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How to Motivate Yourself

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

Have you ever wanted to do something that you felt you should do, but you just lacked motivation? Maybe it’s starting to exercise, maybe it’s saving money, or maybe it’s to stop procrastinating on that thing you’ve been wanting to start doing for a while. How can we motivate ourselves?

In his book, Limitless, Jim Kiwk explains a simple and insightful way to think about motivating ourselves. Here is his formula:

Motivation = Purpose X Energy X Small Simple Steps

If any of the three factors is 0, our motivation will be 0. To increase our motivation, we can increase any of the three factors.

1: Purpose

To get clear on your purpose, articulate clearly in writing why you need to do what you need to do. In other words, ask yourself, “Why must I do this?”

To have a strong purpose, link it to serving others. For example, a top student doesn’t study just for the sake of getting a good grade. Her purpose for being at the top of her class is so she can create a better future for her family who sacrificed a lot for her to have a good education.

To give another example, a healthy 70-year old doesn’t wake up at 5:00AM to go to the gym because he wants a nice-looking body for himself. He does it to set a good example for his peers and children about the importance of exercise. His actions tell them, "If I can do it, you can too." A purpose linked to serving others will be much stronger than a selfish purpose.

Purpose vs. Mood

One of my realizations after reading about purpose is that purpose is different from mood. The mistake people make is they wait to be "in the mood" before doing something. A student might say, "I don't feel in the mood to do my homework right now, so I'll wait until I feel in the mood." Or someone might say, "I don't feel like exercising right now. I'll wait until I'm in the mood."

If you want until you're "in the mood", you'll never do it. The key to motivation is realizing that motivation does not come from mood, it comes from purpose. If you have a strong purpose, you will do that unpleasant task even if you're not in the mood. For example, that 70-year old who wakes up at 5:00AM probably isn't feel all excited to go do a hard workout at the gym. He's probably kind of tired and sleepy. But he's able to do it because he's driven by purpose, not mood.

Four Types of Purpose

In the book Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty explains that people usually are motivated by four purposes:

  1. Fear — fear of sickness, poverty, death, etc.

  2. Desire — desiring success, wealth, pleasure

  3. Duty — driven by responsibility, integrity, and gratitude

  4. Love — driven by care for others

Fear is not a sustainable motivator. If we rely on fear to motivate us, we will be very stressed and eventually lose our ability to think and act properly.

Desire is also not a good motivator because it doesn't result in us feeling happy and fulfilled. Desire is for external things like success, money, fame, and pleasure. People think these things will make them happy, but it doesn't. There are so many examples of rich and famous people who are unhappy. The real source of happiness and fulfillment is duty and love.

Duty is when we do something out of responsibility, integrity, and gratitude. For example, a child goes to school because she is grateful to her parents for working so hard to provide food and shelter and education for her. No one needs to ask her to go do her homework. She is happy to do so because she is motivated by duty.

Love goes a step above duty. It's about really wanting the best for others, and it's the reason why people go above and beyond their duty. For example, a teacher stays up late and works overtime to provide his students with feedback and improves lessons, not because it is required in his job, but because he truly wants to have the most positive impact on his students.

In order to be happy and motivated, we need to have duty and love. When you ask yourself why you do something, keep asking "Why?" until you can find an answer related to duty or love.

For example, a student says "I go to school to get good grades and make money." That's related to desire. I ask why. He says, "So that I can repay all the money and hard work that my parents spent on me." That's related to duty. When he was able to elevate his purpose from desire to duty, he got more motivated.

2: Energy

After having a clear purpose for doing something, you need enough energy to act. If you have a purpose for reading 30 minutes a day, but you’re tired all the time, you may not succeed in completing the task. How can people maintain high energy levels? Here are five areas in your life that can influence your energy levels:

  1. Food

  2. Exercise

  3. Sleep

  4. Environment

  5. Peer Influence

2.1 Food

When it comes to food, there’s a lot of different opinions out there from different experts about what people should eat. However, almost every expert agrees on what foods are unhealthy, and that’s processed and packaged foods. These are foods that come in a box, can, or plastic wrap. Examples include

  • frozen meals

  • boxed foods like cereals and pizzas

  • wrapped foods like bread, pastries, candy

  • reconstituted meats lie sausages, nuggets, and fish fingers

  • sodas and other sweetened drinks

These super processed foods have added sugar and salt, artificial ingredients, refined carbohydrates, and trans fats. As a result, they taste great, but they increase inflammation in the body. You might feel happy while eating processed food, but shortly after, you'll feel drained with little energy because your body is using energy to heal from the negative effects of that food.

To increase your energy, reduce packaged and processed foods, and eat more natural foods in their whole forms. For example, eat raw or steamed vegetables instead of canned vegetable soup. Eat real fruit instead of a fruit pie. Cook your own dinner from raw ingredients instead of microwaving a packaged dinner. Jim Kwik also gives some examples of great brain foods: avocados, blueberries, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, turmeric, and water.

2.2 Exercise

Next, regular exercise is important to protect memory and thinking skills. You don’t need to become an Olympic athlete though. Even 5-7 minutes of exercise a day can have tremendous benefits!

