13 Motivation Techniques


image“A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” — Ayn Rand

I’m refocusing on some patterns and practices for feeling good.

I think motivation is one of the most crucial skills you need throughout your life.

Even if already have motivation techniques that work for you, you can always add more motivation tools to your toolbox, or validate the motivation tools you have.

This is a set of expert motivation techniques from the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, by Dr. David Burns.

Start with Thought Patterns

Before reviewing the motivation techniques, you should be familiar with the following thought patterns:

  1. 10 Distorted Thinking Patterns – These patterns include: All-Or-Nothing Thinking, Overgeneralization, Mental Filter, Disqualifying the Positive, Jumping to Conclusions, Magnification or Minimization, Emotional Reasoning, Should Statements, Labeling and Mislabeling, and Personalization.
  2. 13 Negative Motivation Patterns – These patterns include: Hopelessness, Helplessness, Overwhelming Yourself, Jumping to Conclusions, Self-labeling, Undervaluing the Rewards, Perfectionism, Fear of Failure, Fear of Success, Fear of Disapproval or Criticism, Coercion and Resentment, Low Frustration Tolerance, Guilt and Self-blame.

Your mind can work against you, including your own vocabulary and thought patterns.

Now that you have a handle on the thought patterns that can work against your motivation, next you can add some new motivation techniques to your toolbox.

13 Motivation Techniques at a Glance

These are 13 expert motivation techniques have been validated by Dr. David Burns over years of practice.  You can say that they are proven practices for improving motivation with skill.

At the end of the day, some motivation techniques will work better for you than others.  Put all of the motivation techniques to the test and judge by results.  Keep in mind that it can take practice to master a technique, so before you abandon a technique, make sure that you gave it a fair chance.

Here is a summary of the motivation techniques according Burns.

1. Antiprocrastination Sheet

This technique helps improve your negative assumptions. To use it, you list the tasks you need to perform.  You predict the difficulty and your satisfaction on a scale of 100.  After you perform the tasks, you write down your actual difficulty and your actual satisfaction.  See Antiprocrastination Sheet.

2. But-Rebuttal Method

This technique is a way to deal with excuses you make where you talk yourself out of things.  For example, you could work out today “But.”  To use it, you write down the tasks you want to do.  You then write down your “but” excuses.  Next, you write a rebuttal for each excuse.  This works because you’re giving yourself a response to your excuses, rather than having to deal with them on the fly.  It’s also a way to remind yourself of why you are doing what you’re doing.  See But-Rebuttal Method.

3. Can’t Lose System

This technique is a way to combat your fear of failure. It works by listing your fears, exposing distorted thinking, and identifying ways to cope.  To use it, first, list your worst case fears.  Next, rationalize your list.  Finally, identify coping strategies and fallback plans.  By thinking on paper, you can be more objective about your fears as well as more creative in terms of finding potential solutions.  See Can’t Lose System.

4. Count What Counts

This technique is a way to improve your self-confidence and remind yourself of the positive actions you take each day.  To use it, you simply either use a wristwatch counter and click each time you take a positive action, or you use a notebook and write it down.  As simple as this technique is, it’s produced profound results time and again.  What it does it retrain your brain to pay attention to the positive actions you take each day, which are easy to miss if you’re not counting them.  This gives you a more balanced view and helps build confidence in your ability to perform actions.  See Count What Counts.

5. Daily Activity Schedule

This technique is for breaking out of a lethargy cycle and to get motivated again for basic activity.  To use it, you list the activities you plan to get done for the day.  Identify whether each activity is for mastery or for pleasure.  After your activities, rate them as from 0 – 5, where 0 is low and 5 is high.  This technique helps you find the joy in things you do, and refocuses you on simple pleasures and simple mastery.  See Daily Activity Schedule.

6. Disarming Technique

This technique is for helping you respond to pushy, critics with advice.  Although the critics may have good advice, when it’s pushy, it’s easy for you to push back and cut off your nose to spite your face.  Instead, to use this technique, you disarm the critic by agreeing with them, but then you own the decision.  If your critic cares about your well being, this ends up being a win win.  See Disarming Technique.

7. Little Steps for Little Feet

This technique is about dealing with overwhelming tasks or an overwhelming backlog.  To use it, you breakdown your tasks.  Think of them as little hurdles.  You divide a task into manageable units using time limitations.  For example, you might break it up into 20 minutes tasks or 30 minute tasks.  By breaking your tasks down and using timeboxes, it helps you take little steps to get major things done incrementally, rather than get overwhelmed up front.  See Little Steps for Little Feet .

