I used to get so much done before my retirement. I was motivated and full of energy. I would get up each day and really get going. This is not who I see in the mirror now – what happened to me?

Well, a lot of things happened. And probably quite quickly.

Without a daily work routine, you now have little structure to your day. No one is pushing you, no deadlines. You may not even set an alarm to wake up each morning. All of this is a recipe for motivation drain, for inertia. A recipe for feeling like you have things to do, but find it really hard to get much done.

This kind of inertia can be a real danger. And as we get older, it can lead to decay in our physical, emotional and social lives.

Surely no one wants to decay, at any age. But inertia can be a powerful foe and not easily defeated or even kept at bay.

To fight back against this tide, we need to find and strengthen our motivation – motivation to be more active, eat healthier and connect more with others. And that is just a start.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are two fundamental forces that drive our behavior, but they operate in very different ways. Here’s a breakdown of their key differences.

Extrinsic motivation is based on external pressures or rewards. For example, we may study extra hard because we want to get a good grade in school. Extrinsic rewards can be valuable, especially for getting us started on a new task.

Social approval can be a powerful extrinsic motivator. One way to harness this force is to go public with our goals. If we are starting a new diet or exercise regime, we could tell our friends and family about our plans. In turn, they may ask us about our progress and help to keep us on track. We don’t want to disappoint them or feel like a failure. Using these forces on purpose can help motivate us to succeed.

Extrinsic motivation can be effective in the short term, but it may not be sustainable in the long run. Once the reward is obtained or the external pressure is removed, the motivation to continue the activity may disappear.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, tends to be more long-lasting, especially when it’s fueled by genuine interest and enjoyment.  This type of motivation comes from within us. It’s driven by our inherent enjoyment or satisfaction of the activity itself. We do something because we find it interesting, challenging, or fulfilling. Sometimes, it is driven by our values, such as wanting to do what we believe is the right thing to do.

True self-motivation is intrinsic, initiated and sustained by us. So, how do we get more of it. Here are some ideas.

  1. Activation It is hard to getting moving if you are feeling tired, scattered or overwhelmed. Without a bit of energy or a clear head, it is difficult to take that first step.

Personally, I find a simple cup of coffee, or even tea, works for me. I find that caffeine is a stimulant that clears my head and gives me some energy to get started. If I am doing a physical chore, I find music delivered right into my brain with headphones or earbuds does the trick.

The idea here is to energize your physical state. This makes it easier to get moving.

When you need to settle down or clear your head, some people use simple movements, such as a yoga exercise or a walk outside. A friend of mine relies on an unusual method. She needs to clean her house before she can get down to writing reports. Then she is very productive.

2. Let’s Make a Deal

Often, the hardest part of going for a run is getting out the door. This same struggle applies to exercise, in general, or even any activity a part of you wants to avoid. You may even resist making a phone call to someone you haven’t talked with in a while. It’s the initiation that often stops us.

The best option is to do it NOW, before you talk yourself out of it.

The next best option is to make a deal with yourself.

If I get my gym clothes on and make it to the end of the front walk, I can turn around and go back into the house – without any guilt or recrimination.

This will be a success, no matter what happens next. Chances are, though, once you are dressed and ready to go (and after some caffeine to help), you will keep going toward a larger goal.

3. Remind Yourself of Why

Maybe you need something a little stronger to get you going – some passion, some emotion, some purpose. This is where creating a meaningful story can really help.

Simon Sinek has garnered over 40 million views from a TEDx Talk he did back in 2009. It was called, Start with Why, and has become  very popular for businesses and individuals wanting to improve productivity.

His basic idea is that motivation and inspiration are best driven by crafting a compelling story around your goals. What does your desired outcome look like? Why is it important to you? How will it change your life? By connecting your goals with a larger purpose, it becomes easier and more motivating to take action.

It is helpful to remind yourself of your why each time you want to get going.

4. The Road to Productivity

Nurture a growth mindset toward all of your activities and goals – or at least the important ones.

A growth mindset is the belief that your abilities can be developed through effort and learning. People with a growth mindset see challenges as opportunities to improve, and they’re not afraid of failure. They view failure as a chance to learn and grow. 

This also means fighting back against a harmful fixed mindset.

People with a fixed mindset believe that talents and intelligence are inborn and can’t be changed. This can lead to them avoid challenges, give up easily, and feel threatened by others’ success.

People often apply this fixed view as a reason to avoid creative projects. But, you can learn to be creative in your own way. There are many ways to be creative, not just the common societal standards.

5. Find a Role Model

Personally, I find reading and learning about others’ successes uplifting and energizing. Even when that person’s life is very different from mine.

I am never going to travel to Nepal to deliver children’s books to children in poor villages. But reading about how and why John Wood did this, to create the charity Room to Read, still revs me up.

Such stories work even better when you can see even a little of yourself (or potential self) in the role model’s journey. Learning about how others got started with very little. How they overcame significant obstacles. Or how they touched the lives of those less fortunate.

These are the kinds of examples that can really get us motivated.

A shorter version of this post first appeared on SixtyandMe.com.

Here are a couple of extra ideas to help you Go and Go some more. Some thoughts on how to get started doing meaningful things (from my newsletter on A Warm Heart).

Until next time, let our warm hearts soar!



And thank you for caring that little bit extra – it really makes a big difference.

Image from Room to Read - Thank you

“Education is the only thing that cannot be taken away. It is the key to fulfilling my dreams.”
Girls’ Education Program Participant

Room to Read Nepal