Staying motivated is a challenge at the best of times.
As entrepreneurs face ongoing uncertainty, enemies of motivation—procrastination, fear, imposter syndrome—lurk everywhere. With experience, however, you acquire skills, inspiration, and methods that help keep motivation high, even through tough times.
What motivates us is intensely personal, which is even more true for entrepreneurs. There are fewer sources of external motivation (like a boss’s deadlines or employee payroll), and as you create a business out of nothing, there’s more reliance on being self-motivated.
How do you summon that self-motivation? What motivates you to move toward your goals, even when you're facing challenges? And how do you motivate a team? Learn how to stay motivated on your way to success with advice and strategies from founders and creators.
Why is motivation so important?
Motivation is directly tied to your “why.” If you’re building a business and you don’t understand your reason for doing it, motivation is likely to be in short supply. Finding your unique source of motivation—whether it’s staying connected to your “why” or the promise of reward when you meet your goals—is critical to entrepreneurs, especially in the early stages.
Draw from that well of inspiration to gain motivation when sales are low or stress is high. Motivation turns positive thinking and good feelings into energy and action.
Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation
Intrinsic motivation comes from within and is generally derived from an interest or passion for the task itself, not necessarily a tangible reward. A curiosity for learning, growth, experience, and achievement is often enough to push those who are intrinsically motivated to accomplish their goals.
Extrinsic motivation is based on external factors like the promise of a tangible reward—money, a treat—upon completion of a task. Avoidance of potential negative consequences from not completing a task can also be considered extrinsic motivation.
How to stay motivated: 12 effective strategies
To uncover some of the unique ways people find motivation, we asked entrepreneurs and creatives: “What keeps you motivated?” Ahead, read their strategies, and additional ones, to help you build daily routines, stay focused, and achieve success.
1. Access passion
Some may be motivated by the love of a craft or an interest. If you see yourself as someone who values creative fulfillment at work over status or money, pursue a career or business idea that scratches that itch. Alternatively, start a passion project on the side. Rune Madsen, an engineer at Shopify, stays motivated with “projects around the house to keep me busy and learning away from a computer.”
When pursuing a business idea, ask yourself, “Does this make me happy?” If the answer is no, it’s possible that you’ll always struggle with motivation. If you’re looking to start a business, for example, pick an idea based on something you’re already motivated to do. “I’ve finally learned that I should do things that feel good instead of things that look or sound good but make me feel bad,” says master’s student Lily Rogers.
2. Be goal oriented
The promise of reaching a goal—a new sales target, a promotion, fitness goals—can help you stay motivated, especially if you set those goals with a measurable and attainable plan. Content designer Ibrahim Hasan stays motivated to reach goals by “checking things off a list. It sounds superficial, but I love a finished to-do list.”
Establish clear goals and post reminders of them around you. Develop daily routines that drive toward them. If those goals ever become hazy, you could lose motivation. Revisit them to keep them sharp in your mind, and tweak as needed.
3. Meet basic needs
Basic needs may be a secure financial future, supporting your family, or protecting your mental health. For Jessica Blaine Smith, an independent photographer, money is a big motivator: “As a self-employed person, I need it to keep afloat.”
Understanding your needs will help you reframe other tasks or activities within the context of your central goals. For example, if you tend to neglect your emotional needs in favor of getting work done, flip the narrative. Taking a night off with friends to meet those emotional needs could actually give you more motivation and perspective at work.
4. Eliminate distractions
To feel motivated in your everyday life, it might be as simple as surrounding yourself with things that make you feel inspired. But you’ll also need to remove anything that doesn’t. Distractions can include spending time on projects or pursuits that don’t ladder up to your main goal.
However, while tangents and distractions are the enemy of motivation, so is monotony. Create “engineered distractions,” or opportunities to experience the novelty of something new within a current project. Can you learn a different way to complete a task?
5. Tackle procrastination at its root
If motivation is a struggle, it may be caused by another issue: procrastination. When you lose interest in a task or dread starting what feels insurmountable, procrastination can take hold. Understand the reasons for your procrastination to help overcome it—and gain motivation.
For example, if your to-do list is packed with complicated projects, break them out into smaller chunks and build in mini rewards. Getting a few things done can motivate you to tackle the rest.
6. Create a motivating workspace
To accomplish your goals, you may be spending long nights at your computer or in your home office. Make that space a reflection of what brings you joy and reminds you of your end goal. This could be as simple as adding plants to your home office design, rearranging furniture for optimal flow, or decorating with your favorite motivational quotes or a vision board.
7. Practice positive visualization
If you’re a dreamer—and this is true of many entrepreneurs—practice visualizing your ideal future. What does it look like to be truly fulfilled? When you achieve your goals, how does it feel? Positive visualization is a popular wellness strategy that involves using imagination to paint a picture of a desired future. This can be a motivating exercise, as it can help bring your goals into sharp focus.
Positive thinking will not, by itself, lead to an outcome, but is a first step in taking action and staying focused on your long-term goals. This technique has proven effective for athletes who, before competing, use visualization to gain confidence and overcome fear.
