The Science of Motivation: A Coach's Perspective

Last Updated: 

October 12, 2023

Motivation is the driving force behind our actions and accomplishments. It's what propels us to pursue our goals, overcome challenges, and keep pushing forward, even when the going gets tough. As a business coach, I've had the privilege of working with individuals and teams from various backgrounds, and one of the recurring themes in our coaching sessions is motivation. In this comprehensive article, we'll delve deep into the science of motivation from a coach's perspective, exploring what motivates people, how to sustain it, and the role it plays in personal and professional development.

Key Takeaways on the Science of Motivation

  • Motivation's Vital Role: Motivation serves as the driving force behind actions, enabling individuals to pursue goals, overcome challenges, and achieve success.
  • Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: Motivation can be categorised as intrinsic (from within, driven by personal satisfaction) or extrinsic (from external factors, such as rewards).
  • Factors Fueling Intrinsic Motivation: Intrinsic motivation is fueled by passion, autonomy, mastery, and purpose, driving higher engagement and satisfaction.
  • Varieties of Extrinsic Motivation: Extrinsic motivation includes tangible rewards, social recognition, and competition, though it may not sustain long-term commitment.
  • The Brain's Role: Motivation is linked to the brain's reward system, releasing dopamine upon goal achievement, reinforcing motivation through positive feedback.
  • Motivation in Coaching: Coaches help clients set meaningful goals, identify intrinsic motivators, overcome obstacles, and sustain motivation over time using various strategies.
  • Sustaining Motivation: Strategies include creating a vision, breaking goals into smaller tasks, staying accountable, adapting to change, and prioritising self-care.
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Understanding the Basics of Motivation

Motivation is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon. At its core, it's the inner drive that compels us to take action. Whether it's starting a new project, improving your skills, or achieving a significant milestone, motivation is the spark that ignites our efforts. From a psychological standpoint, motivation can be divided into two main types:

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation comes from within. It's driven by personal satisfaction, a sense of purpose, and the enjoyment of the task itself. When you're intrinsically motivated, you engage in an activity because you find it inherently rewarding. For example, you might be intrinsically motivated to paint because you love the creative process. This kind of motivation is often associated with higher levels of engagement and satisfaction in one's work or pursuits.

Intrinsic motivation is fueled by various factors, including:

  • Passion: When you have a genuine passion for something, the desire to engage in that activity is driven by intrinsic motivation. This passion can come from a deep interest or love for the task.
  • Autonomy: Having a sense of control and autonomy over your work or actions can boost intrinsic motivation. People are more motivated when they feel they have choices and are not forced into tasks.
  • Mastery: The pursuit of mastery and skill development can be highly intrinsically motivating. The feeling of progress and improvement is rewarding in itself.
  • Purpose: Engaging in activities that align with your values and sense of purpose can generate intrinsic motivation. When you believe in the importance of what you're doing, motivation flows naturally.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from external factors. It involves doing something to earn a reward or avoid punishment. Extrinsic motivators can include financial incentives, recognition, or praise. An example of extrinsic motivation is working overtime to earn a bonus. While extrinsic motivation can be effective in driving short-term behaviour, it may not sustain long-term commitment or satisfaction, as the motivation primarily comes from external rewards.

Extrinsic motivation can be further categorised into:

  • Tangible Rewards: These include monetary bonuses, gifts, or other material incentives provided to motivate individuals to perform specific tasks or achieve certain goals.
  • Social Recognition: Extrinsic motivation can also come from social rewards like praise, admiration, or acknowledgment from peers, superiors, or the community.
  • Competition: Some people are extrinsically motivated by a competitive environment, where they strive to outperform others and win rewards or recognition.

The Science Behind Motivation

From a scientific perspective, motivation is closely linked to the brain's reward system. When we achieve a goal or experience success, our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reinforcement. This dopamine release creates a positive feedback loop, making us more likely to repeat the behaviour that led to the reward. In essence, our brains are wired to seek out experiences that trigger the release of dopamine, reinforcing motivation.

Understanding the brain's role in motivation helps us see why it's essential to set achievable goals and celebrate small victories along the way. Each small success triggers a release of dopamine, reinforcing our motivation and commitment to the larger goal.

Motivation in Coaching

In coaching, understanding the science of motivation is invaluable. Coaches often encounter clients who are seeking to regain lost motivation, sustain motivation over the long term, or discover what truly drives them. Here are some ways coaches use this knowledge to help individuals and teams thrive:

Setting Meaningful Goals

Coaches work with clients to set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. By making goals clear and attainable, clients are more likely to experience a sense of accomplishment, boosting their motivation. SMART goals provide a roadmap for clients, helping them stay on track and monitor progress.

For instance, if a client's goal is to increase sales, a coach might help them set a SMART goal like "Increase monthly sales by 15% within the next six months." This goal provides clarity, a timeline, and a quantifiable measure of success.

Identifying Intrinsic Motivators

Coaches help clients explore their intrinsic motivators by asking probing questions and encouraging self-reflection. Understanding what truly drives them allows clients to tap into a deeper wellspring of motivation. This process involves delving into personal values, passions, and long-term aspirations.

A coach might ask questions like:

  • "What activities or pursuits make you feel most fulfilled and alive?"
  • "When do you lose track of time because you're so engrossed in what you're doing?"
  • "What values are most important to you in your life and work?"

