A short guide to help you set goals and boost intrinsic motivation at work
If you’ve experienced some of the joys of being your own boss—such as setting your own hours, working from anywhere in the world and pursuing a career that you are truly passionate about—you might know that answering to no one also comes with drawbacks and challenges. Without the external pressure of a boss or manager to keep you going, it’s easy to lose your motivation to work. So, how do you stay self-disciplined and excited about your work when no one is checking up on you?
Some self-employed folks might need a high level of intrinsic motivation and passion to maintain self-discipline. Others might need to implement a clear structure for themselves, using small rewards as motivators to stand in for external forces. Without tools to increase and maintain motivation, it might be tempting to simply procrastinate on important tasks, waiting on inspiration to strike like lightning. That’s why we’ve come up with a list of simple and scientific ways to boost your work ethic and passion when you’re procrastinating or losing focus.
Emotional self-motivation: how to increase intrinsic motivation
If you work as your own boss, you likely started out as a highly motivated person. But what happens when you no longer experience any drive or passion to accomplish your goals? You can see this phenomenon happen every year when gyms are crowded in January, only to empty out to all but a dedicated few a month or two later. Maybe you’ve even been a January gym-goer who started with a bold New Year’s resolution only to pay a premium for an unused membership from February to December—if so, you’re not alone.
Have you ever wanted to do something in the abstract, but lost momentum and motivation, struggling to put your goals into action? Have you ever found yourself up against a lack of motivation as you procrastinate on a task you know you need to complete, accomplish mindless busywork to avoid the inevitable or even pretend to start by setting up fancy planners or arranging the home office? If you’re struggling with self-motivation, then read on to learn how to increase your intrinsic motivation and get moving on accomplishing your goals!
What scientific research has to say about self-motivation
Procrastination may be an evolutionary response to discomfort
According to the lecture "The Science of Mindfulness" by Harvard University’s Ron Siegel, the lack of motivation and procrastination you might be experiencing comes from millennia of neural wiring designed to protect you from danger. Your brain’s ancient habit of protecting you at all costs means that it still fixates on possible threats and pain (like avoiding that task that you dread performing) rather than looking forward to rewards (like task completion, financial gain, developing skills, gaining a sense of accomplishment or gaining a sense of pride). For example, avoiding your looming tax forms is the result of the human brain prioritizing freedom from the pain and unpleasantness of paperwork and crunching numbers over the ultimate reward of completing a necessary part of your business goals.
How do we overcome our brain's hardwired reactions and improve intrinsic motivation?
Create visual aids that motivate you to keep working
So, what can we do when our brain’s desire to protect us comes into conflict with our long-term business goals? One solution is to simply remind ourselves of all the positives of accomplishing a goal and mentally weigh them against the negatives. This may help to combat our brain’s impulse to avoid pain by reminding it of the greater likelihood of success. You can motivate yourself by physically writing down pros and cons columns in a planner or Word document to remind yourself that the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Learn to enjoy the process
In her book Get It Done: Surprising Secrets from the Science of Motivation, Ayelet Fishbach takes Siegel’s advice one step further and suggests we make sure that our long-term goals match our intrinsic motivation. For example, you will be much more likely to complete your business goals if you enjoy the process, and aren’t only focused on results—if you enjoy your work for its own sake, and don’t see it as a necessary and painful means to an end.
Frame things mentally in a positive light
But how can you increase your intrinsic motivation to work at a task? According to Fishbach, it can help to simply rethink a goal as an “approach goal” (something we plan to do) rather than an “avoidance goal” (something we dread doing). In other words, we are more likely to be motivated to strive for excellence than to avoid failure. So, instead of telling yourself that you can’t make a mistake on those pesky tax forms, try telling yourself that your goal is to get the best return you can get!
Social self-motivation: getting inspired by other voices
Motivation does not always come from within, and a good support network can make a world of difference
Another key element to self-motivation is remembering to make connections—something that B2BeeMatch is all about!
If you’ve been working alone in your office or working remotely from home, talking to your team members or to like-minded small business owners could help you find some of that motivation you’ve been looking for!
Find people with similar goals and interests
Multiple studies have shown that socializing with folks with similar interests and goals leads to an increase in motivation. For example, one study examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth runners found that social distancing restrictions among runners during the pandemic led to a decrease in motivation and enjoyment among youth runners. In managing your small business, “running a race” all alone can be demotivating. A Gallup poll found that employees with friends at work are seven times more likely to engage fully with their work and that employee satisfaction rises by 50% when employees have a friend at work. So, even if you worry that too much social interaction between you and your team members might cause a distraction, the research shows a clear net gain in workplaces where people have friends.
