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Ms Hopkins' Thought for the Term

Posted on: 05/02/2021

Self-Motivation4 small wins

Self- motivation is being ‘motivated to do or achieve something because of one's own enthusiasm or interest, without needing pressure from others.’  It is often perceived as a characteristic that people are born with, something you either have or don’t have.  But this isn’t the case, self – motivation is a skill that anyone can develop and as with all other skills the more you practice it the better you get at it.

The Loop of Self-Motivation

Being self – motivated is important because it has a direct impact on our achievements and our happiness.  Self – motivated people get things done, are energised by their accomplishments and their successes breed more motivation.  So how do you generate your own loop of self- motivation?  You celebrate the small wins.

Professor Teresa Amabile from Harvard University conducted some fascinating research into self- motivation in 2011.  She concluded that noticing and taking a moment to celebrate the small wins every day boosts our confidence and self-esteem, and that the subsequent feelings of positivity and happiness perpetuate our self-motivation.

However, it can be difficult to celebrate the small wins and this is where we need to develop the skill of self-motivation.  There are two things that we tend to focus on far more than the small wins; the huge, long term, end goals and the small mistakes we make or the small things we don’t manage to achieve.  To develop the skill of self-motivation we need to adjust our focus and we need to change our internal dialogue. 

Adjust your Focus

Achieving a big, long term goal is brilliant but it is rare and so we cannot solely rely on these enormous achievements to motivate ourselves.  It is also interesting to think about how hard we can be on ourselves; we are very good at noticing our small mistakes - the little things that we get wrong or the little things that we don’t achieve.  We often spend far too much time feeling bad about these ‘failures’.  Conversely, we rarely stop and notice our small wins in the same way.  It is very easy to overlook the small wins but, if we don’t notice them then we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to feel good about our day-to-day small achievements.  Noticing and celebrating the small wins is key to developing the skill of self-motivation.

Change your Internal Dialogue

If we spend all of our time fixed on long term goals that are going to take months or even years to achieve and if we disproportionately focus on the small things we don’t achieve, then our internal dialogue is full of negativity.  Our self-criticism decreases our motivation because we feel like we are getting nowhere and like we can’t get anything right.

If we make a conscious effort to notice and celebrate the small wins every day, then our internal dialogue changes.  By tracking these small accomplishments, we are activating the reward circuitry of our brain and releasing dopamine which makes us feel great and want to move on to achieve the next small thing.  We are replacing the self-criticism with self-congratulation.

Celebrate the Small Wins

It takes effort and practice to make sure that you celebrate the small wins.  First, work out what those small wins are for you each day.  They could be remembering to make your bed, making a phone call to a friend, being on time for your remote lessons, starting your work straight away, asking for help as soon as you need it or reading a chapter of a book.

Next, think about how you can make yourself stop and notice your small wins.  You might want to write an achievable list in the morning and tick each small win off as you accomplish it, you might want to have a journal of small wins where you write down each thing as you get it done – the important thing is that you are mindful to take a moment and notice what you have done.  Watch the small wins snowball throughout the day.  Enjoy the positivity and the self-motivation that builds from each small win.  Absolutely learn from your mistakes but the key to self-motivation is to spend more time noticing and celebrating the small wins.

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