achievement explains the desire to excel and achieve challenging yet attainable goals. People who are motivated by achievement enjoy doing more tasks and seeking feedback on their performance from others.

The need for affiliation refers to a desire to kick ass at social relationships. Affiliation-motivated individuals want to hang out with people and be liked by others.

Those with power needs prefer to control and influence others. They are always looking to take roles or pursue goals that help them exert control or influence over others.

McClelland says people have varying degrees of these needs, which can affect their work performance. 

If, at some point, the need for achievement is high, a person is more likely to pursue challenging tasks like getting a new certification or learning a new skill.

This exact cycle can also play out when either power or affiliation needs take pole position in your thoughts. 

A penny for your thoughts?

These theories all sound great. Do you think there’s one that describes your motives well enough? 

The answers you’re searching for are probably in this article's next section.

Identifying Your Motivators

Any meaningful attempt to increase motivation must begin with successfully identifying your motivator. You’ve got to know what makes you tick.

In 2016, Mo Farah completed the fantastic feat of grabbing two gold medals at the Rio Olympics — one for 10,000 meters and another for 5,000 meters. Mo Farah explained that he went that far because of his family. 

His motivator on that day was family. Yours might be different, but it’s there, influencing you to act the way you do — and you need to identify it if you haven’t already. 

Try these strategies to identify your motivators.

Self-reflection exercises

Taking a step back to ask yourself some really essential questions is a constructive way to identify your motivator. 

Ask yourself questions like:  

Am I taking anything for granted? Am I living true to myself? Why do I matter? How will I live knowing I will die? Is it more important to love or be loved?


See more introspective questions here. Write down the answers in a journal and re-read them to yourself to understand your answers better.

Identifying personal values

Personal values are your core beliefs and tenets that guide your actions. These principles influence your behavior and guide you through happy and sad times.

Examples of personal values include kindness, independence, leadership, adventure, collaboration, and creativity. A person who values kindness will be more interested in doing good, while valuing independence influences a person to work alone and take on tasks that don’t require teamwork.

Figure out what core beliefs have shaped and are still shaping your life, and you’d have found more of your motivators.

Recognizing past successes

What about the past are you proud of? Were you thrilled about graduating college, or did it feel ordinary or incomplete?

Discovering what qualifies as ‘success’ says plenty about what motivates you.

15 Strategies for Increasing Motivation (That Actually Work)

Maintaining high levels of motivation is as challenging as it gets, even more so when faced with setbacks and complex tasks. The good news (with no ‘but’) is that hundreds of strategies can be implemented to increase motivation — and sustain it. 

After hours of in-depth study of the reviews and science of several strategies, we’ve hand-picked these fifteen motivation strategies with the most positive impact.

Set Goals, Not Chores

Goal setting is a powerful strategy for increasing motivation and getting things done. 

Professors Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, two exceptional researchers on goal-finding, wrote an article explaining how goal-setting works. The summary of their 35-year-old research is this: 

Setting specific, challenging goals with a tight deadline is far more likely to inspire you to act than setting abstract, unchallenging goals bordered by a loose deadline.

For example, setting a goal to shed some weight by the end of the year will not motivate you, as well as setting a goal to shed X kg by the end of X month. Abstract goals won’t cut it; specific ones will. 

Make your goals more specific by writing them down in a journal or translate them into daily habits using an app like Focus Bear.

Pat Yourself on the Back (Reward Yourself)

Creating external motivators can help when faced with difficult tasks or long work stretches. For example, you might promise yourself a vacation when you finish a project or buy a gift if you reach a weight loss goal. 

However, be careful not to create negative incentives that could undermine your progress, such as rewarding yourself solely for completing tasks quickly or with quantity rather than focusing on quality. Choosing incentives that work against your goals can also be counterproductive, such as rewarding weight loss with unhealthy food.

When setting external incentives, remember that uncertain rewards can be more effective than certain ones. For instance, people often work harder for a chance at a larger reward than a certain smaller one. 

Bonus tip: 

You can even "gamify" tasks by randomly choosing a reward from two envelopes after completing a job. See a longer list of rewards you can give yourself.

Break Your Goals Into Tiny Bits

As we strive to achieve goals, we often experience a surge of motivation at the beginning but then lose momentum in the middle, leading to a higher risk of getting stuck.

For example, one experiment revealed that participants cutting paper shapes tended to take shortcuts during the middle of the task compared to the initial and final shapes. In other words, they ran out of gas.

Thankfully, there are ways to combat this tendency. One effective strategy is to break down your goal into smaller sub-goals. 

For example, you may set weekly targets instead of quarterly ones. This way, you'll have less time to be affected by mid-project slumps. 

Redefine Failure

Failure is inherently anti-motivation. Our nervous system is a complicated feedback network that affects our perception of everything. When things are going great, our brains are supercharged and motivated. Once things start heading south, we lose motivation. 

