EI: Self motivation

The case of Emotional Intelligence

 – Self-Motivation –


What is it?

As said (see previous posts), self-awareness is about noticing and self-regulation is about acting more consciously. Self-Motivation is about achieving.

As D. Goleman says “If there is one trait that virtually all effective leaders have, it is motivation – a variety of self-management whereby we mobilize our positive emotions to drive us toward our goals”.

Motivation is a complex topic, and despite it has been extensively researched, scientists have not identified a “magic potion” to stay motivated.

Motivation is a state and, as such, it is in continuous transformation. It is triggered and sustained by internal an external factors. It is subjective – what motivates you may not motivate me. It is tightly connected to our self-worth and self-esteem.

Here we focus on self-motivation (also called intrinsic motivation) and, with the aim to simplify things and make them actionable, we look at what self-motivated leaders have in common. They all seem to know very well what they want and why – very clear purpose and goals – and have the ability to uphold a positive outlook even during tough times.


What does it mean to be intrinsically motivated?


What mobilizes these leaders is not money or status or any other external motivator (not that they are not important. They are just not enough!). Instead, they are driven by the internal need to self-actualize, better themselves, achieve a meaningful outcome, and maybe changing the world. These drivers give them great satisfaction and energy.


For global leaders and expatriates, self-motivation is what pushes them to take international career paths, relocate from country to country, learn new languages, understand other cultures, and accept every day the challenges of leading and living away from home.


Self-motivation is what pushes you out of your comfort zone


Can self-motivation be nurtured? How?

The Tool

As said, self-motivated individuals have a strong sense of purpose, clear goals, and retain a positive outlook. And, while there is no magic formula to higher self-motivation, there are activities that help support it.


R Get clear on the Why

This is a very important one. It is the WHY – your purpose – that gives you the motivation to wake up every morning and work hard towards your goals. It is the WHY that leads your choices and helps you set key goals, make plans, and follow through.

In business, the WHY supports long-term strategies, innovation and change; it helps gaining competitive advantage and navigating uncertainty and disruption.

That’s why the WHY is important and cannot be omitted or forgotten. You need to hold it visible and relevant to your team and to ourselves.


Know your What

There is so much written on goal setting that I will not repeat here what you already know. I will only point out to the importance of having a “higher goal” and “smaller goals”.

A higher goal is a distant and important outcome (e.g. winning the championship); smaller goals are the set of tinier steps and achievements that lead to the attainment of the higher goal (e.g. winning each game in the championship). While the higher goal gives us inspiration, smaller goals keep us on track and help feed our daily motivation; they keep us going! Without them, we are more likely to feel demotivated and to give up.

Action steps

  • Reflect with your team on your WHY, your purpose. What is the impact you want to make, how will it better the organization, the community, the country, or the world? Create your WHY statement.
  • Define your higher goals, and then break them down in smaller ones to create the path.
  • Find ways to stay present to your why and what, even in the midst of business challenges, transitions and high-pressure situations.


Hint: Find what works for you and your team. Personalize notepads, sticky notes or folders with your WHY? Organize “refresh” meetings? Brainstorm to find what works for you.




Celebrate every small achievement. Make it a habit. It will help you stay optimistic and overcome failure and loss.

Social psychology researchers have found that when we take the time to appreciate the good stuff, we boost positive emotions and these help build resilience and protect us from daily stress and challenges. (1)


Sometimes we do not hit the target. Help your team (and yourself) take this as an opportunity to learn and to do better. How will this event help increase our chances of success in the future? What have we learned? What can we do differently next time?

“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier”

 Colin Powel


Hint: Celebrations can be as small as a brief recognition of achievement at the beginning of a meeting, a thank you note, or bringing cake to the office. Whatever you choose to do, make it a habit. Day after day, it will help you and your people nurture a positive mindset.

Get clear, remember and celebrate!


References: (1)  “10 steps to savoring the good things in life” https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/10_steps_to_savoring_the_good_things_in_life

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