Marshaling emotions in the service of a goal is essential for paying attention, for self-motivation and mastery, and for creativity. Emotional self-control – delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness – underlies accomplishment of every sort
— Daniel Goleman

In the depths of winter when daylight is in short supply, and the weather is less than clement, I sometimes find it hard to keep going. I’m sure everybody has felt this at some point, when all you would rather do, or have the energy to do, is curl up on the sofa and watch TV, or sit in front of the fire with a good book. And there is nothing wrong with that. As humans we are deeply affected by our environment, so it is natural to have more energy and bounce when there is more daylight.

But it got me thinking about how we motivate ourselves when we have a big project to execute, or when we are working towards a long-term goal. What enables one person to stay very motivated, where another loses momentum and seems to run out of steam? And what does emotional intelligence have to do with motivation?

As a business coach, I spend a fair amount of time asking people what motivates them. In fact before the first session with a client I ask them to fill in a questionnaire that asks, “What motivates you and what are you passionate about?” Understanding someone’s motivation tells you a lot about who they are and what they fall back on when the going gets tough.

So we’re going to explore:

  • What motivation is

  • What motivates you

  • How developing your emotional intelligence can increase your motivation

  • And, what to do if you find yourself losing motivation


What is motivation?

Let’s start by defining what motivation really is. According to the dictionary motivation is defined as:

“A reason or reasons for acting in a particular way; desire or willingness to do something.”

 Motivation is what drives us to achieve our goals; the internal, or external factors that stimulate our desire to stay committed to a task or project in order to achieve a particular goal.

Daniel Goleman, father of Emotional Intelligence and best-selling author of several books on the subject, identified four elements that make up motivation:

  1. Personal drive to achieve, the desire to improve or meet certain standards;

  2. Commitment to personal or organizational goals;

  3. Initiative, defined as ‘readiness to act on opportunities’;

  4. Optimism, the ability to keep going and pursue goals in the face of setbacks.

 A lot of Goleman’s work on motivation is around leadership, how leaders motivate themselves and, crucially, inspire others to have a high level of self-motivation. In his research, Goleman found that the one trait that that all effective leaders had in common was a high level of motivation. They were able to consistently mobilise their positive emotions to drive them toward their goals. They were driven to achieve beyond their own and everyone else’s expectations.

Not only that, but it seemed that their positivity rubbed off on those around them. They were motivated by a deeply embedded desire to achieve for the sake of achievement, and those around them were inspired to do the same. It was the intrinsic, as opposed to extrinsic motivation, that enabled them to keep going. [I’ll come on to the two types of motivation in a minute…]

And achievement was not the only benefit of self-motivation; Goleman found that people who are self-motivated tend to be more organized, have better time management skills, and more confidence and self-esteem, which sounds pretty good! [For more information on self-esteem, read Nathaniel Branden’s wonderful book “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem”]

What motivates you?

Fundamental to self-motivation is what motivates you to do things, not your parents or siblings, or your partner, or your best friend, you.

Let’s go back to ‘instrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation. Simply put, they can be described as:

Intrinsic = Love, because we want to.

Extrinsic = Money, because we have to.

In other words:

Intrinsic motivation involves in engaging in a behavior because it is personally rewarding; performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward; like playing a sport because you enjoy it. Intrinsic motivators include having fun and being interested.

Extrinsic motivation means being motivated to perform a behaviour or engage in an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment. The reward could be money, power, or good marks at school.

Most of us are motivated by different things at different times of our lives, and we may switch between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In fact the same task may have a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators at the same time.

Let’s take a simple example:

Holly works to pay off a big mortgage. She gets very little satisfaction from her job, and it is not going to lead to anything else, like a promotion. Holly’s motivators are purely extrinsic.

Samuel loves his job and gets a huge amount of job satisfaction and self-fulfillment. He could do something that earns him more money, but he is happy with his choices. Samuel’s motivators are purely intrinsic.

Holly and Samuel are clearly at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to motivation, but most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We have to work to earn money, but we value getting satisfaction and fulfillment from our jobs.

