Guidelines for Better Motivation



Motivation is powerful stuff, and it’s a skill you can use throughout your lifetime.

 Motivation comes from the Latin word, movere, which means “to move.”

According to Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, motivation shapes three aspects of action:

  1. Your direction or choice.
  2. Your intensity or effort.
  3. Your duration or persistence.

Keys to Motivation

Here are a few keys to keep in mind when you focus on improving your motivation:

  1. Know Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is useful for understanding basic drivers and needs.
  2. Know McClelland’s Theory of Needs. David McClelland’s theory of needs shines the light on the need for achievement, affiliation, and power.
  3. Distinguish between internal and external motivation. It’s useful to distinguish between intrinsic or internal motivation, and extrinsic, or external motivation. Masters of motivation heavily leverage their intrinsic motivation and they know how to connect to values, to make things meaningful for themselves and others.
  4. Purpose trumps all. If you want the ultimate source of inspiration on your side, then drive from your purpose.


The motivation guidelines are organized by the following categories:

  • General
  • Action
  • Anxiety, Stress
  • Change
  • Clarity
  • Comparison
  • Decision
  • Discipline, Self-Awareness, Self-Control
  • Emotion, Passion
  • Fear, Failure
  • Focus
  • Fun
  • Goals and Limits
  • Mental Models, Mindsets, and Metaphors
  • Pain and Pleasure
  • Perfectionism
  • Progress
  • Purpose
  • Strengths
  • Teaming Up
  • Thinking, Self-Talk
  • Visualization


  • Be on fire. While playing foosball, if somebody was playing incredibly well, we would say, they were “en fuego”, or “on fire.” You know when you’re on fire. You know what you’re like when you’re in the zone and you’re fully engaged, and you are at you’re best. Sometimes, the easiest way to get back to this mode is to simply remember what it feels like. Here are some questions to help light you up: When you got your mojo working and you’re at the top of your game, what do you focus on? … How do you carry yourself? … How do you move? … How do you speak? …. How do you breathe? Do more of that, and feel yourself fire on all cylinders.
  • Bend the rules to bring out your best. If you set the rules, you win the game. If you focus on outcomes, then you gain a lot of flexibility in how you get there. Part of winning in life and feeling good is playing your cards in a way that works for you. This requires self-awareness and reflection. Challenge yourself to play your hand better and to play with a full deck of possibility.
  • Create some space. Carve out time in your schedule to focus, recharge, and renew. Continuously find ways to make more space, turn things off, and savor your down time. Great down time, leads to great up time. Just because you’re in an “always on” world, doesn’t mean you have to play the game that way. Bend the rules to bring out your best.
  • Create the arena that serves you. Surround yourself with the people, places, and things that bring out your best. Sometimes this means going to where the grass really is greener.
  • Cut the dead wood. Some things just weight you down or bog you down. If it’s holding you down, then it’s holding you back, so drop it. If it’s dead weight that doesn’t serve you, then let it go. In the words of Peaceful Warrior, “Put your bags down.”
  • Do the opposite. Do the opposite of whatever is not working. If you’re the one that brings you down, then be the one that lifts you up.
  • Don’t let anybody tell you can’t do something, or that you’re not good enough. Especially you. From the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness: “Don’t ever let somebody tell you… You can’t do something. Not even me. All right? … You got a dream… You gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.”
  • Eat, sleep, and exercise on a cadence. Your cadence will serve you emotionally, mentally, and physically. It’s something to look forward to. It sets up boundaries that help you unleash your best. It’s also a way to recharge without going past your boundaries, or waiting until you burn out to take a break.
  • Empower yourself. Who’s holding you back? You are. Don’t play the blame-game, just own it so you can do something about it. Really do something about it … Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness. Cut the ties that bind you, and unleash yourself. As long as you’re taking action, you can keep correcting your course.
  • Find a way. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and if you are committed to the outcome, you’ll find a way to get there. Get resourceful by leveraging all your resources, including your knowledge and your network. People will help when you ask the right way, and when you are helping yourself.
  • Internalize your success. If you internalize your success, then you empower yourself to give your best in any situation. You won’t depend on the applause or appreciation of others. You won’t depend on the money, the praise, or the accolades. One way to internalize your success is to hold yourself to a higher bar, or simply to “do it for a job well done.” You can also simply take pride in your work, or you can use what you do for growth and mastery.
  • Switch to the past, present, or future. You can use the past, the present, or the future to motivate yourself. For example, you can draw from your victories in the past, or great moments in your lifetime. You can use the future to dream up possibility and inspire hope. You can use the power of now to be in the moment and savor the experience and be fully engaged. The key is to use the past, present, or future to empower and motivate your thoughts, feelings, and actions.