It’s a simple mathematical equation when you think about it, and like every other equation, you can change the result by moving things around. Using this strategy means convincing yourself that failures are just ‘small missteps moving you in the right direction.’ 

Failing is an excellent sign that you’re getting closer to success because you can differentiate what works from what doesn’t. In that way, failure can be a success. 

Don’t Just Take Advice; give It

Offering advice instead of seeking it can be a powerful tool to overcome motivational obstacles. Giving advice can boost our confidence and spur us into action.

A study by Ayelet Fishbach, author of Get It Done: Surprising Lessons From the Science of Motivation, found that individuals struggling to achieve a goal, such as finding a job, often assume they need tips from experts to succeed. However, what they may not realize is that offering their wisdom to fellow job seekers can be even more beneficial. When we offer advice, we lay out concrete plans to follow ourselves, intensifying our drive to go the distance.

Don't underestimate the power of sharing your knowledge and experience with others. By doing so, you not only help others but also empower yourself to take action and achieve your goals.

Disable Distractions

Distractions are, um…distracting. Constant interruptions, mind wandering, social media notifications, and other distractions interfere with the human work cycle, making it more challenging to focus on a task, let alone succeed at it. 

Searching for increased motivation in a distracted space is pointless. 

Work on improving your concentration, keep your phone away, avoid noise, and focus on one thing at a time. Your chances of finding motivation will be higher that way. 

If you need help blocking distractions on your devices, entrust your focus with a functional distraction-blocking app like Focus Bear.

Listen to Good Music

For thousands of years, humans have used music to soothe our souls and gain relief from pain. Music—and all its complicated pitches, rhythm, melodies, and dynamics—is life. 

Listening to music increases blood flow to the brain’s emotional center. Just as that is happening, our bodies also release a strong dose of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that triggers sensations of pleasure and well-being.

In summary, we feel good when we listen to (or make) good music; sometimes, that may be all we need to boost motivation. 

A widespread practice of this strategy is working out with music. People tend to contribute more time and energy to exercise when there’s music instead of when there’s none.

Trust the Process

Take your mind off the outcome of a project, task, or goal you’re pursuing; pay more attention to the process you’re experiencing. 

For example, don’t pay too much attention to the grade your academic paper will or should get. Instead, focus more on the stages of the task — choosing a topic, creating an outline, fleshing out each chapter, and writing a conclusion. 

You’ll quickly observe that sustaining progress and motivation is easier when you’re not fixated on the outcome. 

Build a Morning Routine for YOU

Routines and rituals help you build positive habits, essentially automating increases in motivation for you. 

Everyone's rituals can differ, so it's crucial to experiment and find what works for you. Perhaps a quick morning jog clears your mind and sets the tone for the day. Or maybe reading a chapter from a self-improvement book before bed helps you wind down. 

It can even be as simple as waking up 15 minutes early to practice mindfulness meditation or enjoy a relaxed breakfast outside on the porch. The key is choosing a daily ritual that promotes peacefulness and happiness, naturally increasing your motivation.

A ritual needs to be done consistently to have any impact, so a trusted sidekick dedicated to keeping you on track will be very helpful. Productivity apps like Focus Bear excel in the sidekick role, helping you write down the steps in your routine in a structured way and notifying you at appropriate times to keep you consistent.

Find Your Place on the Map

When it comes to work and motivation, location is super important. 

Think of where you work best, where the juices flow, and where you’re most relaxed and focused. That’s where you should be, especially when motivation levels drop.

Some folks prefer places with chatter and a little noise, like a coffee shop and quiet gardens. Others prefer serene noiseless locations like libraries and laboratories. 

Find your place on the map and plant yourself like a big red pin.

Come Up With a Mantra

A mantra is a powerful phrase that can strengthen your positive mindset, a condensed form of spiritual energy. They are instrumental in maintaining your motivation and staying upbeat. 

Find a statement that profoundly resonates with you. It can be a simple one, like “I am capable and resilient,” or you can come up with something more unique. Begin each day by saying your mantra out loud to yourself for 2 minutes. The more times you repeat it, the more it will become a part of your belief system.

Write a Letter To Your Future Self

Who better to motivate you than…yourself?

Your understanding of your weakness, strengths, biases, and consciousness is unmatched. So, tap into that power. 

Send a message to your future self explaining how you’re handling difficult situations and the outcomes you hope for. Say everything and be accurate in your letter — it’ll be helpful in the long term.

When that letter finally gets delivered, odds are those old obstacles would have been successfully handled long ago. And, although there will be new problems to solve, knowing that your older self pulled through rather than fall through will give you the willpower to carry on. 

Set a reminder on your phone or Focus Bear to write a letter to your future self. Services like Future Me can save your letter and send it to your inbox at some point in the future.