8. Motivation Without Coercion

This technique is about eliminating your “musts”, “shoulds”, and “oughts”.  Musts, shoulds, and oughts can drain you.  Instead, reframe your tasks as “wants.”  The idea is to create a reward system instead of using a whip against yourself.  See Motivation Without Coercion.

9. Pleasure Predicting Sheet

This technique is for helping you find out what activities you really enjoy and how much you enjoy them.  To use it, you write down your list of activities you will do for pleasure.  You predict your satisfaction on a 100 point scale.  After the activity, you record your actual satisfaction.  See Pleasure-Predicting Sheet.

10. Self-Endorsement

Many people beat themselves up.  This technique is about helping you endorse yourself.  To use this technique, you list your self-downing statements.  Next to each statement, you write your self-endorsing statements.  Don’t dismiss your accomplishments.  Focus on your accomplishments.  This teaches you how to lift yourself up over time.  See Self-Endorsement.

11. Test Your Cant’s

This technique is a about testing your negative assumptions.  It’s easy to fall into a pattern of thinking you can’t do this or you can’t do that.  This technique helps you prove it.  to use it, break down your assumptions into small hurdles.  Take action and test against each one, proving yourself right or wrong.  See Test Your Can’ts.

12. TIC-TOC Technique

This technique is for getting past negative thoughts that block you from taking action.  To use it, you first write down the negative thoughts that get in the way of your tasks.  Next rationalize each item objectively.  Be sure to check for potential negative motivation patterns or distorted thinking patterns.  Lastly, write your rebuttal next to each negative thought. See TIC-TOC Technique.

13. Visualize Success

This technique is about visualizing the prize.  Rather than motivate yourself with a stick, the idea is to create a big, fat carrot.  To use this, get a good picture of the end in mind.  Next, list the benefits of taking actions towards this outcome.  Lastly, repeat the benefits so that you can easily recall them.  See Visualize Success.

If you aren’t feeling motivated, ask yourself, which of the techniques are you using to help you find your motivation?

Actually, don’t just ask yourself, play with the motivation tools until you find the ones that make your soul sing.

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  1. Hi J.D. – What an amazing list. I have used the “Little Steps for Little Feet’ technique many times. It makes a huge difference when I break a major task into smaller bites. Plus, being a list maker, it gives me more to cross off of my list. Haha!

  2. I’ve never really called it this but I also use the “Little Steps for Little Feet” technique pretty often. It’s a great way to break bigger tasks down into smaller pieces and feeling good about the progress you are making.

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  4. I was disarmed so many times with “Disarming Technique”.
    Time to adopt it and start disarming.

    Good stuff – liked a lot, very practical for me. I always like to defend my point. What a waste of energy….

    Disarm and conquer 🙂

  5. @ Alik

    I’m always amazed how simple it is, but powerful.

    You’re right, it really is about choosing where to spend your energy to be more effective.

  6. @ Ricardo

    It’s good that you already have the habit. Some people overwhelm themselves and they don’t even know it. I actually like the name. When I find a big challenge, I just remind myself, “oh yeah, little steps for little feet.”

    It also reminds me of saying like “take baby steps,” “crawl before you can walk,” and “Eat an elephant a bite at a time.”

  7. Hi J.D.
    I love your post. Very good reminder for me. I’ve practised all of them but I’m still weak at the ‘Can’t Lose System’ and the ‘Disarming Technique’. I’m not going to beat myself up about it, just try to improve as much as I possibly can for a happier, healthier me.
    Thanks for the post!

  8. @ Wenny

    Thank you.

    They’re tricky, but like anything you get better with practice. I like to think of Can’t Lose as mapping out potential threats and brainstorming solutions. It takes away the fear of your worst case scenarios because you have a plan. Not having a plan can create anxiety. Having plan says, hey, I’m ready for that. The Disarming Technique is really tough at first, but as soon as you get a couple successes, it starts to become second nature.

  9. I really want to work on Motivation Without Coercion. That’s powerful. I use “have to” for everything and it paralyzes me from taking action. I actually unconsciously used “should” in the first sentence of this comment and changed it to “want to”. I think I already use the Disarming Technique, but I guess I haven’t defined it with a name.

  10. @ Broderick

    I really like the simple shift to “want to”. It’s practical and I get to practice it everyday 😉

    You might have heard Tony Robbins say, don’t “should” all over yourself.

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