How to Inspire Yourself: 3 Practical Tips for Internal Motivation

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Someday Is Today" by Matthew Dicks. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What do you do when your plans get disrupted? Do you tend to lose sight of your goals and your reasons for them?

Like everyone, you need motivation and inspiration to set goals and achieve them. It’s great when others cheer you on and help clear your path of distractions. But, you can’t always count on others. You must develop internal motivation—finding ways to keep yourself going when the going gets tough.

Read more to learn how to inspire yourself and keep moving onward and upward.

How to Inspire Yourself

In Someday Is Today, Matthew Dicks advocates learning how to inspire yourself. He believes this is crucial to implementing his recommendation to fail often—you’ll be resilient and persistent enough to learn from your disappointing failures and keep pursuing success only if you can motivate yourself. Further, aside from failure, you’ll encounter many obstacles on the path to success that require motivation to overcome—disrupted plans, rejections, and more.

(Shortform note: In Grit, Angela Duckworth reiterates Dicks’s point that the ability to motivate yourself and persevere through adversity (what she calls having “grit”) is crucial to achieving success. Duckworth elaborates that this ability develops through three main stages: First, you develop an interest in your goal—a desire to learn more about your goal and explore it playfully. Second, you practice—transition from playfully exploring your goal into intentionally improving your skills. Third, you develop a purpose—a deeper meaning for reaching your goal, such as helping others. Finally, Duckworth notes that for each of these stages to result in grit, they must be accompanied by the hope that you’ll succeed or improve.)

Dicks offers three tips for building internal motivation and inspiration.

Tip #1: Find Your Why

Remembering the underlying reasons why you’re pursuing your goals will inspire and motivate you to continue. To identify these reasons, reflect on your life experiences and determine what influenced your choice of goals. Dicks explains that the more reasons you have for pursuing your goals, and the deeper these reasons are, the more motivated you’ll be to persist.

For example, you might think you want to be an actress because you love entertaining people. However, when you dig deep, you realize that this passion stems from a desire to empathize with and understand other people—becoming different characters allows you to accomplish this.

(Shortform note: Dicks’s recommendation to motivate yourself by identifying the underlying reasons why you’re pursuing your goals is commonly referred to as finding intrinsic motivation—a drive that originates inside you. Alongside considering your purpose, other ways to develop intrinsic motivation include retaining full control over your actions; deepening your bonds with people who share your goal (for instance, your colleagues); and ensuring you have the skills needed to fulfill your goal.) 

Tip #2: Reflect on Your Struggles and Successes

Dicks notes that it’s easy to get worn down and feel like giving up when you face barriers or fail to see results from your work. To persist through these challenges, remind yourself of all the hardships you’ve faced in the past and how you overcame them—you’ll develop the pride and motivation needed to continue. If you struggled and persisted once, you can do it again.

(Shortform note: While Dicks recommends reflecting on both your struggles and successes, it can be particularly difficult to recall your accomplishments and positive experiences due to the “negativity bias”—the human tendency to focus more on negative situations than positive ones. To challenge this bias and better equip yourself to follow Dicks’s recommendation, start keeping a tally of all the positive things you’ve accomplished. For example, each night before bed, record three positive things that happened during your day.)

Tip #3: Celebrate Your Achievements

Celebrate your achievements, big and small, as you progress toward your goals, Dicks suggests. You’ll remember that you’re making progress and feel inspired to keep going. Don’t wait until you’ve reached some lofty level of success—celebrate every small achievement along the way. For example, don’t wait until you’ve won an Emmy Award to celebrate your success as an actress—celebrate when you get an agent, complete your first audition, get your first role, and so on.

Celebration Motivates You by Altering Your Brain Networks

In Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg explains that celebrating small successes helps you progress toward your goals not only by inspiring you but also by altering your brain networks—the connectors in your brain that link experiences with thoughts and emotions. If you do something challenging, your brain might link that experience with negative thoughts and emotions due to your struggle to complete the task, discouraging you from repeating the experience. However, if you celebrate after this hard work, you’ll feel good, and your brain will reinforce the behavioral patterns that led to your celebration. This encourages you to repeat the behavior.

For example, imagine you’re auditioning for 20 different acting roles. Celebrating each time you complete an audition by treating yourself to your favorite bagel for lunch will encourage you to keep auditioning even if you don’t succeed because your brain will know that this behavior results in good feelings (celebrating and eating a great bagel). If you don’t celebrate, you might just associate the hard work of auditioning with struggle and exhaustion (negative thoughts and feelings).
How to Inspire Yourself: 3 Practical Tips for Internal Motivation

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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