Keep Cues Everywhere

Think of visual cues as a trigger for the behavior you want to exhibit. For instance, if you want to exercise regularly, keeping your workout clothes in plain sight can remind you to get moving. It's a simple yet effective way to prompt yourself to take action.

Visual reminders of your goals can also be a powerful motivator. Whether it's a dream vacation or a fitness milestone, having a visual reminder can keep your goals in sight, help you stay focused, and give you the push you need to keep going. A picture of your desired destination or a chart of your progress can be a tangible reminder of what you're working towards.

You can also leverage the power of cues through your devices. Set periodic reminders on productivity-tracking apps like Focus Bear so you can be constantly notified of the goals you want to achieve.

Find Strength in Numbers

Humans are like finely-tuned social machines, constantly looking around and taking cues from others. We're like sponges, soaking up the behaviors of those around us and sometimes even morphing into mini-versions of our peers. 

Yes, the people we surround ourselves with can significantly impact our actions and attitudes.

But when it comes to motivation, sometimes seeing someone excel can light a fire under our butts and inspire us to greatness. 

It's like having a secret weapon in our back pocket. By tapping into the wisdom and experience of our role models, we can raise our sights and aim for greatness. So go ahead, pick the brains of your high-achieving colleagues - who knows, they may just have the key to unlocking your full potential.

Try Positive Self-talk

Positive self-talk is a powerful strategy for increasing motivation. A 2020 study revealed that positive self-talk helped people deal with doomsday thoughts during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving them the will to keep going. It involves intentionally changing negative thoughts and self-talk to more positive and encouraging messages. 

Here's how it works: 

Instead of focusing on the negative, like "I'm so lazy" or "I can't do this," try reframing your thoughts into positive affirmations, such as "I am capable of achieving my goals" or "I am motivated and driven." 

Using positive language shifts your mindset and boosts your confidence.

3 Best Apps To Help You Stay Motivated

Finding the motivation to pursue your life goals is not the easiest thing to do, especially if you intend to take a shot at it on your own. But, with some help, you can tilt the odds incredibly in your favor. 

The most uncomplicated and stress-free help around is mobile apps. Accessible on your devices, ever-present and ubiquitous, mobile apps are worthy sidekicks you can trust in a lifelong war with lethargy and demotivation. 

These are our recommendations for the three really good apps that can help you stay motivated:

Focus Bear

The Focus Bear is more than a habit tracker or a distraction blocker. Built by neuroscience experts, Focus Bear thrives in the motivation sidekick role. 

A wide range of features, including a Pomodoro timer, intuitive distraction blockers (for PC and mobile devices), and a routine builder, means you have everything you need to stay motivated 92.3% of the time.

Think Up

Think Up is a mobile app that helps you build positive affirmations and self-talk to boost your confidence and motivation. The app allows you to record your affirmations in your voice, choose from pre-recorded ones, or even browse user-generated affirmations from the app's community. 

Think Up is an excellent tool for anyone looking to increase motivation and improve their mental well-being, with a simple and user-friendly interface to boot. 


Habitica is a free habit-building and productivity app that combines role-playing game (RPG) elements and a task manager. It allows users to turn their daily tasks and habits into fun and rewarding activities by transforming their life into a game.

The app allows users to create a customizable avatar representing them in the game. As the user completes their real-life tasks, they earn points and rewards that can be used to level up their avatar, purchase in-game items, and unlock new features.

Habitica is designed to help users develop good habits, ultimately pushing them to stay motivated.

FAQs About Increasing Motivation

Q: How can I increase my motivation naturally?

A: You can increase your motivation naturally by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, setting achievable goals, surrounding yourself with positive people, and practicing self-care.

Q: What causes a lack of motivation?

A: Lack of motivation can be caused by various factors such as stress, depression, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, lack of interest or passion, fear of failure, and feeling overwhelmed.

Q: How do you improve your lack of motivation?

A: To improve your lack of motivation, you can try setting specific and achievable goals, breaking down large tasks into smaller ones, rewarding yourself for progress made, practicing self-compassion, seeking support from others, and finding activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.

Ready to get Motivated?

Although we may not always admit it (or even know it), we’re in a constant struggle, like heroes in TV shows, against the enemy of demotivation. And, it’s a mortal battle too. Low motivation levels typically equate to a lack of drive, desire, or will to pursue our goals, let alone achieve them. That difficult process, in turn, breeds disappointment, negativity, and depression. 

With that in mind, learning how to increase your motivation occasionally is not some petty disturbance you can do without. It’s an essential part of a successful life. 

You can boost your motivation by practicing one or more of the strategies we’ve already discussed. Begin by eliminating distractions, learning to maintain focus, and developing a positive routine to help you build healthy habits. The Focus Bear app can help you get started on these whenever you’re ready to get motivated.

Jun 1, 2023

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