Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 8/11/2020


Motivation is the drive to achieve your goals or needs. Most people want to change at least one thing in their life, but it can be challenging to have the motivation to make a start. It is difficult for most people, but it is especially harder for people who have mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

There are 2 main motivating forces:

1-   Intrinsic factor: you internally enjoy doing things to achieve a personal goal without the expectation of recognition or reward from others.

2-   Extrinsic factor: you are driven by external factors such as the expectation of earning more money, a promotion, achieving wealth and fame or to satisfy the demands from your parents, your spouse.  External rewards are not a sustainable source of happiness. Once you are able to get more luxury things, you may find out they do not bring you the satisfaction you hoped for.

Intrinsic motivation is generally more sustainable for long term performance as you are driven by the enjoyment of the activity and it gives you a higher sense of self satisfaction.


How to get motivated

Many people cannot get moving because they cannot decide how to get started. If you get started in even very small ways, it will give you the inspiration that naturally produces momentum. Lack of motivation can be a sign of depression.

-      Set yourself one specific achievable goal and break your goals into small easy tasks with a time frame to achieve it. The problem is if the task is too easy and is significantly lower than your abilities, it becomes boring. If the task is too high beyond your current abilities, it can be discouraging. So you have to set a task in the optimal zone of difficulty with a chance of success and failure to give you some challenge.

-      Set a higher motive or work for a greater purpose than your own benefit. If you do not feel like to do things for yourself than do it for the people you care for. It makes you feel good about yourself if you could support the less fortunate or you could work hard to study new skills, or research about projects to help the world or humanity.

-      Make a plan and a time to start and just follow that plan rather debating in your head “for and against” it. Do not wait for the perfect time or wait until you feel like it. Once you start, you get into the work and make yourself a routine and find your own intrinsic motivation. I always apply that principle in my life, I set my alarm at 5am and I wake up whether I want it or not and prepare to go to the gym every morning. Once I get to the gym, I have plenty of energy for my work out in a group class. It takes a few months to develop a new habit and by keeping that momentum and routine, it will become easier over time.

-      Mindfulness helps you to focus on the task at the present moment and keeps you relaxed and not to think about many other tasks that you have to do. Once you complete one task, you recognize your accomplishment and it gives you more confidence and energy to go on. The belief that you can accomplish something will serve as a self fulfilling prophecy and this gives you more motivation to try harder to prove yourself that you can do it.

-      Use positive self talk instead of negative ones. Instead of saying “I can’t”, just say “I can try”. It is mostly important when you have anxiety or depression. The mind always tries to make excuses or bring up difficulties to convince you not to do it or delay it for another day.

-      Get support from family and friends or support groups and surround yourself with positive people.


How to keep the motivation in the long run

Setbacks are normal and they can make people to lose motivation. You have to develop resilience to move on and you have to consider setback as a challenge for you to develop inner strength and find other ways to overcome it.

You can review your goals to see if they are realistic with the timeframe you have set or change it into smaller and easier achievable goals.

Try to keep yourself active as physical movement can boost your mental energy. Avoid the habit of not moving or enjoy passive entertainment as slumping on the couch watching films and televisions most of the time. A lack of physical movement can make you feel unmotivated.  For example, it is almost impossible to feel bored and not feel energized when you take up dancing or doing workout.

Try to remember why you wanted to achieve that goal in the first place and the consequence if you abandon your work.

Feel inspired by other people who could achieve similar goals to gain more motivation.


You have to remember that life gives us ample opportunities to better ourselves and to be successful, only if we have the courage or the determination to take them. In everyday life, there are constant battles between giving way to laziness or procrastination and the pain of discipline and motivation.