Helping Learners Understand Spoken English

Motivation: Stop Waiting for It

Put simply, your motivation is your reason for doing something. You can also think about it as your willingness to do something. When you are highly motivated, you jump into action easily. When you lack motivation, you procrastinate and often end up feeling bad.

In this post, I’ll talk about two types of motivation and what to do if you have no motivation.

“One of the most surprising things about motivation is that it often comes after starting a new behavior, not before.”
~ James Clear

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

We can distinguish two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Put another way, internal and external. Thus, intrinsic motivation comes from within. It’s easy to do things when we are intrinsically motivated because we find enjoyment within the act of doing them.

Extrinsic motivation comes from outside sources, such as teachers and bosses. The rewards related to extrinsic motivation might be a higher grade or more money. We do not necessarily enjoy the things we have to do to get the reward, but we want the reward itself. We’d be perfectly happy if someone just handed it to us without any effort on our part. When we are extrinsically motivated we are focused on outcomes.

It should go without saying that when we are intrinsically motivated, we are more motivated overall than when we only have extrinsic motivation.

go without saying: be very obvious or clear

Transform Extrinsic to Intrinsic

At the university I teach at, many students are extrinsically motivated. They have been pushed along by society their entire lives. Their goals are given to them: study hard, do well on tests, and get into a good university so that you can increase your chances for getting a highly sought-after position at a well-known company.

sought-after /ˈsɔtˌæf tər/: in high demand, wanted by many people but difficult to get

My class is just another thing students are forced to do along the way. Sure, some of them like English, and are thus intrinsically motivated, but a fair amount of them would rather be playing video games or hanging out with their friends. Extrinsic motivation rules the day.

Despite this, each semester, students tell me that their interest in English has increased. How is this possible? I help them find and increase their intrinsic motivation.

Increasing intrinsic motivation works for my students, and it can work for you too.

Let’s take the example of exercise. If you are extrinsically motivated, you want the result of exercise. You might want to be stronger, healthier, or skinnier, but you’d be perfectly happy if you could just wave a magic wand and Voila!, you have the body of your dreams. Sadly, that isn’t how it works.

voila/voilà /vwɑˈlɑ/: Voila comes from French but is used in English.
It is used to call attention to something you are pleased with or to suggest an appearance as if by magic.

So what can you do to increase your intrinsic motivation when you are seeking results that take effort and time?

  1. Find your why
  2. Take action

Finding Motivation

How do you motivate yourself? How do you find intrinsic motivation? It’s not from a fixed mindset, but it’s not only with a growth mindset. Adopting a growth mindset will help you progress in any area of your life in which you put forth the right kind of effort. However, along with a growth mindset, you need to have a clear understanding of your motivation and the deeper reasons you want to do something.

Surprisingly, we aren’t always aware of why we feel we should do things. By bringing those reasons to the forefront of our minds, we can increase our intrinsic motivation.

It’s important to look for ways to bring fun, meaning, and greater purpose to the things on our to-do list.

For years I said I wanted to do yoga daily, but it wasn’t until I found an enjoyable way to do it (Yoga with Adriene!) on a regular basis that I finally made a habit out of it.

Related post: Habits: Change your habits, change your life

When you can identify a reason that is either enjoyable, meaningful, or purposeful, your can increase your motivation.

Learning English does not have to be a chore. There are many ways to make it enjoyable. Connect it to your interests, and your motivation will skyrocket.

skyrocket: increase very quickly

If regular exercise is one of your goals, find a way to make it enjoyable. There are so many different ways you can get regular movement and build strength.

If you’re in a similar position to my students and have to take a class or do a job that you are not interested in, you might have to dig a little deeper to find your why. In order to do things that we do not feel motivated to do, we have to look more closely at what we are doing and find our why.

Related post: 3 Tips to Enjoy Learning English

Find Your Why

Finding your why is finding your reason, your motivation for doing something. It’s about figuring out what’s in it for you?

What’s in it for me? = What is the benefit for me?

People study English for many reasons. The least motivating reason is that someone is forcing you to study it. More motivating reasons are because you want to watch movies without subtitles or use English to communicate while traveling. Whatever the case, the more personal you can make your reason, the more motivated you will be.

We all have our hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities. We have things we enjoy doing and things we hate doing. As a teacher, some students will like my class and others won’t. Whether they like it or not, what I want is for them to make the best of the time they spend in my class by finding their why and engaging in a meaningful way.

If you have to do something, why not get as much out of it as you can?

Focus on your why, make a plan, and stick to it. If you’re struggling to find motivation and can’t find your why, don’t worry. There’s good news: Motivation is overrated when it comes to getting ourselves to do things. There are ways to get past a lack of motivation.

overrated: rated or valued too highly

Confidence Comes from Action

Motivation increases by building confidence. The first step is to free yourself from the idea that you have to do something perfectly. It’s okay to make mistakes. Mistakes and setbacks are a part of the process. You must put aside your fears of failure and forge ahead.

forge ahead: to continue moving forward
Source: The Free Dictionary

Figure out simple daily actions you can take to get started on whatever your goal is. Confidence is built through purposeful action, not through waiting. Let go of perfection and begin to embrace good enough.

Striving for perfection keeps us stuck in procrastination.

It’s natural that you aren’t very motivated to do things that you don’t think you are good at. You might be right. You might not be good at them. However, you must push past this limitation if you truly want to do them. You can’t wait for confidence or motivation. You can try to find them, but failing that, you have to take action. It is action that increases our confidence and confidence that increases our motivation.

“Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Getting started, even in very small ways, is a form of active inspiration that naturally produces momentum.”
~ James Clear

Embrace Good Enough

The idea of good enough is what has allowed me to write this and the past four blog posts for you. I let go of perfection knowing that I can always improve them later. For now, they are good enough.

Apply the idea of good enough to your own goals and tasks. When you do, you’ll begin to get much more done. The more you get done, the better you’ll get at doing things as opposed to putting things off. As you get better at doing things, you’ll increase your confidence in your ability to get things done. Your newfound confidence will fuel your motivation.

fuel /ˈfyu əl/: to support or stimulate
Fuel is both a noun and a verb.

Motivation and Mindset

There is a close relationship between mindset and motivation. When we are in a fixed mindset, we lack motivation to learn or put in effort. However, the solution is bigger than just shifting to a growth mindset. There needs to be some form of incentive to motivate you to do the work it takes to adopt a growth mindset.

Shift your mindset from focusing on results to focusing on actions you can take every day to get you closer to where you want to be. Let go of your expectations about how you think something should be done. There is more than one way to skin a cat. Ugh, sorry, that’s a terrible idiom, but it’s very apropos here (relevant – another word we stole from French).

There is more than one way to skin a cat: There is more than one way to achieve a goal

Related post: Mindset: A Key to Improvement

Don’t Wait for Motivation

The next time you have to do something that you don’t feel motivated to do, take some time to think about the reasons you are doing it. Is it something you have to do or something you want to do? If it’s neither, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your priorities.

Related post: Prioritize to Optimize Learning

If you have to do something despite not wanting to, is there any benefit you can gain from doing it? If so, focus on that. Keep it in mind.

to keep in mind: to remember

The trouble comes when we simply have no motivation. Procrastination becomes endless. The way to overcome procrastination and lack of motivation is by creating a schedule and sticking to it.

“Setting a schedule for yourself seems simple, but it puts your decision-making on autopilot by giving your goals a time and a place to live. It makes it more likely that you will follow through regardless of your motivation levels.”
~ James Clear

It’s important to start small. If you make a task too difficult, it’s a recipe for failure. When scheduling a task, whether studying English, cleaning the house, or exercising, there are two things you can do to increase your likelihood of completing the task:

  1. Piggyback tasks
  2. Reward yourself

Piggyback Tasks

We can all probably remember getting piggybacks when we were children. This term can also be used to talk about using something to your advantage or something that is connected or dependent on something else.

To piggyback a task is to attach it to something else. To be effective, it should not take too much time. Remember, it could be something you already do regularly. This is what James Clear refers to as your pre-game routine.

“The most important part of any task is starting. If you can’t get motivated in the beginning, then you’ll find that motivation often comes after starting. That’s why your pre–game routine needs to be incredibly easy to start.”
Source: James Clear

Incorporate your new task into a pre-game routine that is easy and if possible, enjoyable. Below are some ideas for how to piggyback a task. Of course, what you do should be somehow related to the task. Some suggestions work well for exercising, while others are more suited to meditating or working at a computer.

  • Play a favorite song
  • Light a candle
  • Dim the lights
  • Prepare a favorite beverage or snack
  • Put on your favorite work-out clothes

What you do to begin your routine becomes tied to the task that you aren’t motivated to do. It is like a jump-start to get you to begin. I have used this to develop new habits, and it works well. Preparing coffee is the beginning of my morning writing routine. Once the coffee is ready, it’s time to sit down and write. Drinking coffee was something I already did, so it was pretty easy to piggyback a writing habit on top of it.

For every thing you want to do, there is a key that will unlock the action.

You’ll know when you find the key to unlocking action. For years I wanted to develop a daily walking habit. Once I figured out that getting dressed was the key to getting out the door, the habit quickly took root.

to take root: to become fixed or established

Reward Yourself

The other way to increase your willingness to complete a task is to to give yourself external motivation in the form of a reward so that your mind begins to connect the thing you’d rather not do with something you want and enjoy. After doing something you aren’t motivated to do, indulge in a treat that you like or spend time doing something you enjoy.

You don’t need any motivation to do your favorite things. You don’t need any motivation to do your habits. Personally, I need no motivation to play Words With Friends or to look at Twitter. In fact, I need motivation to not do those things. We all have things we do regularly, some good, some perhaps not so good. If we can’t give up the not so good habits, we can at least use them to our advantage by postponing them and turning them into rewards.

You might play a favorite game, indulge in a favorite snack, or check social media. By postponing these things until after you complete the task, you increase your motivation to complete the task that you are trying to develop into a new habit.

By rewarding yourself, you can train yourself to complete tasks even without motivation. We like to think that we are above such conditioning, but we are, in fact, far more susceptible to it than we realize.

conditioning: the process of training or influencing a person or animal mentally so that they do or expect a particular thing without thinking about it
Source: Cambridge Dictionary

Don’t wait for motivation. If you have to do something, and you have zero motivation, just do it. Nike knows best. Prioritize your tasks. Tie your tasks to existing habits and work in rewards, so that motivation becomes a non-issue.

“A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today.”
~ Karen Lamb

Want more motivation to learn English? Subscribe to my newsletter for more English in your inbox.

Never stop learning!
~ Trey

Related affiliate post: 10 Practical Ways To Motivate Yourself To Study English

Motivation: The Scientific Guide on How to Get and Stay Motivated. (2020, November 11). James Clear.