How To Master Your Motivation



“You don’t overcome challenges by making them smaller but by making yourself bigger.” – John C. Maxwell

When it comes to getting results, it takes motivation and ability.

Motivation makes things happen.

Where there’s no will, there’s no way.

One of the best ways to improve your personal effectiveness is to master your motivation and find your drive.

Master Your Motivation to Deal with Life’s Setbacks and to Find Your Drive

Motivation – the reason behind actions, desires, and needs.

I dedicated a full chapter on motivation in my Getting Results book, but I want to give you an introduction here.

If you can master motivation, you can deal with life’s setbacks, as well as inspire yourself to always find a way forward, and create new experiences for yourself, and follow your growth.

In this post, I’ll demystify motivation and give you the motivation tools that really work.

Motivation Techniques for Results

I have tested practices for results.  First let’s start with some context.  I didn’t learn motivation from theories and books, although I’ve tested many models and I’ve read a lot of books.

I’ve learned how to motivate myself and others by dealing with some of the worst motivation issues day in and day out, over years of practice.

As a Program Manager at Microsoft, I’ve lead distributed teams for more than 10 years.  Along the way,  I’ve experimented and tested the best ways to motivate and inspire out of necessity.

Turning my projects into thrilling epic adventures and helping people unleash their best is one of my most important success patterns.

15 Ways to Motivate Yourself and Others

Before explaining more about motivation, I want to give you some proven practices you can use for improving your motivation.

Here are some ways to find your drive and get results:

1. Connect to your values.

This is the ultimate secret.  If you can connect the work you do to your values, even in small ways, you can change your game.

One of my values is learning and growth.

I find ways to grow my skills in any situation.  For example, I don’t just “call back a customer.”  I “win a raving fan.”  I don’t just “do a task.”  I “master my craft.”  I don’t just “get something done.”  I “learn something new.”

2. Find your WHY.

Figure out a compelling purpose.   Turn this into a one-liner.

For example, when I fall off the horse, I remind myself I’m here to “make others great.”

This gets me back on track, sharing the best of what I know.

3. Change your WHY.

Sometimes you’re doing things for the wrong reason.  Are you doing that task to get it done, or to learn something new?  Just shifting your why can light your fire.

4. Change your HOW.

You can instantly find your tasks more enjoyable by shifting from getting them done, to doing them right.

I think of it as mastering your craft.

Make it artful.

Sometimes slower is better.  Other times, the key is to make it a game and actually speed it up.  You can set time limits and race against the clock.

Changing your how can get you out of ruts and find new ways to escape the mundane.

5. Remember the feeling.

Flipping through your head movies and scenes is one of the fastest ways to change how you feel.

Remember the feeling.

How did you feel during your first kiss?  What about laying on the grass on a sunny day?

When you feel good, you find your motivation faster.

6. Shift to past, present, or the future.

Sometimes you need to be here, now.  Sometimes, the right here, right now sucks.  The beauty of shifting tense is you can visualize a more compelling future, or remember a more enjoyable past.

At the same time, if you catch yourself dwelling on a painful past, get back to right here, right now, and find the joy in the moment.

You’ll improve your temporal skills with practice.

7. Find a meaningful metaphor.

Find a metaphor that fuels you.  Maybe you’re the “Little Engine that Could.”  Maybe you’re “in your element.”

The most powerful thing you can do is find a metaphor that connects to your values.  This is why I turn my projects into “epic adventures.”

8. Take action.

Here’s a secret that once you know it, can change your life.  Action often comes before motivation.

You simply start doing an activity and then your motivation kicks in.

Nike was right with “Just do it.”  For example, I don’t always look forward to my workout, but once I start, I find my flow.

9. Link it to good feelings.

Find a way to link things to good feelings.  For example, play your favorite song when you’re doing something you don’t like to do.

It has to be a song that makes you feel so great that it overshadows the pain of the task.  It’s hard to tell yourself you don’t like something when it feels so good.

A similar approach is to find your theme song.

10. Impress yourself first.

This is how people like Peter Jackson or James Cameron or Stephenie Meyer inspire themselves.

They make the movies or write the books that impress themselves first.

They connect their passion to the work and they don’t depend on other people setting the bar.

Their internal bar becomes their drive.

11. “CHOOSE” to.

If you tell yourself you “HAVE” to do this or you “MUST” do that or you “SHOULD” do this, you can weaken your motivation.

The power of choice and simply reframing your language to “CHOOSE” to can be incredibly empowering and exactly the motivating language you need to hear.

Choose your words carefully and make them work for you.

12. Pair up.

This is one of my favorite ways to make something fun.  One person’s painful task, is another’s pleasure.

Pair up with somebody who compliments your skill or who can mentor you and get you over the humps.

13. Change your question.

Sometimes you need to change your focus.  To change your focus, change the question.

If you ask yourself what’s wrong with this situation, of course you’ll find things to complain about.

Ask yourself what’s right about the situation and you can quickly find the positives and get your groove on.

14. Fix time for eating, sleeping, and working out.

Sometimes your body or emotions are working against you because you’re not giving them a break or fueling them the right way.

