As we ring in the New Year, many individuals are determined to create resolutions. Nevertheless, people often struggle to stay motivated. In fact, twenty-three percent of individuals lose resolve after the first week of January, forty-three percent have given up on their goals by the end of the month, and eighty percent have quit entirely by mid-February. While New Year’s resolutions may have a track record of being forgotten, there are ways to build sustainable motivation that ensures we reach our goals and continue living authentically based on our values and intentions.


Motivation is the vital element in setting and obtaining objectives and involves a desire or reason to act in service of the goals we aspire to accomplish. When we lack motivation, it can often lead to depression, isolation, and lacking a sense of purpose or meaning in our life. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, humans are inherently motivated to better themselves and express their full potential, which leads to the concept of self-actualization. Over time, when we incrementally aim to achieve the most basic and fundamental levels of needs, such as food and safety, we are predisposed to move toward seeking higher needs for love, belonging, and self-esteem. This theory has been extended to include a need for self-transcendence, which means people reach the pinnacle of growth and find the highest meaning in life by attending to things beyond the self.

Sources of Motivation

Motivation stems from a variety of sources, including external incentives such as compensation for work as well as internal enjoyment like creating artwork in one’s spare time. Other sources of motivation might be curiosity, independence, validation of one’s identity and beliefs, creating a positive self-image, and desire to avoid consequences. Extrinsic motivation means a person is inspired by outside forces such as other people or rewards, which can look like receiving good grades in school. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is inspiration that comes from within. This type of motivation is more motivating, resulting in more fulfilling accomplishments such as wanting to improve at a skill or hobby for personal enjoyment. Intrinsic motivation is not due to any anticipated reward, deadline, or outside pressure. While extrinsic motivation is effective at increasing motivation in the short-term, it can also decrease or backfire over time. Intrinsic is powerful and sustainable because it is integrated into one’s identity and aligned to one’s internal value system.

Increasing Motivation

In order to increase motivation, we can utilize a plethora of methods to aid in reaching our goals. Aligning our goals to values such as community, creativity, and compassion can clarify what we truly want in our lives and what enables us to feel fulfilled. Values are fundamental beliefs that guide the direction of our lives through actions. Our goals can range from career, financial, and education goals to family life, service, and even artistic endeavors. The process of achieving a goal includes setting the objective, overcoming obstacles, and sustaining momentum. We can aim to set a learning goal rather than a performance goal because we can’t control the outcome, only the effort we exude. While motivation is the “why,” momentum is the “how.” SMART goal-setting, which consists of creating specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals, provides a pathway for cultivating initial motivation and developing momentum that keeps us going until the finish line. When you’re feeling unmotivated, it’s vital to not get stuck in a shame spiral. Instead, allow feelings of discomfort to exist and challenge yourself to change ingrained patterns. When we’re experiencing the urge to procrastinate, it is often driven by underlying feelings of distress or anxiety a certain task evokes. There are ways to navigate the discomfort and overcome patterns of procrastination by breaking goals down into small, manageable pieces. When you accomplish one step, this often fuels motivation for the next task. We can also recognize the positive outcomes of the task and monitor how far we’ve come, offering us permission to reflect on and celebrate the progress we’ve already made. Remember you can ask loved ones to be your accountability buddy, pair the difficult activity with something else that is enjoyable and soothing, and reach out to a mental health professional in order to support you in your endeavors and strengthen motivation.

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