5 Energising Motivation Tips (that don’t involve doing positive affirmations)


Steven Burns

Hi! I’m Steven. I’m a professional therapist, coach, trainer & author with over 20 years experience. I teach the latest psychological tools and techniques to help you transform and make a difference.

Do you struggle to get motivated?

Does the thought of getting out of bed in the morning to pursue your goals make you feel like whacking the snooze button and cuddling back into your soft, snugly sheets?

Or perhaps you’re a great ‘starter’ but a poor finisher.

You’re a master self-motivator when you begin a project, new job, or start to work towards a goal, but then after a few days or weeks, when the initial burst of enthusiasm falls away, you can’t keep going.

Motivation can be tricky.

Sometimes we’re positively bursting with it, whereas at other times life can feel like we’re trying to walk with lead weights attached to our ankles.

But it’s essential that we harness a decent amount of it if we’re looking to achieve something ambitious and worthwhile.

For any challenging goal, you’re going to have to dig deep and throw a considerable amount of energy at it.

And not just in the beginning either. It has to be done consistently, over time.

So how do we do that?

What prevents us from bouncing out of bed in the morning, ready to take on the day’s challenges like a Duracell bunny?

And how do we take charge of our motivational processes, and become more self-motived?

Motivation is a large topic, but here are some Healthy Motivation tips that can make a big difference.

Motivation Tip 1: Ask 'Why?' A Lot

Ask the question “Why?” a lot.

But don’t just do it randomly: do it by design.

Asking “Why?” takes the mind into the realm of ‘reasons’.

We start to explore the deeper intentions, reasons, and motivations behind our behaviour, actions and goals.

When we ask “Why?”, we start to delve into the background of our experience: our subconscious.

The question “Why?” can be used both destructively and positively, so it’s important to be precise in your use of it.

For example, if you’ve just failed your math exam it might not be a great idea to repeatedly ask yourself the following questions:

  • “Why am I so stupid?”
  • “Why do I always fail like this?”
  • “Oh, why is everyone so much better than me?”

If you do, then your mind is just going to search for reasons to back up these ideas.

And even if you can’t find any, your mind, with it’s wondrously creative capability, will most likely find a way to add some in!

Asking “Why?” in this way is like a one way ticket to feeling like a total loser.

It can create a kind of toxic downward spiral, where you start to stack up all manner of reasons – many of which aren’t even based on reality – that can cause you to start believing you’re a failed human being.

So when you ask “Why?”, it’s important that you do it in a particular way, and at the right times.

One of the best ways to ask “Why?” is to ask it in relation to your goals, and to make a slight modification to the question.

Stop for a moment, and think about a goal, outcome, or dream that you have, and then ask the following question:

  • Why is this important to me?

When you really fully consider it, why would achieving that goal be crucially important to you? 

What would achieving it do for you?

It may take some time for the answers to present themselves, but that’s perfectly normal, just be patient.

Simply allow the answers to come from within and let them affect you. 

Eventually, with a bit of reflection, you’ll discover reasons that light up your neurology, producing a strong, positive spike in your emotional sensations and feelings.

You’ve discovered some of your most important why’s.

When you ask this question, don’t consider it analytically. You’re not look for the ‘social answers’ and you’re not doing an academic study!

Reflect on the question, let it affect your imagination, and then allow the answers to naturally come from within.

The answers that ‘present’ themselves during this exercise are almost always more important than the ones we ‘figure out’, or attempt to force, so just let it happen naturally.

By asking this question you are uncovering the deeper motivations that exist behind your goal, buried in you subconscious.

Often these deeper motivations can become disconnected, causing us to feel apathetic about our actions & goals: we literally forget why we’re doing it.

So by asking this question every now and again, we can re-kindle our passion.

We can re-connect our goal with the purpose that sits behind it.

And by doing so we create a spark that ignites our inner fuel, supplying us with all manner of natural motivation.

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Motivation Tip 2: Don’t only use ‘inspiration’ as motivation

Inspiration is wonderful, but it’s not the only way we motivate ourselves.

As human beings we are motivated by two primary means:

  • To move away from pain.
  • To move towards pleasure.

On one level we are compelled to take action in order to move away from negative consequences. This could be in the form of actual physical pain or pain that we create through our imagination.

We are continually searching for potential threats and then re-adjusting our behaviour accordingly, in order to avoid them.