8. Be accountable to yourself or others
The approval of others—say, making your kids proud or exceeding your customers’ expectations—can be a powerful motivator. Learn also to be accountable to yourself. “I think of ‘me’ as a team,” says marketer, podcaster, and business owner Liz Whiting, “and steps I take today set myself up for a layup and further autonomy in the future!”
For Amanda McIntosh, founder of Take My Face Off, a commitment to future generations is a motivator: “Every day, reading the news leads to worrying about the planet, which leads to working on my company.”
9. Banish complacency
Staying motivated for you may mean keeping things exciting. If you’re naturally drawn to action, go toward it and shake things up—even if everything is going your way. The excitement of chasing a new idea is a strong motivator. Push outside your normal tolerance for risk or step into the unknown for a little thrill to kick start motivation.
10. Seek external motivation
External sources of motivation could be books, podcasts, a favorite meal, a meeting with a mentor, an inspirational quote, writing in a journal, motivation articles, positive feedback on your work, or music that uplifts you.
For musician, animal activist, and founder Nicole Simone, it’s focusing on “the realization that we have the most incredible technology and abilities to do so many awesome things that previous generations could only dream about.”
11. Strive for self-fulfillment or betterment
If you have a passion for learning or personal growth, build opportunities to do so in your everyday routine. You could also step away from work periodically to be rejuvenated by learning a new skill or investing in something you find personally fulfilling.
For writer and editor Sara Yin, motivation can be found in “the constant desire to improve or master a skill, be it technical or emotional.”
12. Remember the reward
Rewards that motivate look different for everyone. For you, it may be the promise of hitting a financial milestone; for others it’s going out to a favorite restaurant. Build rewards—and time to celebrate achievement—into your goal planning.
According to behavioral science experts, often the reward isn’t tangible, but instead a chemical reaction in our bodies. When we succeed, our brain triggers a dopamine response. This sensation (often referred to as a “rush”) can also be triggered in anticipation of the reward. After the first hit, our brains seek out this feeling, creating a feedback loop giving us the motivation to repeat actions that achieve it.
Quiz: Motivation for every personality type
How you get—and stay—motivated depends on your personality. Entrepreneurs are driven to do what they do based on a number of different motivations: passion, ideas, wealth, financial stability, and independence. Understanding what drives you is how you can tap into specific tools and tactics to avoid procrastination and stay productive.
Start here ✨What kind of entrepreneur are you? Take the quiz to determine your entrepreneur personality type, then return to this article to learn tailored tactics for staying motivated.
How to stay motivated as a Firestarter 🔥
As a Firestarter, you can access motivation very easily, because your goals are concrete: money, power, and recognition for your success. But even those can get boring and sap your motivation if you aren’t taking care of your secondary needs. Stay open to new ideas, take risks, and seek change—success means nothing to you if it comes too easily.
How to stay motivated as a Cartographer 🗺️
Your sense of duty to yourself, to others, and to your work propels you to be a highly productive person. You like things to be done—and done right. Usually that’s enough incentive for you to stick with a project and do the hard work, even if you’re feeling unmotivated.
But even Cartographers need a little boost to get unstuck. Remember to find joy in what you do—if you’re no longer passionate about your current situation, it may be time to do the scariest thing you can think of: change.
How to stay motivated as a Trailblazer 🥾
Your challenge, Trailblazer, is not in staying motivated, it’s being motivated to see one thing all the way through. Distractions tempt you easily. You are energetic and fuelled by excitement for new ideas—even if you’re already halfway through the execution of another. In the same way you seek out new projects, find new ways to approach the same problem.
How to stay motivated as an Outsider ⚒️
You’re motivated most by your basic needs, Outsider: the roof over your head, steady income, and a clear picture of your financial future. For you, being unmotivated—and allowing it to take over—is out of the question, because it could impact your bottom line.
Where you may struggle with motivation is in tearing yourself away from work and meeting your other social, physical, and emotional needs.
How to stay motivated as a Mountaineer ⛰️
You’re a goal-getter at heart, Mountaineer, and there’s no greater motivation for you than that big win. You generally don’t lack sources for staying motivated, but you can experience fatigue from constantly moving your own goal post.
Staying motivated to reach your goals
You’ve cracked the code when you break old habits that sap motivation and develop daily routines that inspire and keep you on track. But it takes work. Focus on your goal, find your “why,” and fill your life with people who support your dream. Once you find your personal motivating force, success is right around the corner.
Feature image by Alice Mollon
Photos by Pexels
How to stay motivated FAQ
What are the best ways to stay motivated?
The best ways to stay motivated are often personal. What is motivating to one person may not be for the next. When people struggle with motivation, it may be because their goals are too vague, they haven’t defined their “why,” or the reward isn’t worth the challenging road to get there.
How do you stay motivated when lazy?
First, understand why you feel lazy. Do you lack sleep? Is your end goal no longer appealing to you? Overcoming laziness may mean reconnecting with your goals or changing them altogether. If it’s difficult to get motivated, you might be on the wrong track.
How do you trick your brain into feeling motivated?
Positive thinking (or positive visualization) is a popular technique for “tricking” your brain to feel motivated. This involves envisioning an ideal future and creating a clear picture of the reward of accomplishing your goals. The promise of a reward can trigger a motivating dopamine response.