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Motivation: How to Grow and Nurture It During Covid

Choose. Cultivate. Connect.

TOOLBOX: Do you ever get the feeling you “don’t have the motivation?” Ever tell yourself you’ve “lost your drive”? As Vizzini advised Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride,” when this happens it’s time to go back to the beginning.  We break down 3 key steps to keep your drive alive during tough times.

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Whether I’m working with an athlete, an executive, a client recovering from addiction, or a regular old human, the professional question I’m asked most is, “how can I get motivated?” As a psychologist and a lover/student of all things motivation, I’ve spent a great deal of time reading, writing, thinking, and practicing the getting, building, sustaining, and leveraging of the internal juice that determines and directs our behavior and its persistence. What I’ve learned is, that when in doubt, always return to the basics.

So, what are the basics of motivation you ask? Excellent question! Let’s review…

Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT)
Within the Self-Determination Theory of motivation, Richard Ryan and Edward Deci assert that all humans have basic psychological needs (2017). Just like our need for food, water, and shelter, humans also have social and psychological needs. These three universal needs are:

  1. Autonomy: Having and exercising choice. Acting on your own volition and freely choosing your own behaviors. All of us, from infancy to old age, want to feel we are “in charge” of ourselves and our lives.
  2. Competency: Feeling effective in your environment. Engaging with opportunities to exercise and expand your strengths and skills. In short, we all seek to gain mastery over our environment, and to demonstrate that mastery.
  3. Relatedness: Connecting with others and having a sense of belonging. Being responsive to others and feeling responded to by others around you. No matter how introverted or self-sufficient you may be, you are a social creature, and therefore require social connection.

Ryan and Deci assert that these psychological “nutrients” facilitate motivation, growth, and wellbeing (2017). Furthermore, they explain that when these needs are not met, motivation can wane, and the effects can be psychologically damaging. These assertions have been tested and supported in a large body of literature, spanning not only sport and exercise psychology (Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2007), but also organizational psychology (Gagne, M., 2014) and in educational settings (Liu, Wang & Ryan, 2016).

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Needs Inventory
Now that you know what the basic “nutrients” for motivation are, think of an area of your life where you’d like “more” motivation, and then complete a mini “Needs Inventory”. As an example, let’s say you’d like to feel improved motivation to train and say fit over the winter months…

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Ask Yourself:

What activities do I freely choose to do in order to stay in shape? Are there activities that feel controlling? Are there parts of my training that I feel I “have to” or “should do”?

  • The more “free” and autonomous you feel, the better.
  • The more “controlled” you feel, or the more guilt/shame you feel for not doing an activity, the worse.

How can I learn, grow, and improve in my training? Is there a book, course, article, or podcast that could increase my knowledge around an aspect of my training? Would it help me to get more competent to hire a trainer/dietician/psychologist?

  • The more you develop competency and mastery, the better.
  • The more “stuck” or “bored” you feel, the worse.

Who can I connect with, in some way, to encourage me, inspire me, see me, hear me, support me, understand me? Who can I encourage, inspire, see, hear, support, and understand?

  • The more you have some kind of connection (be that in-person or virtual) the better.
  • The more isolated and disconnected you are, the worse.

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Nurturing and Growing Motivation
Once you complete your basic needs inventory, assess what you found out… Most likely, one of your basic psychological needs is not being met by this goal/behavior/habit. Now that you know what “nutrient(s)” you are lacking, you can make a plan to get your basic needs met, thereby enhancing your motivation.

Here are some ideas for getting your basic psychological needs met:

Choose: Identify what you really want and choose a goal/behavior/habit based on that. Whenever you’re feeling low motivation, you can remind yourself that this is your choice – that you’re acting on your own volition. Supportive coaching is key to promoting autonomous behavior, and you can coach yourself using positive self-talk, just like you would coach up someone else.  Furthermore, choose activities, foods, people, and other tools for goal achievement that you enjoy! If you prefer swimming to running on the treadmill, or kettlebells to barbells, then choose those methods. It will keep you feeling “in charge”.

Cultivate: Learning is the gasoline that catalyzes your motivational fire. By educating yourself about your goal and the behaviors and choices that will get you there, you empower yourself and strengthen your abilities to perform and achieve. The more competent you feel, the more likely you are to seek out opportunities to demonstrate that competency, and to take it to the next level.

Connect: Being a part of something greater than yourself enhances motivation. Whether it’s a team or a Facebook group, find a community that shares your goals and values. You may not need a riding buddy or a mentor, but all of us – all – need to be connected to others in a meaningful way.

Summary
Remember that these psychological needs are just as important to your goals and your training as food and water. When you take your psychological needs seriously and make efforts to get them met in your daily habits and behaviors, you are not only building and enhancing motivation, but you are also creating a lifestyle that will sustain motivation over time, so that you can persist and keep at it! And when it comes to performance enhancement, there is no better approach than persistence.

Good Luck!

References

Gagne, M. (2014) The Oxford Handbook of Work Engagement, Motivation, and Self-Determination Theory. Oxford University Press: NY.

Hagger, M.S. & Chatzisarantis, N.L., Eds. (2007) Intrinsic Motivation and Self Determination in Sport and Exercise. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL.

Liu, W.C., Wang, J.C.K. & Ryan, R.M., Eds. (2016). Building Autonomous Learners: Perspectives from Research and Practice Using Self-Determination Theory. Springer: Singapore.

Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E.L. (2017) The Self-Determination Theory. The Guilford Press: NY.

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