For example, if you put your hand on a hot stove then the physical pain would give you the immediate signal to move your hand.

You’d feel highly motivated to take evasive action, and – hopefully – you’d also learn the lesson to not repeat the silly action in the future.

On another level though, we are also motivated towards pleasure: the inner glow of anticipation we often experience in the run up to achieving – or experiencing – something positive & meaningful.

When we imagine achieving our wildest dreams, goals and fantasies, we are often filled with a feeling of blissful hope & desire, and this then inspires us to take action towards it.

I like to call this ‘The Friday Feeling’.

We’ve all experienced it.

It usually happens around about 2pm at work as you start to see the weekend getting closer and closer.

Perhaps you start to mentally plan what you’re going to do: all the fun you’re going to have, or the sheer bliss and joy of collapsing on the coach with a glass of wine after a tough week!

When this happens we are tapping into our anticipatory pleasure circuits.

We are imagining the pleasure of something before we experience it, and this then makes us feel a compelling urge to take action towards it.

These two methods are also not mutually exclusive; they work together in a propulsion system, and we often tend to use one more than the other.

We can also use one as a kind of ‘trigger’ that stirs us into action, and then use the other to maintain our actions.

In the self-help industry, there’s a considerable bias in the direction of the ‘moving towards pleasure approach’.

Inspiration is often the tool of choice and using pain to motivate is often frowned upon.

And it’s understandable because, unless you’re a masochist, who wants to feel pain?

But it’s important to appreciate that, as human beings, we naturally use both, and some people really do need a little bit of pain to get started, or to push themselves beyond their current standards.

Inspiration, on its own, usually only gets you so far.

I remember when I was young, there was a celebrity on Morning T.V called ‘Mr Motivator’ – his real name was Derrick Evans.

He starred on a program called GMTV, and every morning he would take the viewers through a quick 10-minute workout.

He was insanely energetic and positive. He dressed in bright & colourful lycra and grinned from ear to ear while shouting positive encouragement through the T.V set.

I hated him.

He just didn’t fit my natural style.

My preference is often to move away from pain first, and then to move towards pleasure – while sprinkling in little bit of pain every now and again to stop myself from becoming complacent. Especially when it comes exercises and definitely first thing in the morning!

The only thing I felt motivated to do when I watched Mr Motivator was to turn off the T.V.

My point?

Motivation isn’t all about positive inspiration, it’s also about pain.

It’s important to pay attention to the positive benefits that are linked to achieving your goal, but it’s also important to connect with the negative consequences you may experience if you don’t take consistent action.

If you want to put this into practice, here are a couple of questions you can reflect on that can help you get both sides of the motivational coin.

It’s my recommendation that you spend more time on the ‘moving towards pleasure’ than you do with the ‘moving away from pain’, but both are valuable – and sometimes necessary.

Moving Away from Pain:
  • What would it be like if you don’t take action towards your important goals?
  • How might that negative affect you in the long term?
  • How might it affect those around you?
Moving Towards Pleasure:
  • What would it be like if you achieved your goal/dream/mission/purpose?
  • How would that positively affect your life?
  • How would it benefit you in the long-term?
  • How might it positively affect those around you?

Pick a goal now and ask yourself these questions. See where they take your imagination.

There’s a good chance you’ll start to feel a colossal urge to take action welling up inside you.

Motivation Tip 3: Check your Circuits aren’t wired the wrong way around

Sometimes, our motivational circuits can be wired the wrong way around.

If they are though, don’t worry, it won’t involve neurosurgery to correct it. You’ll just need to use your imagination in a different way to what you’ve been used to.

As we explored in the last tip, we are motivated by both pain and pleasure: we feel compelled to take action to avoid potential negative consequences, and we also feel inspired by the promise of future pleasure.

But sometimes this innate piece of programming can work against us. We can unwittingly use it the wrong way around.

For example, say you had the goal of losing weight, so you set yourself the task of going out for a run 3 times a week.

But every time you looked out the front door you winced in pain as you looked at the rain lashing down outside (maybe you live in warmer climates but I live in Scotland so that’s what it’s like for me!)

Then you turned your gaze to your cosy comfy sofa and imagined how blissful it would be to cuddle up and eat Ice cream watching Netflix.