In his book, Feel Better in 5, Dr. Rangan Chaterjee gives many 5-minute workout routines involving simple exercises like push-ups, lunges, squats, and yoga. Here is an example of a 5-minute kitchen exercise video:

There’s also a famous program called the 7-minute workout, which you can easily find videos on YouTube for.

Exercising for small amounts daily is great for our energy. It also improves our sleep, which brings us to the next point.

2.3 Sleep

Getting enough quality sleep is key to having energy. According to Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter and host of The Model Health Show, long-term sleep deprivation is a catalyst for disease since it weakens the immune system. Below are seven tips from Stevenson for improving sleep.

Tip 1: Avoid blue light from screens 60 minutes before bed.

Blue light keeps us awake and reduces the quality of our sleep. We also get stimulated from the activities we do on our devices, so we should stop using our devices 60 minutes before sleep. If you really have to use your device, then at least install a blue light blocker app like f.lux.

Tip 2: Sleep at the right time

Stevenson calls 10PM to 2AM “Money Time Sleep” because between those hours, humans get the most amount of restful recovery sleep. One hour of Money Time Sleep is worth twice as much as sleep outside those hours.

Tip 3: Avoid caffeine in the evenings

Stevenson recommends avoiding caffeine by 4PM, though the time could be even earlier for those more sensitive to caffeine.

Tip 4: Sleep in a completely dark room

Humans have evolved to sleep better in a dark environment. Having light in your room can reduce your ability to fall asleep and the quality of your sleep.

Tip 5: Use your bed only for sleep

Many people watch TV in bed or play on their phones in bed. As a result, when they get into bed, they don’t feel like sleeping. Their body thinks it’s time to watch TV or play on the time.

Tip 6: Calm your mind

You can calm your mind using meditation, which has been proven to lower stress and inflammation in our bodies. For example, a mindfulness meditation you can do before bed is to lie down and really notice the sensations in your body from toe to head, then mindfully let each body part relax.

Another one you can do to relax before bed is to breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale for more than 4 seconds. You can even skip the hold part and just exhale for longer than you inhale.

Tip 7: Wake up early

Humans have evolved to rise with the sun. That will help you tune into the natural sleep pattern and feel sleepy earlier.

2.4 Clean Environment

Another important factor is to having energy is having a clean environment. This means having a clutter-free and distraction-free working environment because a messy environment will impact our mood and focus. It also means avoiding places with polluted air.

2.5 Peer Influence

Your peers also affect your energy level. As motivational speaker Jim Rohn said,

"You are the average of the five people you spend most time with." -Jim Rohn

If you spend time with passionate, high energy people, you will catch their energy. If you spend time with pessimistic complainers, your energy will get drained.

3: Small Simple Steps

Even if people have a purpose to do something and the energy to do it, they can get paralyzed or overwhelmed by how big or difficult the task seems. That’s where small simple steps come in handy.

According to Jim Kwik, a small simple step is “the tiniest action you can take to get you closer to your goal.” For example, if your task is to write a difficult email to a coworker, the small simple step might be to just sit down. That’s it. After you sit down, the next small simple step is to open your email. That’s it. Then the next small simple step is to click the button to start a new email.

You might be wondering, is that really going to help? The answer is yes because uncompleted tasks create tension at the front of our minds until the task is completed. For example, if you’re in the middle of watering your garden, and then suddenly your neighbor asks you to help them carry a new couch into their house, during the whole time you’re helping them, you just want to go back and finish watering your garden so you can stop thinking about it. Well, if you sit down and open a new email, you’ll just start wanting to write that email so you can stop thinking about it later.

Four Tendencies

One more thing that I'll mention briefly here is the Four Tendencies, which is a personality framework about how people respond to expectations. In this framework, there are four types of people:

  1. Upholders: They readily respond to outer and inner expectations.

  2. Questioners: They only respond to inner expectations.

  3. Obligers: They only respond to outer expectations.

  4. Rebels: They resist all expectations.

To find out which Tendency you are, you can take a formal quiz here:

Or you can pick a statement that matches you:

  1. Upholder: I love routines, and people think I’m extremely disciplined.

  2. Questioner: I love researching, and people sometimes say that I ask “Why?” too much.

  3. Obliger: I put others ahead of me, and I value harmony in relationships.

  4. Rebel: I value freedom and choice; I do what I want to do, when I want to do it.

If you are an Upholder, it's easy to get yourself to do things. If you are a Questioner, you must get clear on why you should do that thing, and why now, and why in this way. If you are an Obliger, you need to have someone depending on you to do that thing. If you are a Rebel, you need to have freedom to do that thing whenever you want in your own way.

You can read more about the Four Tendencies in this article.


We now know that Motivation = Purpose X Energy X Small Simple Steps. If any of the factors are 0, then our motivation is 0. We can improve our purpose by getting clear on why we must do the task, and that why should be linked to serving others. We can improve our energy by living a healthy lifestyle, keeping a clean environment, and choosing positive peer influences. We can increase small simple steps by doing the smallest thing to start the task, then we will naturally want to finish it.

We also know that your Tendency affects your motivation towards tasks because tasks are expectations, either from ourselves or from others. Depending on your Tendency, you need to approach motivation differently.

Now that you know how to motivate yourself, the most important thing is to act on that knowledge and improve your motivation!

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