  • Act on your inspiration. Use your best energy for your best results. Turn your ideas into action, and find the quick wins. Quick wins quickly add up, and you’ll find your confidence and competence bloom. On the flip side, your passion can expire, if you wait too long or miss the window of opportunity. In fact, a common way to kill ideas or momentum is to spread them out over time, or keep pushing them out. If your passion does expire, one way to rekindle it is to talk to somebody about why you cared about it, and that can often light the fuse again.
  • Build momentum. Get some momentum going, even the small wins count (if you count them.) The trick is the more you count your wins, the more you’ll have, the more you have the better you’ll feel, the better you feel, the better you will do … it’s a cycle.
  • Do worst things first. Don’t let things loom over you. Once they’re out of the way, the rest is a glide-path.
  • Find your flow. You can find your flow by having a clear goal, having actionable feedback, and working on something that challenges you, but where you have the confidence in your skills to respond to the challenge. If you can lose yourself in your work, you can find your flow and enjoy the power of full engagement.
  • Finish faster. The faster you finish, the more you will finish. The more you finish, the easier it gets. Finishing builds momentum and it’s highly motivating to see the impact of your effort. Crossing the finish line builds your confidence. It also shapes your mental model in a way that reinforces your persistence and perseverance.
  • Keep moving forward. There’s always bigger fish to fry. One way to move forward is to ask, “What’s the next best thing to do?”
  • Just start. Motivation will often show up, after you’ve started. The key is to take action and have a bias for action. There are many things you do, that won’t seem fun or you won’t want to do at first, but once you get going, and you’re in full swing, the motivation will follow.
  • Make it a “MUST.” If you have a bunch of things you “SHOULD” do, then make them a “MUST.” We do the things we MUST, more often than we do the things we SHOULD. Hold yourself to a higher bar.
  • Simplify it. Complexity can kill motivation. Simplicity can unleash it.
  • Switch gears. Speed up or slow down. Get yourself in gear, and play with your pace to win the race. Don’t get stuck in second gear. Sometimes, “it’s slow and steady that wins the race.”
  • Turn “have tos” into “choose tos.” Choice is powerful. If you stop saying “have to”, and start saying “choose to,” you’ll begin to feel more in control and more empowered throughout your day. Many things may not seem optional, but what you’re doing is choosing those over the consequences

Anxiety, Stress

  • Don’t let anxiety or worry get the best of you. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It wears you down and it’s the death of a 1,000 paper cuts. Nip your worries in the bud and put your worries into perspective. For example, use the 100-year rule — ask yourself, “Will t it matter in 100 years?” Another simple way to get a handle on your worries is to write things down onto one list. Thinking on paper is way more effective than swirling things in your head. The other beauty is you can pair up with a friend to help you think through the stuff that bugs you.
  • Use stress to be your best. Distinguish between anxiety and stress. Stress is your body’s response and anxiety is your cognitive response. You can use your nerves to perform better and actually make stress your friend.


  • Be the change you want to see. You can change yourself faster than you can change other people. If you want to change the situation, change yourself and notice the ripple effect. Set the bar, and model the path for others to follow. Leading by example is a powerful way to leverage the principle of “monkey see, monkey do.”
  • Be part of the solution. As my Mom always told me, “You’re part of the problem, or you’re part of the solution.” It’s always motivating to know you are part of the solution.
  • Call it an experiment. One of my managers taught me this. If you’re going out of your comfort zone, call it an experiment. This frees you up to try new things. This also works in an organizational setting to explore and experiment new paths, while getting over the organization’s fear of trying something new … after all, it’s just an “experiment.”
  • Embrace the change. Resistance is futile, and it wears you out. Instead, take the bull by the horns, and make the change work in your favor. There’s always an angle, and there is always a play.
  • Rattle your own cage. Sometimes you just have to shake things up.


