The Most Powerful Source of Motivation
The single most powerful source of motivation is – You! Your desire to realize your ambitions – however large or small. Your hunger to accomplish something, achieve something. Your interest in motivation itself. All these are signs of what performance psychologists like Brian Tracy have dubbed achievement motivation (AKA "self-actualization").
Psychologist Abraham Maslow, in his highly-influential Toward a Psychology of Being, showed that each human being is born with an innate drive to give meaning to our time on earth. It might be volunteering to raise money your favorite political party or playing in a local band on weekends. From this urge comes progress, art, invention, civilization.
Achievement motivation, this inborn urge to do and become "all that you can be," explains why you are excited by a challenging career, responsibility, growth, earned recognition, enjoyment of work itself. And why you become dissatisfied if opportunities for meaningful achievement aren't present.
How Achievement Motivation Can Work Against You.
Just as there's no upside to disincentives, there is almost no downside to self-actualization. A few psychologists have fretted over the possibility that people might become too obsessed with the quest for achievement, and lose sight of real-world, short-term goals. (i.e., you might get so hung-up trying to create the perfect painting for an art class project that you don't finish on time and get an "incomplete" instead of a grade.) But others have pointed out that situations like this are the result of other problems, like "perfectionitis," and aren't actually the result of achievement motivation.
How to Use Achievement to Ignite Motivation
Let's say you have to replace a washer to repair a leaky faucet. Unless you are a Zen plumber, it's hard to get excited about your achievement here. So, first focus on some activity you consider so fulfilling that you always try to do your best. It might be swimming, dancing, crunching numbers, or soliciting funds for the Red Cross. You will begin to experience the same desire to achieve and excel you normally feel then. When you do, direct it at repairing that leaky faucet.
"Intrinsic motivation causes us to participate in an activity for our own enjoyment, rather than for any tangible reward that it will bring us. We are more apt to persevere, work harder, and produce higher quality work when motivation for a task is intrinsic rather than extrinsic."
(Adapted from Motivation 101)