How to Motivate Yourself or Anyone

Traditional incentives have often revolved around money, recognition, status, and other extrinsic motivators. I’ve done it to myself: “If I do XYZ, I will get a new sweater.”

This often works if you have an exact set of steps to take to accomplish the goal, such as with weight loss or flossing. However, most of our dreams or business objectives require “out-of-the-box” thinking that doesn’t lend itself to a laser focus on the end reward.

In fact, research has shown that ruminating on the incentive leads to creativity block in these scenarios:

Dan Pink puts forward the concept of fostering productivity, engagement, and ownership by nurturing autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Connect the goal or outcome to what matters, provide the resources to master the tasks, and then provide freedom for self-direction.

In order to connect to what matters, you need to become aware of what actually motivates you or your team members. What do you value? The simplest way is to ask, and then ask “Why?” to get a little deeper.

Example: I used to believe I was motivated by money. Bonuses worked extremely well for me. Salary increases drove me forward. As many of you might surmise, as soon as I achieved a certain pay grade, the cash no longer crooned.

I was chasing dollars, and therefore very amenable to traditional incentive structures, because I value financial freedom. Why? I value independence.

To learn more about Pink’s findings about motivation, read Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

What is your “candle problem”? How could you experiment and apply these ideas to generate creative solutions, whether from yourself or from your staff?

Here’s mine to get you started (and seek your ideas): 

I work part-time orchestrating a turnaround at a small business. My candle-problem: How do I focus on high impact activities and avoid getting bogged down with daily stuff?

If/Then Incentive: I can freely admit that the end result of a profitable and smooth operation distracts me from the next right thing.

Intrinsic Motivators: I already have complete autonomy on this one and purpose doesn’t really connect – it’s not my business. Mastery, on the other hand, fits perfectly:

I am fascinated by business. I get the opportunity to take experimental actions and measure the exact results in terms of revenue. This is FUN. I get fulfillment from taking the business model apart, finding out how it ticks, and crafting a beautifully efficient revision.

If I focus more on having fun I might come up with brilliant marketing and product solutions that achieve the goal and bring me the extrinsic reward more quickly. Thoughts?


  1. Thank you for your thoughtful input, Stacey! I’ve heard of The Audacity of Success before from a friend, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. It sounds really motivating and I will have to pick up a copy soon!

  2. I love that you get people internally
    motivated versus externally. When motivation is ‘authentic’ it lasts,
    especially when tied with a purpose as you wisely mention. I had a bit of a
    block recently and found a book (online and at the same name as the site). It
    is called The Audacity of Success and has outrageous testimonies of people
    achieving various goals. Setting ones mindset in the form of a ‘decision’ is
    key, in addition to the foundation of it all … being authentic with our self
    and our goal from an internally driven place. Great post. Loved your thoughts 🙂

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