One simple way to improve results here is to find a routine for eating, sleeping, and moving or working out that supports you.

15. Play to your strengths.

Spending too much time in your weaknesses wears you down.  Spending more time in your strengths helps you renew your energy and find your flow.  It’s the place where you can grow your best.  Success begets success and this helps you build momentum.

Why Do These Motivation Techniques Work?

Now that you have some methods for motivation under your belt, let’s take a step back and understand why these work.

By the time you finish this post, you’ll know how to tune and prune motivation techniques that work for you, as well as see right through reward systems that just don’t work.

Pain and Pleasure for Motivation

We move towards pleasure.  We move away from pain.  It’s that simple.   We do more to avoid pain.  Keep that in mind when you find it tough to change a habit.  Change can often be temporary pain.

Masters of motivation skillfully associate pain and pleasure.  Whether it’s the words they use, the thoughts they think, the images they visualize, or the actions they take … they stack up pain deliberately to move away from behaviors or habits that they don’t want anymore.

Similarly, they  stack up pleasure to help move them towards new behaviors that they do want, or to reinforce good habits.

Intellectual, Emotional, and Physical Motivation

Just thinking about pain and pleasure is a good start, but there’s more to it.  This pain and pleasure motivational drives can be physical, emotional, or intellectual.

  • Physical – When you touch something hot, you move quickly to get away from the pain.  Physical pain and pleasure is quick, powerful, and obvious.
  • Emotional – Some emotions are painful: sadness, shame, remorse, regret, guilt, anxiety, fear, horror.  Some emotions feel good: joy, eagerness, zest, enthusiasm, happiness, ecstasy, euphoria.
  • Intellectual –  Thinking isn’t feeling, but your thinking influences how you feel.   This is where your thoughts —  your metaphors, experiences, and associations — can translate to pain or pleasure.  The same experience can mean different things to different people.  Are you full of fear or thrilled with fun as your roller coaster approaches the apex?

Your mind, body, and emotions play off each other.  Your thoughts create your feelings.  Similarly, your thoughts can react to how you feel.

If you’re feeling anxious do you tell yourself something bad is going to happen or do you remind yourself you get the jitters on your second cup of coffee?    When you recall a fond memory, you make your body feel good.  If your body feels good, then your thoughts might say, hey, this is a good thing.

This is why sometimes you can’t think your way into something.   For example, your mind wants one thing, but your body wants another.   You tell yourself working out is good for you, but your body just doesn’t want the pain.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

This is one of the most important keys to understanding motivation.  When you understand the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, you can inspire yourself with skill.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • Intrinsic motivation – Intrinsic is inside you.  Your rewards are internalized.  For example, intrinsic motivation would be doing something for the sake of feeling good or a sense of personal satisfaction.  The reward might simply be a job well done.  Intrinsic motivation would also be doing something because it connects to your values, such as adventure, or truth, or learning.
  • Extrinsic motivation – Extrinsic is external.   This is when your rewards are externalized, such as money or applause.  You depend on external things and feedback to justify your actions.

One of the ways people lose their motivation is they get rewarded for something they already enjoy.  They start to externalize their motivation.  The key here is to shift to more intrinsic motivation and cut your dependencies on extrinsic motivation.

Carrots and Stick Motivation

One of my favorite lessons from Stephen Covey was about carrot and sticks, which Covey referred to as the Jackass Theory.   Covey asked us what kind of supervisor do you need when you have a job that you are passionate about and is using your talents and you feel you are appreciated.

Covey’s point was that people are volunteers.  You want them to contribute their greatest, unique contribution.  While carrots and sticks can work for simple things, inspiration is a better model.  Instead of extrinsic rewards, shift to internal drivers by connecting to your values and your purpose.

Work Happiness and Job Satisfaction

There’s actually a pretty simple frame for improving job satisfaction, but it’s not common knowledge.  The following factors dramatically impact work satisfaction:

  1. Skill variety
  2. Task identity
  3. Task significance
  4. Autonomy
  5. Feedback

What I like about this frame, aside from simplicity, is that I’ve found it to be true time and again.  Whenever somebody is not enjoying their job, it can almost always be traced to one or more of these factors.

Where to Go From Here

We’ve covered a lot of ground.   I’ve compacted and distilled a lot of precious lessons and insights that will help you master motivation for you and for others in any situation.  While there are more details I could elaborate on, I want you to have a simple Cliffs Notes version that will serve you the rest of your life.

I do recommend supplementing yourself with the motivation chapter when you have time, as well as reading my related post on Discipline vs. Motivation.

Sometimes knowing is way more than half the battle and when it comes to motivation, I find this is especially true.

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  1. Hi JD .. My drive just now – would be a puppy sleep like floppy dog .. just so relaxed wonderful: zzzzzz

    However exactly as you say – where there’s a will there’s a way ..
    I’d add .. be prepared, having a decluttered head and space .. these make life so much simpler and sort of naturally spur us on – because we’re not clearing up as we go & we were ready to start .. and we see results as we go ..

    I love the Little Engine that Could scenario ..