  • Figure out what you want. When you know what you want, that becomes your North Star, guiding light, and ultimate motivator. Clarity helps create confidence in your path, and it helps you focus and direct your action and energy.


  • Be YOUR best. Compete with yourself and make it a game. One way to motivate yourself to new heights is to give things YOUR best shot. When you reach a new personal best and breakthrough barriers, you continuously create and push your mental model further of what’s possible.


  • Decide. Nothing builds momentum like decisive action. Similarly, nothing kills momentum like confusion and a lack of clarity. Just decide. Decide you’ll be done with it today. Decide you’ll set a new bar. Decide it’s time for a change. Decide this will not stretch out past the week. Decide this month is the month you make it happen. Decisive action is motivating, it builds momentum, and it crowds out excuses. There’s no room for excuses when you’ve made up your mind and that’s exciting.
  • Say “No” to the stuff that drags you down. If you don’t say No, then you’re serving no one. You’re bringing yourself down. The trick to saying No, is simply don’t make room for it. Crowd out the yuck stuff, with the stuff that brings you to life
  • Say “Yes” to the stuff that lifts you up. Spend your time on the stuff that lifts you up. This includes spending time in your values, and spending time in your strengths, as well as spending time with the people you want to spend time with. Get creative and find more ways to say “Yes,” to the stuff that lifts you up, and feel your spirit soar.

Discipline, Self-Awareness, Self-Control

  • Build your inner strength. When you hit a setback, don’t dwell. Brush it off. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue onward and upward. Hold the scenes in your mind that remind you that you’re a force to be reckoned with and you won’t go down without a fight. If you’re going down, you’re going down swinging.
  • Don’t let other people push your buttons. That takes your power away, and you are not their puppet. Only you should push your own buttons.
  • Inspire yourself with skill. Don’t let other people push your buttons. But you should be able to push your own buttons. You do this through self-awareness and practice. Pay attention to what feels good, sounds good, smells good, tastes good. Pay attention to the words and thoughts that bring you to life. Pay attention to the people and tasks that catalyze or drain you and look for the patterns. The more you learn your personal patterns, the more buttons and levers you will have for motivating yourself whenever you need it, in whatever you do.
  • Stick with it. Sometimes the best way to motivate yourself is to resolve to “never give up.”

Emotion, Passion

  • Be confident and calm. Don’t run around like a chicken with your head cut off. It’s bad energy for you and others. From the best athletes, to the most successful executives, to the most brilliant poker players, it’s confident and calm that win the game, and enjoy the ride. Choose confident and calm over anxious and insecure. Gaining clarity and bringing a good mental picture into focus of what you want to accomplish is a way to be confident and calm. It’s also very motivating. Some things in life are like flipping a switch, and confidence is one of those switches. Decide to be confident and calm to start the process.
  • Change your state. If you’ve ever had a case of the Mondays or if you’re not a morning person, or if you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, you know what it’s like to be in a less effective state. Our motivation runs strong when we’re in a better emotional state. One of the fastest ways to change your state is to play your favorite music or to lose yourself in your favorite hobby or remind yourself of a favorite story, or read inspiring words that tap your inner strengths and unleash a better version of yourself.
  • Change your thoughts to change your feelings. Choose the thoughts that serve you.
  • Do passion work. As a friend of mine at work says, find a way to do the work you’d do for free. Do more of the stuff you’d do, whether you were paid for it or not. There’s always a way to weave that into your job, and you are the one that needs to own this (you know you best, and you know what fires you up, and gets you jazzed.)
  • Energize your approach. Unleash your inner-Tigger and let your juices flow. Finding your passion in whatever you do brings good things to life. Energy is contagious, and you can be a fire starter.
  • Link it to good feelings. If there’s something you want to do for the long-haul, then link it to good feelings. Make it easy to do it, and link it to good thoughts and feelings that support you. A simple way to do this is to play your favorite music, or to find a compelling reason, such as who you are doing it for, or why it will matter to yourself or somebody you care about.
  • Love the mission. Some people do it “for the love of the game.” Love your mission, the way you love the game, and find a way to play at your passion, and summon your inner-strength to conquer any challenges on your path.
  • Play your favorite music. Play the songs that rock your world. Play the songs that make your spirit soar. Use a little mood music wherever you go. Whether it’s “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” “I Will Survive,” or the theme song to Rocky, use music to motivate you. Make it easy to make music a part of your ambiance whether it’s at home, in the car, or at work.
  • Turn your anger into action. Your fury can be your key to fierce results.
  • Want it with a passion. Nothing beats the pursuit of a worthy and compelling objective.