Through these conversations, clients often discover the intrinsic motivators that resonate with their core values and aspirations.

Overcoming Obstacles

Coaches work with clients to identify and overcome obstacles that may hinder motivation. Whether it's fear of failure, procrastination, or self-doubt, coaches provide strategies and support to navigate these challenges. Coaches often serve as accountability partners, helping clients stay committed to their goals and navigate setbacks.

In the face of procrastination, a coach might work with a client to implement time management techniques, break tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, and provide guidance on maintaining focus and productivity.

Sustaining Motivation Over Time

Sustaining motivation over the long haul is often a more significant challenge than igniting it initially. Here are some strategies for maintaining motivation:

1. Create a Vision

Continually remind yourself of the bigger picture and the ultimate goal you're working towards. Visualising your success can reignite your motivation. Create a vision board, write down your goals, or simply take a moment each day to reflect on your aspirations.

For example, if your goal is to become a successful entrepreneur, visualise your business thriving, your customers happy, and your financial goals met. This mental imagery can serve as a powerful motivator, reminding you of the purpose behind your efforts.

2. Break It Down

Divide your larger goal into smaller, manageable tasks. Celebrate each completed task to maintain a sense of progress. The completion of these smaller tasks provides a sense of accomplishment and reinforces your motivation.

If your goal is to write a book, break it down into chapters or sections. After completing each chapter, acknowledge your achievement, perhaps by treating yourself to a favourite meal or leisure activity. These rewards create positive associations with the tasks and keep motivation high.

3. Stay Accountable

Share your goals with someone who can hold you accountable, whether it's a coach, mentor, or a trusted friend. Being accountable to someone else adds an extra layer of motivation, as you're not only answerable to yourself but also to someone who supports your aspirations.

Regular check-ins with an accountability partner can help you stay on track and provide encouragement when motivation wanes. The act of reporting progress or setbacks can rekindle your commitment to your goals.

4. Adapt and Adjust

Sometimes, your initial motivation may wane due to changing circumstances or priorities. It's okay to adjust your goals or find new sources of motivation. Life is dynamic, and your goals should be flexible enough to accommodate changes.

For instance, if your goal was to travel the world, and unforeseen circumstances restrict your ability to do so, consider modifying your goal to explore local attractions or focus on personal development in the meantime. The key is to adapt without losing sight of your overall objectives.

5. Self-Care

Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is crucial for maintaining motivation. Ensure you get enough rest, exercise, and relaxation. Burnout and stress can deplete your motivation reserves, so self-care should be a non-negotiable part of your routine.

Incorporate self-care practices into your daily life, such as meditation, exercise, or hobbies that bring you joy. These activities recharge your mental and emotional energy, making it easier to stay motivated and resilient in the face of challenges.

Key Takeaways on the Science of Motivation

As we explore the intricate world of motivation from a coach's perspective, you may find yourself pondering various aspects of this compelling subject. To provide further insights and address common queries, we've compiled a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that delve into the science of motivation and its practical applications in business coaching and personal development.

Is motivation solely driven by external factors like rewards and recognition, or can it genuinely come from within?

Motivation is a complex interplay of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. While external rewards and recognition can serve as powerful motivators, intrinsic motivation, driven by personal values, passions, and a sense of purpose, is equally important. Effective motivation often combines both internal and external elements to sustain long-term commitment and engagement.

How can I identify my intrinsic motivators and align them with my goals?

Discovering your intrinsic motivators requires self-reflection and exploration. Start by asking yourself what activities or pursuits bring you genuine joy and fulfilment. Consider your values, interests, and long-term aspirations. A coach can also help guide this process, providing valuable insights and tools to align your intrinsic motivators with your goals.

What strategies can I use to overcome procrastination and maintain motivation, especially when facing challenging tasks?

Overcoming procrastination often involves breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps, setting clear goals, and maintaining accountability. Create a structured plan and establish a routine that incorporates focused work periods and breaks. Additionally, maintaining a clear vision of your ultimate goal and recognising the rewards of completing challenging tasks can help sustain motivation.

How can I adapt my goals and stay motivated when facing unexpected obstacles or life changes?

Adaptability is a key aspect of maintaining motivation. When facing unforeseen challenges or changes in circumstances, consider adjusting your goals or finding alternative pathways to success. Maintain a growth mindset and focus on your core values and long-term aspirations, allowing them to guide you through periods of change and uncertainty.

What role does self-care play in sustaining motivation, and how can I incorporate it into my daily routine?

Self-care is essential for maintaining motivation and overall well-being. Prioritise self-care practices such as regular exercise, mindfulness, sufficient sleep, and pursuing hobbies that bring you joy. By taking care of your physical and mental health, you'll have the energy and resilience needed to stay motivated and navigate challenges effectively.


Understanding the science of motivation is a vital tool for coaches and individuals seeking personal and professional growth. By harnessing the power of motivation, setting clear goals, and implementing effective strategies, you can unlock your full potential and achieve the success you desire. Whether you're a coach guiding others or someone on your own motivational journey, remember that motivation is not just a concept—it's the driving force that can turn aspirations into reality. Embrace it, nurture it, and let it propel you toward a future filled with achievement and fulfilment.

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