    Thanks good post succinct as always .. especially the balance – exercise, relaxtion, time for being, as well as focus totally while you work, achieving so much more … thanks Hilary

  2. Hello JD..

    Thanks for this article. Several of my student asked me about how they can motivated them selves. Thanks to you, if someday there are anybody will ask me same question, I can make your article as my refference, I hope you don’t mind.

    Thank you

  3. I’m reminded of your earlier article,
    Motivation and Technique,” for how 2,3, and 4 are applicable. I find it nice that the first and last of the 15 ways seem to tie deeply into oneself, their values or their strengths. Don’t these go together sometimes to be powerful motivators? 🙂

    Another idea for myself is to sometimes rescale the problem. If I’m looking at a mountain of a problem, sometimes shifting what I can do today or this hour can help me get through it. Other times, it helps to have that bigger perspective on things to finish a little task well. This could also be seen as a changing of how, but I think it is more of perspective than anything else.

  4. “Impress yourself first” Love that idea!! Oh, if we all could remember to do this, what a happy bunch we would all be.

    Totally agree on the internal drivers point too. Find out what makes people volunteer.

    And that first point — in teh John Maxwell quote — that has me all fired up!

    Thank you so much, J.D. You are always so generous and giving with all the best stuff!

  5. @ Hilary

    Thank you!

    Having a decluttered head and space goes a long way. I realize that if I don’t create buffers for myself and have a time and place for things, I’m not in my best state. It’s actually a crucal part of success.

    This post was extraordinarly tough to boil down, but I wanted everybody to have a distilled look at the heart of motivation.

    @ Irsan

    That’s great to hear!

    @ JB

    Rescaling is incredibly effective … it’s a real skill to turn mountains into molehills and make progress on a problem.

    Perspective and mindset make a huge difference. I see it time and again.

    @ Jannie

    It’s punchy and good t-shirt material right 🙂

    I’m a fan of getting people to sign up, since they can always vote with their feet (an expression we use at Microsoft to mean that if people don’t like what you’re doing, they’ll just go somewhere else.)

    Maxwell is the man and his quote hits the nail on the head!

  6. Awesome post, J.D.! This one really ties in nicely with the post I wrote about passion yesterday. When you’re working on what you’re passionate about, you still have to be motivated and there are some great tips in here that I’m definitely going to keep with me. Thanks!

  7. @ Positively Present

    Thank you!

    You’re right — passion and motivation go hand in hand. While pain is a powerful motivator, I’m a fan of driving from passion.

  8. Congratulations on launching your book JD. Thanks for adding a passionate voice to the world of agile. I’ve always been fascinated by the question of whether or not agile as practiced in the software world could apply to other fields and life in general. Thanks for answering that question for me!

  9. @ Allan

    Thank you.

    I’ve actually been surprised by how many practices in software can help for life. In hind-sight, it seems so obvious. I really like the idea that agile practices give us the skills to deal with an ever-changing world and make the most of it, a few stories at a time.

  10. Thank you for this post.

    I find that the biggest motivator, or rather demotivator for me, is lack of results. Its a terrible feeling to feel that you are plugging away but there are no results to show for it. I have in fact become so used to this that I now find myself terribly demotivated. Its not like I have not seen results – its just that the results manifest themselves only in the form of a well written document and a pay cheque at the end of the month. Not enough.

    My challenge then is assure myself that there will be results…it gets tougher however, as the memory of that last time I had results is so far away.

  11. Thank you JD and to the rest of positive comments.

    I must say “what a blessing you’ve become” this what exactly what I was looking for and being a Regional Driver trainer to guy who I knew they have the right technique but lack motivation and finding teh perfect word to use in a sentence what a mission for me and reading your article JD have giving me a cheerful day. And as @Irsan suggested – I’ll also use your article as my reference.

  12. @ Garima — Getting results is definitely a way to build momentum and motivation. That said, it has to be about the journey too, because sometimes, that’s all we’ve got. We have to make the most of the ride, and sometimes, whether we had a good trip, or a bad, trip is what we put the focus on.

    One way a lot of people find their motivation is they focus on the following idea:
    Be YOUR best.

    That becomes a self-challenge to use your best gifts, play to your strengths, and make a difference your own unique way.

    Another approach is to focus on growth and learning. Whatever the task you take on, you can find a way to learn and grow from it.

    At the end of the day, I’m a fan of building a portfolio of wins, each day, each week, each month. Every now and then, I go for the long shot, but I enjoy the wins along the way.

    @ Peter — Thank you. Finding the perfect word to use in a sentence is one of the great challenges in life. I think that’s what makes quotable quotes such a powerful gift.

  13. Hey man, thanks so much. Im close to losing a really great job because its hard work and im getting burnt out working so much! I appreciate this.

  14. I really like this article and i’ve added elements of it to my own lifestyle. What I recently realised is that if I need to reach my goals, i’ll need to find a drive that is so strong, it gives me the focus, determination, self esteem to go on and realise it…

  15. […] op een teddy beer. Anyway, hij ligt er een beetje verslagen en afgemat bij. Ik vond de foto op een site toen ik zocht naar iets om m’n drive terug te krijgen. En een stukje verder op las ik het […]

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