Fear, Failure

  • Change your approach. If it’s not working, change your approach. Nothing burns you out like solving the same problem over and over, or not making progress on a problem.
  • Conquer your fears. The Green Lantern teaches us that it’s will that conquers fear. Another way to tackle your fears is to take away the threat or figure out what the true concern is. If you tackle it head on, you take away its power over you.
  • Conquer your problems with confidence. Winning at small problems builds your confidence and your competence. There are many ways to solve your problems with skill. The simplest way is to start asking better questions, and to cast a wide net for potential solutions.
  • Deflect the setbacks with skill. When things go wrong, don’t make them permanent, don’t make them personal, and don’t make them pervasive. Instead, find the lesson and use the feedback to improve your effectiveness. Remember that there is no failure, only feedback, and it’s not over until you give up or stop showing up.
  • Divide and conquer your problems with skill. Chunk it down. Limit the quantity, or limit the size, or limit how much time you will spend on something. Find a way to chop things down to size and bite off what you can chew. As the saying goes, the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. You can chop just about any problem down to size, and that’s all you need to do. Slice it down to where you can start to take action and build your momentum. You’ll quickly accelerate as you start to see your progress … and just like Who’s in Whoville, progress is progress, no matter how small.
  • Don’t let fear stop you. A great way to conquer fear is to put the fears on the table and find a way to take away the threat, or prepare for the worst case scenario. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and then to put this into perspective. Once you get to the true concern, and the source of the concern, you can start to chip away at the fear, and test yourself, while you stretch yourself. As Roosevelt said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Don’t let it paralyze you. If anything, use it to take action, and prepare.
  • Don’t look for excuses. You can always find them.
  • Don’t play the blame game. Don’t be a victim. Nobody wins in the blame game, and you take your power away. Nobody likes a victim mentality. “ Own” it. When you “own” it, you can change it. The choice is yours, and you empower yourself with skill.


  • Ask questions that move the ball forward. Questions are a powerful way to increase your options, and gain leverage. You can use questions to challenge your views, and to switch to more empowering mindsets. Ask yourself, “What’s a better way?”, “How can I jump that hurdle? ”, “How can I have fun while doing it?”, etc.
  • Focus on one pitch at a time. Treat every task as a separate performance.
  • Focus on the greater good. One of the fastest ways to lift yourself up is to take the focus off yourself, and put it on the greater good. You may find a stronger flow of inner-strength, and you may find more cause, confidence, and clarity when you direct your attention to the greater good.
  • Focus on the numbers. One summer, a friend of mine tried to do pull ups and managed to do one. This infuriated him. Within two weeks, he could do fifteen pull ups.
  • Focus on the things that empower you. There are many things you can focus on: the good, the bad, and the ugly, what’s right with the situation, what’s wrong this the situation, your wins, your losses, the journey, or the destination, etc. Focus on the things that empower you and help you take action. Action is your friend, and it’s your focus that lights the way.
  • Focus on what you want. Set your eyes on the prize and focus on the goal and the end in mind. One of the best ways to kill your motivation is to keep dwelling on what you don’t want. Instead, get a clear and compelling picture of what you do want, and focus on that. Once you set your eyes on the prize, you’ll find more ways to make it happen.
  • Focus on what’s working. Nothing’s perfect. But if you focus on what’s working it can be very motivation, especially when it seems like nothing is working. Use what’s working as kindling to inspire and motivate more of the right actions.
  • Point your camera at the things that fire you up. Throughout your day there are many scenes. You can zoom in or zoom out, and you can pan around to a variety of things. The trick is to point your camera at the things that inspire your day. Think in pictures and snapshots, and take mental pictures of the things that make you feel good.


