Grappling for motivation when you are completely out of steam has to be one of the most frustrating parts of life. Before you end up snowballing a lack of motivation into worry that you won’t get it done and then become fully paralyzed and unable to initiate a task, take a breather and try this newly discovered way to increase motivation.
Newly published research finds that a simple, daily practice followed for two weeks is enough to boost motivation directly after and up to three months afterwards! Japanese university students were enrolled in an experiment in which they were asked to participate in daily gratitude journaling by logging five things each day for which they were grateful.
In this example, academic motivation was measured; but the effects of approaching tasks with gratitude can increase motivation in other areas (anywhere from professional, domestic, or creative pursuits, etc.). That goes for people of all ages too: middle school and high school students who followed a similar practice of listing five things they were grateful for in previous studies also revealed better academic performance following the intervention. Like the results in the Japanese university students, these were long-lasting results, showing increases in gratitude and subsequent improved academic performance weeks after!
The key in these studies is that gratitude can change cognitive variables, such as altering processes behind executive cognitive functions. Negative thinking not only sours outcomes, but actually narrows the possibilities of how a certain situation plays out. That means whether it’s a huge test, a new job, a demanding home life, a grinding workout at the gym, or the decision of what to eat for lunch is influenced by how you’re thinking about it before it occurs.
The reason behind this is that negative thinking conjures negative psychological responses—and the biggest negative response results in only two options, fight or flight. By adopting a positive attitude and expressing gratitude, you’re able to broaden the possibilities of how something will play out and build towards having better resources in your social, physical, psychological, and intellectual spheres. This is a psychological brain theory known as “broaden-and-build”.
Plus, each time you practice gratitude, you’re actually strengthening your self-control by working directly with something known as temporal discounting, more simply known as delaying immediate gratification for a larger reward in the future. Grateful people tend to be able to recognize the benefit in waiting more than others.
Achieving more motivation for whatever task is at hand is as simple as starting with five things you can be grateful for each day.
Nawa, N.E., Yamagishi, N. Enhanced academic motivation in university students following a 2-week online gratitude journal intervention. BMC Psychol 9, 71 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-021-00559-w