The Science of Motivation: How to Get & Stay Motivated

the science of motivation_header
  • Achieving your goals, both large and small, takes hard work, dedication and, most of all, the motivation to stick with them, even when things get tough.
  • While staying motivated may seem tricky, there’s actually a science to it – and you can train yourself to approach motivation more effectively.
  • Set small, actionable goals that you can celebrate along the way. Instead of looking at success as getting to the finish line, acknowledge that any step towards it is progress.

Motivation is the driving force behind any successful dream. Bummer is, it’s also one of the hardest skills to master. Each year, millions of people decide on resolutions to improve their lives. Yet somehow many end up at the same place, with the same goal, time and time again.

The truth is, we live in a culture that emphasizes setting goals, but isn’t too great at finishing them. A recent survey showed that just 9% of New Year’s resolution makers achieve their personal goals.[ref url=””]

The good news is that you can train yourself to approach your motivation more effectively. The difference may come down to the way you view your goals. Use this motivational guide to check in with your resolutions and upgrade your goals for maximum success.

Why effective goal-setting helps you stay motivated

motivation - how to stay motivatedIf this is the year you’re finally going to accomplish that goal, let’s make it a good one. Too many people make the mistake of seeing resolutions in black and white: if you step off track once, you’ve failed. Instead, focus on making sustainable progress in the right direction, and don’t treat a temporary setback as a failure. That way, your motivation will stay strong, and you’ll be less apt to feel discouraged.

Effective goal-setting make progress a routine, so set goals with follow-ups in mind. A review in the American Journal of Health Promotion[ref url=””] found that resolution-makers who incorporated support such as feedback, counseling or training were more likely to achieve positive results.

Related: How to Set Fail-proof Goals

Intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation

motivation - how to stay motivatedEvery goal is grounded in motivational factors to validate your mission. Depending on the situation, your motivation is driven by intrinsic (i.e. personal satisfaction, desire, curiosity) or extrinsic (i.e. financial reward, recognition, competition) factors.

Extrinsic motivation

Aim for Short Bursts of High Intensity Exercise Instead_man runningDifferent situations thrive with a different balance of motivational factors. External factors such as deadlines take some of the weight off your willpower by creating a structure for your goal.

At the Upgrade XP annual biohacking conference, keynote speaker and founder of the Huffington Post and Thrive Global Arianna Huffington shared a way that her companies motivate employees to do what’s important to them, not only at work, but also in their personal lives.

She shared that upon hire, HR asks employees what’s important to them outside of work. One employee expressed that it was important to make her 7:00 therapy appointment on Tuesdays.

“So we arranged somebody from her team to be her accountability buddy. At 6:00 PM, she literally takes her bag, her coat, takes her to the elevator and says, ‘You are leaving,'” says Huffington.

Not only did this employee start making her appointment on time, but it created bonding within the team. “Nothing is more important than supporting each other’s goals, not just within your career but within your life,” says Huffington.

You can hear the rest of her Upgrade XP fireside chat with Dave on the 600th (!) episode of the Bulletproof Radio podcast (iTunes).

Intrinsic motivation

The external factors that motivate you are not always reliable and could change. Imagine that your competitor drops out of your next big race: without an extrinsic motivational factor (competition), you count on intrinsic motivation to drive progress towards your own goal.

Intrinsic motivation is working toward a goal for reasons within yourself. There’s nobody telling you to do it, no deadline to meet, no competitior to beat. It’s you vs. you. Developing intrinsic motivation involves learning to efficiently use your willpower, and to build out personal motivation factors, feedback, and rewards.

Related: How to Increase Your Willpower

Beat brain fog to stay focused

motivation - how to stay motivatedA sound goal takes a sound mind, and Bulletproof focus and motivation start with food.

A healthy diet isn’t just for losing weight, but is the foundation for your mental performance, stress levels, risk of disease, physical performance, and willpower. Even with your heart in the right place, your diet and environment could be sabotaging your motivation. Eat more of these foods to boost your mental clarity and willpower, and check out the top nutritional tips from Dr. Steven Masley, for a sharper, more resilient brain.

Decide what you want, and don’t settle

runners knee treatmentIn an episode of Bulletproof Radio (iTunes), former pro football player turned author, speaker, and leadership coach Bo Eason explains that it’s against human nature to want to be second best. He advises that you eliminate “Plan B” from your vocabulary.

“No kid has ever said, ‘when I grow up I want to win a bronze medal.’ But yet we accept a bronze medal years later when we don’t win the gold, or we settle for some mediocrity or some average way of being. So that is what I’m against. I want to go back to our roots back to our nature, where we said, ‘This is what I desire, this is what I want.’ And then there’s no way out of that option. That’s the only one you got, and those are the people who do win gold medals,” says Eason.

Decide what you want, then work toward it. Stop at nothing to reach your goal. It’s your most primal instinct to unapologetically go after it.

Keep your motivational energy on track

motivation - how to stay motivatedThe motivation that helps you jump-start a resolution in its early stages might not be the same type of motivation that carries you through to your goal. Researchers from the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba found that as you progress towards a goal, your motivational energy changes from promotion-focused (i.e building habits or gaining skills), to prevention-focused (i.e avoiding relapses or establishing obligations).[ref url=””]

For example, if your goal is to improve your sleep, you might start by promoting positive changes such as buying a sleep tracker or setting a bedtime. Once you’ve established those steps, your focus might shift to preventing negative changes, such as limiting electronics after 7pm or avoiding foods you know impact your sleep.

“Generally speaking, people in North America are predominantly promotion-focused, so they are good at starting goals, but not as good at accomplishing them,” says Olya Bullard, PhD, lead author of the study.[ref url=””]

These results suggest that in the later stages of a goal, you’re better off refocusing your will power on what you can do to maintain the changes you’ve already made


If you’re really ready to dive deep, give your motivation a mega-boost by learning how nootropic drugs can fuel smarter brain function, and help conquer your goals for good.

Read Next: How to Improve Focus





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