Moving Along: What it Takes to Stay Motivated

Sometimes it’s easy to sit down (and sometimes get up) and get things done. Other times, we struggle to find the motivation to do so. Below is a short summary of what researchers have discovered with regards to getting our work done.

American students prefer independent work.

Americans prefer messages that stress their independence rather than interconnectedness. In a study done at Stanford, psychologists found that American students were less interested and less motivated to succeed in courses that required a larger quantity of group and collaborative work. In contrast, they were motivated to do participate in classes that required independent work.

Incentives: the good and the bad.

Many motivation models follow the approach of providing incentives for desired behaviors.  While research have shown that incentives can be important and useful under certain circumstances, other factors can be even more important.
If an individual considers an activity or behavior enjoyable or rewarding, giving them an incentive may actually decrease motivation. Research has shown that when people are giving external rewards for things they already find intrinsically motivating, they become less interested in the activity. This phenomena is referred to as the overjustification effect.

One way is the intrinsic way.

One way to increase motivation is to make the task intrinsically motivating. This can be done by ensuring tasks are sufficiently challenging, but not impossible. As a result, the task is interesting and attention-grabbing. Offering people control over how they approach a problem, offering praise and recognition for effort, and giving individuals the opportunity to compare their approaches to those of others also contributes to increased intrinsic motivation.

Praise efforts, not ability.

Praising ability, as opposed to effort, may actually decrease motivation over time. An example of this would be praising a child for solving a math problem. Saying “you’re so smart” to a child may actually make them more likely to give up in the future when they encounter a harder problem. Psychologists suggest that stressing innate abilities, such as intelligence, appearances, etc. leads to people holding fixed views about themselves, their traits, and their characteristics.
Experts suggest that praising the effort and process for resolving the problem helps kids (and adults) see their abilities as malleable and something that can be improved on.


Willpower is great, but it only gets us so far. When faced with a particularly difficult and/or onerous task, willpower reserves may deplete extremely quickly. Research suggests that when willpower levels begin to fall low, it becomes a matter of finding the right internal motivation. With internal motivation, we can recharge our motivational energies.

Staying motivated is daunting and there are a multitude of resources available to us to help encourage us through challenges. From intrinsic motivation to incentives, there are a multitude of resources of available. At the end of the day, the key is finding what works just right for you.



Donald, B. (2013, Jan. 28). To motivate many Americans, think ‘me’ before ‘we,’ say Stanford psychologists. Stanford News. Retrieved from

Gröpel, P., & Kehr, H. M. (2013). Motivation and self-control: Implicit motives moderate the exertion of self-control in motive-related tasks. Journal of Personality, DOI: 10.1111/jopy.12059.

Malone, T. W. & Lepper, M. R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. In R. E. Snow & M. J. Farr (Eds.), Aptitude, learning, and instruction: III. Conative and affective process analysis, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.


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