How to find out what motivates you

Take a moment to think about what is important to you right now in this moment, and whether your main motivators in life are extrinsic, or intrinsic.

Here are a few more suggestions to help you work out what is motivating you:


  • Think about what you are passionate about and work back from that – or another way of putting it is “What do you want your legacy to be?”
  • Seek out creative challenges – How do you express yourself creatively? How much of your work life is creative?
  • Keep learning and improving – look for ways to learn new things or enhance your skills
  • Surround yourself with enthusiastic people – their positivity will rub off on you and help you think about your own motivation
  • Let procrastination be your enemy! Putting off difficult tasks is a form of self-sabotage (See below) so if you are struggling with something difficult either break it down in to smaller, more manageable tasks, OR…..
  • ….ask for help/help others – knowing when you need help is a sign of high emotional intelligence, not (as we are sometimes told) a sign of weakness. Once you have asked, and received help, you will naturally want to help others and inspire then to find their own motivation, and the whole happy circle continues!

Emotional Intelligence and motivation

 So now we have explored what motivation is, let’s find out how it is linked to emotional intelligence. Having followed Daniel Goleman’s work for many years, it seems to me that motivation and emotional intelligence go hand in hand. Simply put, emotional intelligence is about recognizing and managing your emotions and the emotions of other people, both individually and in groups. It is about being self-aware of your own emotional responses. This in turn leads to a greater understanding of other people’s emotions, and how to respond to them.

For me emotional intelligence is linked to self-responsibility as the healthiest, most dynamic relationships with one’s self and with others relies on being able to take responsibility for our own emotions.

So when you have a high level of self-awareness, it is easier to be honest with yourself about what really motivates you. As I alluded to at the beginning of this article, we can often take on someone else’s definition of what is important in life. I have worked with countless entrepreneurs who were unconsciously working to someone else’s definition of success (most commonly a parent, sibling, or partner) and so had no idea what was important to them. This made it hard for them to stay motivated as their heart literally wasn’t in it.

So before you commit to your project or start your business, get honest with yourself and ensure that this is your passion, your goal, not someone else’s

[For more on EI click here and here]


What to do if you find yourself losing motivation

 Once you have gotten clear about what is really important to you and how you are going to achieve your goals you will probably find it much easier to stay motivated, but if you do find yourself flagging, follow these 6 steps:

Take a break – It’s hard to be creative or learn something new when you are exhausted, so taking time out to replenish your energy levels is essential to staying motivated.

Check in with your goals – are they still real for you? It is fine for goals to change so don’t feel you have to stick rigidly to a goal just for the sake of it. As your emotional intelligence increases you will discover more quickly what is really important to you. So if a goal that was once important to you no longer is, then modify or change it, and move on, BUT……

……be aware of self-sabotage.  In my previous blog, ‘Six ways to beat Imposter Syndrome” I wrote about the pitfalls of self-sabotage

We don’t often think of it this way, but success comes with responsibility. And sometimes the fear of achieving this success, what it might mean to others around us and therefore the responsibility that goes with success can be overwhelming, so people unconsciously choose the path of least resistance and side-step their goals, meaning that you never actually achieve that success, or step in to who you really want to be.
— "Six ways to beat Imposter Syndrome" Marisa Guthrie

If your goals change, ensure it is because they don’t fit your big vision any more, not because you are afraid of achieving them. Let emotional intelligence will be your guide.

Get inspired by others – Inspiration and enthusiasm is infectious. Share your journey with others who inspire you and whose values fit with yours. They should be those people who are your biggest advocates, who have got your back every step of the way.  

Celebrate your achievements every step of the way – even the smallest ones before you move on to the next goal. Acknowledging and sharing your achievements with others is great for intrinsic motivation so don’t hold back!

Be your own best friend – we all have a tendency to be harsh self-critics, so remember to have some empathy for yourself and go at the pace that suits you. We all have different energy levels, so if do what works for you, not for someone else, you are more likely to achieve your goals.

And finally, if you do need some help getting and staying motivated then find out how business coaching can help and book a 30 minute phone call here.