If you work from home or with an online team, you might find this kind of positive social interaction with like-minded people difficult to facilitate. In an in-person workspace, interactions between co-workers with similar goals happen naturally around the coffee maker or on lunch breaks, but can you replicate this in an online setting? We recommend using a communication platform so that you and your employees can chat about work and seek inspiration from or share knowledge with each other when tasks become challenging or mundane. If you’re located geographically close to one another, an in-person meeting or event once in a while can help too!
Mental self-motivation: how to conquer the procrastination monster
What if you’re still finding it hard to stay focused and excited about your work—even after attempting to increase intrinsic motivation and chatting with other successful small business owners? Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you’ll struggle to stay excited and motivated about your work. What should you do?
Just five minutes of work can make a world of difference
This might sound like a deceptively simple solution, but sometimes the key to overcoming procrastination on a task you don’t enjoy is simply to force yourself to start the task anyway—but only make yourself work at it for five minutes.
This technique is known as the five minute rule, and while it may sound silly, most people find that after only five minutes of pushing themselves to do a task they’ve been dreading, it’s much easier to continue and finish. Often the most difficult part of completing something you dread doing is simply starting. If you give yourself permission to stop after only five minutes, it seems easier to overcome the hurdle of beginning—and once you’ve started, you’ll likely feel as if you’ve already won half the battle.
Practical self-motivation: how to set reasonable goals
It’s difficult to stay motivated and positive about your progress if you don’t have a clear metric to measure yourself against. This is where clear goal setting can help! Goal setting can motivate you to continue working until your performance or accomplishments meet or even exceed your internal standards. And personal goal setting is often much more effective than extrinsic motivation or external standards—it’s another way to increase intrinsic motivation!
Here’s our advice for setting and following through with personal goals
First, make sure that your goals aren’t only internal, but that you record them somewhere. If you’re the kind of person who’s hard on yourself, you might find it easy to dismiss your wins. Recording your goals makes them concrete—and it forces you to recognize when you achieve them!
Secondly, make sure you set realistic goals. There’s nothing more demotivating than constantly feeling like you’ve failed to meet your own standards! So, make sure to be realistic, and don’t demotivate yourself by setting yourself up for failure.
Setting SMART goals is one way to ensure that you don't torpedo your self-motivation by setting yourself up for disappointment. The SMART goals acronym—which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely—is a great way to break down vague or lofty goals and make them more concrete. When you start making goals more concrete and achievable, you increase self-motivation both by giving yourself a task you can visualize completing and a sense of pride and accomplishment when you succeed in completing it.
Celebrate the tiny wins
Remember to acknowledge your wins and celebrate them! This might be as complicated as throwing a dinner party or as simple as a celebratory social media post. Whatever you do, make sure to take a moment to appreciate your own successes. Remembering how far you’ve come and how much you’re capable of can give you the drive and positivity you need to continue far into the future.
Physical motivation: energize your body and energize your mind
Have you ever experienced the feeling of wanting to throw yourself into your work—maybe even feeling inspired and goal-oriented—only to come up against complete physical exhaustion or brain fog?
Sometimes the solution to motivation—especially if you’re managing your business from a sedentary position at an office chair—is to get your blood moving! Regular exercise has been linked to improving mood and increasing mental clarity, energy levels, and, yes—motivation. But what if, as a business owner with a crammed schedule, you don’t have time for a regular workout routine? Well, even getting a couple minutes of cardio throughout the day can help. For instance, if you live near enough to your workplace, you might consider walking or biking to work once in a while instead of driving or taking public transit. If you work in a high-rise building, taking the stairs instead of the elevator now and then might give you the added boost that you need. If you work from home, try taking a quick walk on your lunch break, using a standing desk from time to time or even getting up to do a few jumping jacks. You might be amazed at the difference it makes to your mental clarity and motivation. Plus, you might start to feel physically better too!
Keep experimenting to find a system or routine that works for you
If you love your small business and are passionate about your work but are currently experiencing a lack of drive or motivation, don’t be discouraged! Try switching things up a little—reframe the way you approach goals, connect with other successful small business owners to stay inspired, try the five-minute rule to avoid procrastination, make sure you have internal standards to measure your success or try some jumping jacks to get your blood moving! Perhaps most importantly, remember to acknowledge and celebrate your wins. There’s nothing more motivating than mindfully accomplishing a challenging goal, and the adrenaline and momentum might even carry you through to the next one.