If you do this, then it would be no surprise if you lacked motivated to go for a run: your circuits are wired the wrong way around.

The weird thing is, in this instance, your motivational circuits are actually working perfectly fine: the problem is, they are motivating you to eat ice cream rather than go for the run.

With this example, you have more pain associated with going for a run than you have with not going for a run.

And you have way more pleasure linked to gorging ice cream on the sofa watching Netflix than you do for going for a run.

The inevitable outcome: “the run can wait, it’s time to dig out the big spoon and start digging into the Haagen Dazs!”

So how do you change this?

If your motivational circuits are working against you then how do you reverse it?

Well, the first step is awareness.

Rather than becoming frustrated and jumping to the conclusion that you ‘lack motivation’ – you don’t, you’re just motivated to do the wrong things – spend some time noticing what’s going on inside your mind.

When you’re struggling to feel motivated to do the things you know you should be doing, pay attention to your pain and pleasure associations.

How are you thinking about the task that’s causing you to attach too much pain to it?

And are you using your mind in a way that’s attaching too much pleasure to doing the opposite?

Then, once you’ve become aware of your own thinking, spend sometime re-wiring the associations.

And to do this is actually quite simple. You just reflect on the questions outlined in Tip no. 2.

When you consider them in relation to a goal, or a behaviour you’d like to encourage, they will naturally connect your motivational impulses the correct way around, pushing you to take positive action.

Here they are again, to save you scrolling up:

Moving Away from Pain:

  • What would it be like if you don’t take action towards your important goals?
  • How might that negative affect you in the long term?
  • How might it negatively affect those around you?
Moving Towards Pleasure:

  • What would it be like if you achieved your goal/dream/mission/purpose?
  • How would that positively affect your life?
  • How would it benefit you in the long-term?
  • How might this positively affect those around you? 

By doing this you ensure that you have pain associated with not taking action, towards your goals, and pleasure attached to taking action towards them

Your motivational circuits become wired the right way around.

If you’d like to watch a video on this idea then here’s a 5-minute lesson where I take you through the process:

Motivation Tip 4: Connect with your Greater Purpose

We’ve all heard stories of people who achieve unfathomable, super-human feats.

Individuals who somehow manage to tap into reserves they didn’t think they had, making it possible for them to overcome colossal odds.

One mind blowing example of this is the story of Tom Boyle and the 3700 pound Camaro.

One day while out walking with his wife, Boyle witnessed an 18-year-old boy, who was riding past on his bike, being hit head on by a Chevy Camaro.

Without thinking, Boyle ran over and started lifting the Camaro to free the boy. After a short while, he managed to lift it high enough for the driver to pull him out.

What would normally have been an impossible feat – the world record for a deadlight is 1102 pounds – was made possible by sheer ferocity of commitment.

How is this possible?

Boyle wasn’t an Olympic weight lifter: he was a paint shop supervisor.

What made it possible for him to tap into physical resources he didn’t realise he had?

Well, it’s possible because we regularly limit our own potential.

In their book, Peak Performance: Elevate your game, Brad Bulberg and Steve Magness put forward the – counter-intuitive – idea that ‘physical fatigue’ actually isn’t initiated by the body.

Well before we reach the limits of our physicality, our mind subconsciously starts to shut our physical resources down, as a protection mechanism.

It prevents us from continually pushing ourselves too hard, acting kind of like a limit switch.

But, when we’re in an emergency situation that require that bit extra, it’s possible for us to override this limit switch and tap into reserves that we rarely, if ever, make use of.

Bulberg and Magness go on to say that one way to trigger this latent power is to focus on, what they call, a transcending purpose: a goal, purpose, or benefit that goes beyond ourselves. 

Put another way, we tap into more of our latent motivational power by to appreciating how our goals or actions make an impact at a level greater than ourselves.

By being aware of how our actions affect the greater systems we belong to, we seem to be able to tap into unfathomable amounts of power and energy.

When you ask an athlete what they were thinking of when they had to dig deep during a race, they’ll often say they were thinking about their family, or they were doing it for their coach or team.

Ask a parent the lengths they would go to to protect their kids, and they’ll say that they would move heaven and earth. They’d do anything irrespective if how they felt in the moment.

The same is true when it comes to our goals, missions & dreams.

If we’re pursuing them just for our own personal benefit then we’re missing out on a colossal amount of inner power and motivation. 

