Emotional Intelligence

by Andy Smith

Step three: Motivation


Motivation is the ability to use your deepest emotions to move and guide you towards your goals. This ability enables you to take the initiative and to persevere in the face of obstacles and setbacks.

How good are you at motivating yourself?

This quick and entirely unscientific self-assessment is designed to get you thinking about your motivation levels and deciding which aspects of your self-motivation abilities you would like to improve.


Fill in the motivation part of the attached questionnaire (PDF format).

How to improve your motivation

The following tips are designed to help you clarify what you want, maintain your momentum in the face of setbacks, and reinforce your motivation at both the conscious and unconscious levels.

Discover what you really want to do

If it’s not easy to motivate yourself now, maybe you’re not doing what you really want to do. What do you love doing so much you’d do it for free? What are you interested in? What excites you? What gives you energy?

Clarify your values

Values are what is important to us. They motivate us and are our criteria for knowing if we are doing the right thing. To clarify your values for a given area of your life – career, health and fitness, relationships – make a list of what’s important to you about that area. Better still, get someone else to ask you: ‘What’s important about <area>?’ Get them to keep asking you that, even past the point where you think you’ve run out of answers – this is when your deepest motivations often surface. Are these values being satisfied in your life now?

Prioritise your values

If you could only have one, which would be the most important value on that list? What’s the next most important? Values determine how we spend our time, so in practice only the top six or seven values get significant time devoted to their fulfilment.

Resolve values conflicts

If you’re not achieving your goals, it may be because two values are in conflict – money versus work/life balance, for example. If you find this, for each value keep asking ‘What’s important about that?’ until you reach a higher-level purpose that can satisfy both.

Establish if your motivation is ‘towards’ or ‘away from’

For each value, ask yourself ‘Why is that important?’. You may get a ‘towards’ answer – ‘Because I love the things it gives me’ – or an ‘away from’ answer – ‘Because I hate not having it’. There can also be ‘concealed away-froms’ – ‘Because it’s better to have it’. Better than what? Better than not having it – which is an ‘away from’.

Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want

You tend to get what you focus on, so focus on what you want. ‘Away from’ motivation can be very powerful and great for getting you out of trouble, but it is directionless (‘away’ can be any direction) and runs out once you get far enough away from what you don’t want. ‘Towards’ motivation gives you more direction and gets stronger the closer you get to your goal.

Make sure your goal is right for you

Does your goal raise your interest and renew your energy levels when you think about it? Will it be good for every area of your life? If not, do you really want it? Is it really your goal?

Make what you want more compelling

See yourself achieving your goal. How will you know when you have it? Notice how you feel in response to that picture. If it feels good, make that picture big, bright, colourful and moving, so your good feeling gets stronger. Add some sound. Step into the picture so you are there, and notice how good that feels. Turn those good feelings up even higher – then step back out of it so your goal is ahead of you. This will motivate you to get there.

Set your goal for a specific date

Set a date by which you can achieve your goal. This is very important – if you leave the date unspecified, the goal will always be at some vague time in the future and will never happen.

Install the goal in your future timeline

Imagine your future stretching out like a line that you could walk along. Take your goal and actually walk out along this imagined line until you get to the specific date you have set. Let go of your visualisation of your goal, and let it float down and bed firmly into the timeline. Step into your goal and be there at the achievement of your goal. Notice how good that feels. Now step beyond your goal, turn around, and looking back down the past timeline, notice the steps you took to get there. Walk back along the line to now, only as quickly as you learn what you need to learn from each step along the way. This is a powerful exercise and you might want to get a helper to guide you through it.

Set smaller, achievable milestone goals

If you feel overwhelmed by how much you have to do to achieve a task, break it down into smaller, achievable steps.

Plan a reward for each step achieved

Decide in advance how you will reward yourself for each milestone you achieve. This will give you additional motivation and prevent you getting disheartened before you achieve your main goal.

For things you don’t feel like doing, focus on the end result

When people want something done but they don’t enjoy the process of doing it – paying bills, doing the washing up – they often make it harder for themselves by focusing on how tedious or hard it will be to do it. Instead, focus on how great it will be when you’ve done it. Imagine those dishes all clean and put away (make the image more compelling by making it brighter and bigger and closer). Tell yourself how good you’ll feel. Then just do it!

Set up a ‘motivation anchor’

Remember a time when you really wanted something, when you were really motivated. Think of a symbol or sound or word that would remind you of that time and to use as an ‘anchor’. Just think of this anchor as a way to easily access the feelings of that time whenever you need a little boost to get yourself motivated.

Notice what’s improved each day

Acknowledging the signs, however small, that tell you that you are moving closer to your goals serves two important functions.

  • You keep your attention focused on your goal and your mood positive.
  • You reward the actions that your unconscious mind takes to bring you closer to your goal, reinforcing goal-achieving behaviour and encouraging the unconscious to do more of it.
Key tip

Use your heart and gut feelings as a ‘compass’ to keep you on the track of what you really want.

Monitoring your progress

Motivation is easier to monitor than the other components of emotional intelligence. You can easily measure one aspect by looking at the progress you are making towards your goals. For each goal, you can also assess on a scale of 0-100 how enthusiastic you feel about it.

Remember that if your goals are not right for you, you may need to modify or even drop some of them. To maintain your motivation, you may have to select the goals you really want. This way, you end up with fewer goals – but they are goals that you can commit to totally.