  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. If you do, you’ll never make it out alive. The more you can laugh at yourself, the freedom and flexibility you have to play your best game in life. Being your best is a journey, and one of the best ways to deal with the tough humps is to build your sense of humor, so you can roll with the punches, and get to what’s real.
  • Get your game on. Make it a game. Bring what you know about games to whatever you do, including making it fun, setting goals, keeping the score, using feedback to improve, and using competition to inspire, as well as teamwork and collaboration to win the game.
  • Go for the epic win. There’s simply no win like the epic win. If you’re going to go for the win, then go for the “epic” win.

Goals and Limits

  • Set a deadline. Knowing when something is due, or setting a drop-dead date, can help you funnel and focus your action and attention. It can also be very motivating when you have a tight deadline, either because you can hit a window of opportunity, or because you know that once it’s over, it won’t be looming over your head anymore. It’s hard to get motivated for things that are due, “whenever.”
  • Set a quantity limit. Quantity limits are a great way to chop things down to size. Can you do one of those? … Three of those? … Five of those? A lot of things get easier when you chop them down to size.
  • Set a time limit. Limits help you work in bursts … concentrated effort for a short period of time. You can use a time limit or a quantity limit. For example, see how much you can do for an hour, vs. do it until it’s done.
  • Set extreme goals. Sometimes goals have to be extreme to feel worth it. Dream big. Set crazy limits or hurdles.
  • Set mini goals. Use little goals to get started and build momentum.

Mental Models, Mindsets, and Metaphors

  • Be a force of one. People throughout time have done amazing things as one-man bands. While there is strength in numbers, and it’s a force multiplier, be the catalyst, be the change, and be the producer that makes things happen. Don’t get in your own way, and don’t hold yourself back from what’s possible.
  • Change the frame, to change your game. Problems aren’t problems when you reframe them as challenges. Challenges are opportunities for growth, excellence, and your personal best. One way to always win in a situation is to challenge yourself with this question: If this situation never were to change, what’s the one quality you need to make the most of it? Use your growth as a springboard to new heights and a catalyst for change.
  • Choose the metaphors that light your fire. Rather than a tragedy or a chore, make it a game, make it a dance, make it an epic adventure.
  • Model the best. Find the people that set great examples of what’s possible. Use them as shortcuts and as inspiration for possibilities.

Pain and Pleasure

  • Remind yourself how short life is. One way to give your fall is to remember that nothing lasts forever.
  • Remind yourself, that It could always be worse. Remind yourself how bad it could be. It’s always relative. It really can always be worse and you can always find examples. Change your frame of reference to motivate yourself to take action.
  • Use a big stick. When all else fails, sometimes you actually do need to use a stick to motivate yourself. Just remember this isn’t the best strategy for the long-haul.
  • Use pleasure and pain. In general, we move towards pleasure, and away from pain. If you’re not motivated, you either haven’t created enough potential pleasure, or you haven’t figured out a way to create enough pain. You can use pleasure and pain to help stack motivation in your favor, and gain leverage over yourself.


  • Don’t be a perfectionist. Perfection is a fallacy and it’s over-rated. A better focus is to be effective. Make it work, then make it right. Think of perfection as a process of improvement and you can version your perfection over time. Focus on “good enough for now” and “satisfice.” Taking action is a key way to stay out of analysis paralysis, and keep your motivation strong. Don’t worry about the perfect place to start, just start.


