How to Stay Motivated and Actually Achieve Your Goals (Part 1)

by David · 6 comments

A question I’m often asked is: ‘How do you stay motivated’? This question always surprises me because It’s not something I think about. My usual response is: ‘I’m just passionate about about the things I do’ Whenever I say that to people I sense disappointment, it’s always clear that the person asking wants more than the old school explanation of passion, so today I’m going to go beyond passion and discuss in more detail how to stay motivated.

I read a great article by friend Richard Simcott about how he stays motivated when learning languages. He made a great point about not feeling motivated to study when he feels unhappy. As I see it, happiness is the most important aspect for motivation, and that’s what we’re going to discuss first.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

What does it mean to be happy? To me, happy means feeling content and having my needs met. To break this definition down further we’re going to turn to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply put, if we have the following needs met we’ll feel happy and are more likely to feel motivated to achieve our goals 🙂

The five basic needs we all have are physiological, to feel a sense of security, to feel as though we’re loved/accepted, to have esteem and to have self-actualisation.

It’s common for these needs to be presented in a pyramid like this:

Need for Physical Well-Being

At the bottom of the pyramid we have our most basic needs which are essential for survival. You couldn’t possibly feel happy or motivated to study/practice without having food in your stomach, water in your system or sleep. That may seem like common sense, but I’m often surprised by how little people know about keeping their bodies in the right state for optimal performance. For instance, did you know that being only 2% dehydrated can lead to a performance loss of up to 30%? Whoa! Drink water!

This was something I had to learn, too. I recommend reading The power of full engagement (Amazon US/Amazon UK). If you only read one book on the subject let this be the one. Honestly, it changed my life!

Need for Security

The next level up on the pyramid addresses our need for security. This includes every possible sort of security from physical through to financial.

When I took a break from academic education to find out what I wanted to do with life I got myself into a bit of a financial mess. I didn’t have a job and I wasn’t sure for how long I’d be able to survive, and no mater how hard I tried to use books, audio and videos for motivation they just didn’t work because my need for security wasn’t being met.

This is is really simple but very important. If you you don’t feel secure, how realistic is it that you’ll have motivation to work on your goals? No very…

Need to Feel Loved or to Feel as Though We Belong

It’s been said a number of times that humans are social beings. The need to feel loved and accepted encompasses everything from family, friends and intimate relationships. As open as I am here on the internet, I consider myself an introvert because I often choose to spend time alone with my thoughts. This is something I enjoy, however I’ve noticed that when I isolate myself from the world for too long I start to feel demotivated and alone, but that’s quickly fixed by spending time with friends. It’s amazing what friends can do for us, right?

Need for Esteem

Moving up the pyramid brings us to our need for esteem. Simply put, if you don’t have confidence in yourself then feeling motivated is going to be pretty impossible. For instance, when I got myself into the financial situation I mentioned earlier there were times when I felt that I deserved to be in that position because I was ’stupid’ to take a year out from university.

My low self-esteem at the time made it extremely difficult to get myself to fill out job applications. Fortunately, I did manage to find a job, but that was only after I realised that my low self-esteem was self-inflicted. This brings us back to the classic advice about positive thinking, which is not a one stop solution like some personal development ‘gurus’ suggest, however it certainly helps a lot! Learning to think of myself in a positive light is one of the best lessons I learnt that year.

Need for Self-Actualization

Finally we arrive at the top of the pyramid. The need for self-actualisation. This is just a fancy way of describing the desire to be the best that we can be. I think this need clearly describes my motivation for constantly learning. I want to stress that fulfilling this need is extremely difficult if all of the other needs in the pyramid are not being met.

When I’m asked how I stay motivated I usually say: ‘I’m passionate’, which is true, but a more accurate answer may be to say that I’m happy. I have all of my other needs met so I’m able to concentrate easily on self-actualisation.

As I see it, once you’ve found something you enjoy, and you’ve had all of your other needs met, motivation really does take care of itself.

If you’re finding it difficult to stay motivated then I suggest taking a closer look at the needs mentioned above and ask yourself whether or not they’re being met. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re feeling demotivated in someway and you’re looking for answers; hopefully this article will point you in the right direction.

I want to make it clear, if I haven’t already, that I understand the feeling of really wanting to do something but feeling nothing but frustration because I’m unable to take the necessary action. The ‘secret’ I’ve found to getting myself out of that state is to make myself happy. Being unhappy has a way of stopping us from doing the things we want to do. It’s really important to be happy!

With that being said, happiness is just one part of motivation and I’ll be writing more about the subject In the coming weeks. Make sure you subscribe to the RSS feed so you don’t miss the follow-up articles.

This is more than enough to think about for the moment.

Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve found this helpful.


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  • Great article, David!

    It’s never too late to come back and review the basics. Incidentally, I have always found curious the stories of people who persevered and reached their dreams and goals despite many setbacks in their life, some of which are even capable of shattering the fundament of the pyramid described above.

    I believe this deserves looking into further. I can relate to this article and add to it that, even when not all is well in one’s life (it rarely is), there always would be a reason to be happy about something. Even when you are not feeling like it, find a way to create a moment of joy and happiness that would give you strength to stay motivated and keep going.

    • I couldn’t have said that better myself.

      The moment you accept  that life will never be perfect is the point where you realise just how important it is to keep going. I’ve learnt so much from my low points in life and they’ve made me the person I am today. And like you said, there’s always something to be happy about. That’s a really important life lesson to learn and the sooner you learn it the better. Thanks for stopping by Roman 🙂

  • Krisz

    Hi David!
    As said before, great article about motivation.
    Thanks to you, I ordered the book about engagement just a moment ago.
    I agree with all you say above, and I’ll recommend your post on Facebook.
    Keep up the good work, I’m happy to read your articles!

  • RoXana

    Great article
    I don’t really know what to say , but you changed my life .
    all I needed to know was merged in this article.
    I’ve kinda felt this needs before , but i was neglecting them and wasn’t taking ’em serious.

    Can you please write some articles about jealousy ?
    I’m not jealous but , when it comes to competetion , i get a little bit jealous. that feeling makes me forget about my goals and makes me loose my self confidence.

    • I’m glad you found this article helpful!

      Sure, I’ll write a post about jealousy. I’ll get one written in a week or two and I’ll message you when it’s up.

      In the meantime, you might want to watch this video I made:

      It touches on some of the things I’ll write in the article about jealousy.

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