How to Improve Motivation

Motivation is the drive many of us feel to behave in a certain way, complete certain tasks or to strive to reach our goals. However, periods of stress, anxiety or depression can all lead to a severe dip in our levels of motivation, affecting our self-esteem and making it difficult to accomplish the things we would like to.

In this article we will look at what motivation is, and ways to improve motivation when it has taken a backseat.

What is Motivation?

Derived from the word motive, Oxford Languages describes motivation as a reason (or reasons) for behaving in a particular way. Similar to a desire, our motivation is what drives us to think, feel, act or behave in a certain way. When we are motivated to do something, we are more likely to work towards and achieve our end goal.

For example, feeling motivated to keep organized might see us with the laundry and housework complete. Feeling motivated to earn more money might lead to us completing a business course or applying for a new job. Having the motivation to get fitter may mean that we are better able to stick to a workout and dietary plan.

When we lack motivation in any aspect of our lives, we feel less inclined to behave in ways that propel us forwards in life. We might let the dishes pile up, we may ignore invites from friends, or we may comfort eat in front of TV shows every evening.

The loss of motivation can make us feel sluggish, tired and lacking in resilience. Furthermore, once motivation has waned, it can be difficult to know where to start with getting it back. Understanding the different types of motivation can be a helpful first step.

Types of Motivation

Motivation tends to arise in one of two ways:

  1. Extrinsic Motivation

This is a motivation that comes from an external factor. The drivers for your motivation might be the promise of a reward such as a pay rise, a bonus, an award, or public acknowledgment of your achievement.

  1. Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation comes from within you. This type of motivation may arise when something aligns with your personal values. Examples include training harder on a 5-kilometer run because you want to beat your previous time, or completing voluntary work because you feel that you should be helping others.

With both extrinsic and intrinsic forms of motivation, there are many ways that our motivations can originate and persist so that we achieve what we set out to. You may have experienced one or more of the following types of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation:

  1. Power motivation – you are driven to behave in a certain way to feel you have power in losing unwanted weight, in being awarded a more senior role, or in earning more money.
  2. Fear motivation – your behavior is based on the fear of not achieving something, such as a grade or sporting achievement. Your fear of failing pushes you to behave in a way that ensures you succeed.
  3.  Social motivation – you behave in a way that you know will be viewed positively by peers or friends. This might include completing voluntary work or striving for an impressive award or achievement.
  4. Expectancy motivation – you assume that you can achieve the desired result if you work for it, and this drives you forwards. This might include going for a job interview because you are confident that you will be offered the role.

However, despite the many types of motivation, most of us will go through periods when motivation appears to have taken a vacation.

When Motivation is Absent

Although being motivated often leads to personal and professional advancement, many of us have experienced times when we lack motivation. This is particularly common in women who have endured a long period of stress or anxiety, who then find themselves feeling apathetic and lacking in drive.

Stress and Demotivation

Stressful situations invoke the ‘fight or flight’ response in many of us. This stress response occurs to help us think more quickly, prepare to defend or protect ourselves physically or emotionally, or consider how we can escape in real or metaphorical terms. Whilst this can be a useful strategy in evolutionary terms, today it can drain us of our energy reserves and lead to exhaustion, burnout, and demotivation.

Stress and Relaxation Response

As part of our modern lifestyles, we experience situational stressors every day that can trigger our stress response. To help avoid demotivation, there are steps you can take to experience a relaxation response. This response naturally counteracts the symptoms associated with fight or flight.

The relaxation response increases our resilience and focus, giving us more energy and heightening our concentration so that we feel more motivated and productive.

Having mind-body awareness for when you feel particularly stressed will help you recognize when to initiate your relaxation response. The response can be achieved by:

  • Taking slow, deep breaths
  • Meditating
  • Focusing on a calming word or picturing something peaceful
  • Practicing yoga.

How to Improve Motivation

There are several ways to improve motivation. Firstly, it is vital to think about what your overall goal is. For larger goals, set a smaller, achievable goal first before moving on to the next step. Secondly, write some positive affirmations to get into the right mindset as you make changes to your outlook. Phrases such as “I am strong”, or “I can get the promotion” can be helpful.

If you struggle with these first steps, this might suggest that you need to initiate a relaxation response or re-evaluate your self-care.


For many women it can be difficult to switch from a stress response to a relaxation response. Women who struggle with anxiety or depression, feel overwhelmed, or have PTSD symptoms following a traumatic event may find it difficult to make time for self-care.

Self-care may come in the form of taking regular exercise, making time to read or take a bath, or nurturing healthy relationships with friends. It is also vital to make every effort to get enough sleep, as broken sleep or insomnia can make it more difficult to manage stress.


Practicing self-care can also be considered a complement to psychotherapy. One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is the time and space to speak to a professional during a period of emotional upset. Speaking to a therapist can help you make sense of your feelings and equip you with the tools to practice self-care before re-establishing motivation. Online therapy may also help you to realize what your goals are, and where you need to channel your motivation.

Final Thoughts

It is common to lose motivation during periods of stress or anxiety. As motivation drives us to achieve our goals and dreams, it is important to develop self-awareness and recognize when we are feeling dispirited. Making time for self-care, sleeping well, practicing the relaxation response, and speaking to a therapist can all help us to re-establish motivation so that we can reach our personal and professional goals.

hannah england

Hannah England

Copywriter with a clinical background | UK, Bristol

Hannah England is a freelance copywriter with a medical degree. After working as a doctor for several years, she now writes medical and well-being articles. Hannah endeavors to empower people by providing informative content that allows them to make healthy choices for improved physical and mental health. Hannah is part of the LGBT+ community and an inclusion expert, allowing her to write copy that is… Read more