  • Chart your progress. If you want to motivate, find a way to keep the score. Progress is a top motivator of performance. Even incremental progress boosts motivation. This is based on a multi-year study that tracked activities, emotions, and motivation level of hundreds of knowledge workers in a variety of settings.
  • Count the wins. Your wins only count if you count them. It’s up to you to shine the spotlight on them. A little appreciation, even for yourself, goes a long way. What goes around comes around, motivation is contagious, and, it’s the fuel of compassion that will serve you well.
  • Reward your effort and your results. Don’t just focus on results. Success is a numbers game, and the best way to keep getting up at bat is to reward your effort. Whether you’ve raised your bar, done a good deed for yourself or others, or stuck with something when it counts, acknowledge and appreciate your personal victories. Here are some questions to ask to appreciate your effort: Did you show up when you should? Did you make your plan and work your plan? Did you do something a little better than you’ve done before? Did you hit a new high water mark?


  • Choose significant tasks that are meaningful for you. Don’t be your own enemy of inspiration and worst task master. Either choose better tasks, or find a way to make the tasks you choose to do more fun. You can do this by connecting them to your values. For example, if you like to learn, then make the task about the learning. If you like excellence, then challenge yourself to shine.
  • Choose the words that mean something to you. Do you want to call back a customer, or win a raving fan? Do you want to do that project, or go on an epic adventure? The words you use matter, and you can be your personal bard of brilliance. Strike the right chords with words that make your soul sing.
  • Find your “one thing.” Do more of the one thing that matters most. Lots of things are important. But one thing matters to you most. Do more of that. That’s the thing to focus on. When you focus on your one thing that truly matters, your motivation and mojo flow in new and powerful ways.
  • Find your “why.” When you have a compelling “why,” it will inspire you through thick and through thin.


  • Play to your strengths. Strengths are your natural thinking, feeling, and doing patterns. The more time you spend in your strengths, the more you will find and gain your motivation. It’s also a great way to recharge yourself.

Teaming Up

  • Build your band of merry men. Robin Hood knew the journey of life was better with his pals that watched his back. Surround yourself with the people that inspire and delight you, wherever you go.
  • Team up to tackle the tough stuff. Pair up with people that give you good energy and help you tackle any challenge. While it’s great to be self-reliant, and you should be strong as a one-man band, many things are more rewarding, more fun, and more motivating when you team up. You know you’re a great team when you run towards problems vs. away.

Thinking, Self-Talk

  • Ask yourself, “What would Tony Robbins do?” It’s a powerful thing when you look through another lens. Plug in your favorite role model, but use them to gain perspective. It’s a fast way to think out of the box, and to look at the situation through another lens. If you need more humor in the situation, ask, “What would Lucy or Bob Hope do?” If you need to be more intense, ask, “What would Bruce Lee do?” If you need to be more debonair, ask, “What would Richard Branson do?”
  • Be a coach, not a critic. You can be your best coach or your worst critic. You know yourself best, and you know how to beat yourself down, or lift yourself up. User your inner coach for constructive feedback, and give your inner-critic a break.
  • Change the story you tell yourself. The stories we tell ourselves inspire us or bring us to our knees. Unleash your inner story-teller and tell yourself better stories. Tell yourself stories of hope, inspiration, and strength. Tell yourself stories of confidence, competence, and compassion. Write a new ending, write a new chapter, and write your story forward, a day at a time, a moment at a time.
  • Don’t play the same broken record. Find a new song. Whether it’s an excuse you tell yourself, or a story you tell yourself, or just the way you explain something that’s disempowering, change your tune.
  • Think the thoughts that serve you. How do you lead your best life? A thought at a time. This is where it all starts. You’re the thinker of your thoughts. Each thought can help you spiral up, or it can tear you down.


  • Choose the scenes that serve you. If the movies you play in your head show you failing or flailing, then play another scene. You’re the director, you make the cuts.
  • Create a wall of inspiration. Put those pictures up that show you the greatest things in life and what’s possible. Get those hopes and dreams up on the wall that remind you what’s worth fighting for. Put those words on the wall and quotable quotes that fire you up and make you feel alive. Breathe life into your day with a living wall of the best of the best.
  • See it in your mind’s eye. “What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve.” When you can see something in your mind’s-eye, it’s easier to make it happen.
  • See what’s possible in a way that blows your mind.


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