But when we start to think about how our actions might positively affect the world around us, and the greater systems we belong to, our goals and actions start to take on an almost spiritual quality. One that propels us forward with a sense of cause.

Most modern businesses now factor this into their mission statements as they know how powerful it can be.

Elon Musk of Tesla isn’t just looking to make cool looking cars. His mission – taken from his website – is:

“To accelerate the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future.”

Before his death, Steve Job’s mission was:

“To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

By having a ‘cause’ that goes beyond the self, it helps mobilise a colossal amount of energy that can elevate your motivation to superhuman levels.

It’s for this reason that it’s common for people to run marathons for charity.

Many people who enter a marathon would normally struggle badly to commit to the arduous and repetitive training it requires.

But when their friends give them sponsor money for a good cause, it becomes something else.

People are now counting on them. The stakes are raised.

We’ll only go so far for ourselves, but we’ll go the extra mile for a great ‘cause’.

Here’s a terrific quote from Bulberg & Magness in their aforementioned book, Peak Performance: Elevate your game:

“When people focus on a self-transcending purpose, or a purpose greater than than themselves, they become capable of more than they ever thought was possible.”

So when you think about your own goals, widen the lens a bit.

Don’t just think about what achieving it will give you.

Consider the ripple effect – how it could positively enrich the world around you and the people in it.

By doing so you’ll tap into a different kind of motivation. A kind that can take your commitment & consistency to new levels.

Consider the following questions:

  • Who might you be inspiring through your actions?
  • What difference will you be making?
  • What’s the positive ripple effect of your actions?

There’s power in there.

It’s time to make use of it.

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Motivation Tip 5. Keep a Success Journal

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day frenetic pace of life and not take time out to recognise our successes.

Sometimes we get buried deep in the detail of life and forget to pan the camera back and recognise all we’ve achieved.

And this can lead to a drop in our enthusiasm and productivity, or worse, complete burn-out.

It’s also common for people to grossly underplay their achievements.

Perhaps they’re overly self-critical, or think their successes don’t count because they’re not a multi-millionaire superstar.

Or perhaps they just take them for granted because they’ve become part of their daily routine.

It can be easy to slip into excessive self-deprecation and not give credit where credit’s due, especially when it comes to your own achievements.

It’s healthy to continually up the stakes and seek out bigger and more challenging achievements, but it’s not healthy to totally ignore, or denigrate, your current successes.

Don’t make your past, or current, successes collateral damage in your pursuit for greater and more ambitious aims.

Be proud of your achievements, no matter how small they may seem in the grand scheme of things, and use them as a springboard for greater accomplishments.

By doing so, you can continually replenish your sources of enthusiasm and inspiration as you progress, creating a more steady and consistent form of motivation.

A practical way of doing this is to keep a Success Journal.

A Success Journal can be anything from a colourful scrapbook to a note in your iPad.

The key ingredient is that it contains descriptions and reminders of your meaningful accomplishments.

These reminders could be sensory rich, written descriptions of the successful events, or they could be drawings, photos, or even small souvenirs.

By keeping reminders of your past accomplishments, it can help fuel your actions, provide more consistency, and let you appreciate how all the smaller steps have a vital part to play on the overall journey.

They also become triggers that you can use to remind yourself of your progress. And the more you’re reminded of your progress, the more you’ll be inspired to keep going.

You’ll recognise the meaning behind your actions and it will remind you of your purpose, fuelling your actions moving forward.

An additional tip for your success journal is to arrange your successes in chronological order.

You could even join the dots between each success if you think they naturally link together.

You can group them in accordance with different goals you have and spend some time recognising your progress.

By doing this, it lifts you out of the daily grind and makes you appreciate that each mini-success is actually a milestone in a greater and more meaningful journey.

It can work wonders for your levels of motivation because you start to see that small successes often don’t exist in isolation: they are part of larger and more ambitious goal or mission.

Give it a go today.

Go out and buy yourself a fancy looking notebook and spend an hour jotting down some notes about your past successes.

Arrange them in chronological order if you like and spend some time reminiscing.

Then think to the future and start to imagine all the actions you’re planning on taking towards even more future success.

I’d be willing to wager that, when you do this, you’ll feel considerably more motivated & enthusiastic to take action.

Why not give one of our courses a go?

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