Motivational Self-Regulation Strategies To Help You Reach Your Goals


Several studies have shown that motivational self-regulation strategies are effective in aiding people to maintain sustainable efforts and remain persistent. I have always been a motivated person, starting as far back as a high school student.

I first started college in the dual enrollment program when I was 15 years old. Everyone thought I wouldn’t be able to take the level of classes I wanted, as this program is usually only used for students to gain a few college credits before graduating high school.

Instead, by the time I was 17, I had earned too many college credits and could not attend high school in my senior year. This led to my graduation from PHCC with an AA in December, about six months before I walked with my high school class and formally received my diploma. It was a challenge for sure, but I stayed motivated by using self-regulation principles and strategies, although at the time I didn’t know that is what they were.

“Self-regulation is not simply a moral characteristic. It is biologically healthy for both your mind and the body.” ― Abhijit Naskar

So what does motivational self-regulation even mean?

Self-regulation means having control over your behavior, emotions, and thoughts in a manner that helps you pursue long-term goals. Motivation is not some magical force that strikes when we need it to, and not everything we do to reach our long-term goals is fun.

Even if you enjoy what you are doing, it’s hard to stay motivated when we live in a world filled with things that distract us, like Netflix, social media, and even reading. Then there are tasks we have to do like cleaning, taking care of our kids, or other responsibilities.

With the weight of these things constantly on our minds, it’s hard to find the motivation to do other things. That is why understanding these eight motivational self-regulation strategies will help you learn how to make sure you stay motivated when you need to.

“When we self-regulate well, we are better able to control the trajectory of our emotional lives and resulting actions based on our values and sense of purpose.” ― Amy Leigh Mercree

The 8 motivational self-regulation strategies

There is a lot of debate about which of these strategies is “the best,” but honestly, I think it depends on the person, and really any given day. What works for you one day might not work so well on another day when you face a different set of challenges.

Try them all out and see which one works best for you, and you will find that your ability to self-regulate motivation improving. The first two strategies have to do with your level of interest in a task or goal.

The first strategy is the Enhancement of Situational Interest. With this strategy, a person uses “the imaginative modification of a boring activity to make it more exciting.” This could mean turning studying into a game. Anything that may help catch your interest in a subject that you don’t find exciting would fall under this strategy.

The second strategy is Enhancement of Personal Significance. This strategy is not about turning something you find boring into a more fun prospect but feeding your personal interests. For instance, if you really enjoy math, you might be more motivated if you do things that help you learn more about math or use math a lot.

The third, fourth, and fifth strategies are more goal-oriented. The third one is Mastery Self-Talk and means that the motivating force behind doing something is a person’s desire to improve their own competency.

The fourth strategy, Performance Self-Talk, refers to the positive encouragement that helps motivate us to complete a task. It feels like ‘manifest destiny,’ instead of saying, “Could I really write a fiction novel,” you would say, “I will write this fiction novel” This type of self-talk helps you find a purpose. Positive affirmations would be an example of performance self-talk.

The fifth strategy, Performance-Avoidance Self-Talk, is letting fear of failure motivate you. (We rarely consider this one a great strategy because it can lead to some less than pleasant behaviors, like cheating.) However, fear of doing poorly can make someone turn in work, work harder to be better, and take other steps to make sure they do not fail.

The sixth strategy is referred to as Self-Consequating and is the one I use the most. This strategy uses behavioral reinforcement to help someone self-regulate their motivation. For example, I have recently gotten sucked into reading novels on these apps on my phone. I really could sit here and read all day long, because the way they design the apps has me reading 17 books at a time because the others are waiting for updates, so I start a new one. (This is really a separate problem…)

However, I have far too much to do, to sit and read chapters of novels all day. So, to self-regulate my motivation, I use reading as a reward. When I complete an article, then I let myself read the latest update. When I am done with work and school for the week, then I let myself download another story. I do not get to just zone out on the books if I have work to do.

The seventh strategy, Proximal Goal Setting, is often combined with Self-Consequating because they work so well together. Proximal Goal Setting means breaking a long-term goal into smaller, more manageable tasks and goals.

Take that novel I mentioned when we were discussing Performance Self-Talk. It is great to say to yourself, “I will write a fiction novel.” It can help motivate you and give you purpose, but at the end of the day, it’s daunting to figure out a time to write a 60,000-word story. This is where Proximal Goal Setting comes into play. Break it apart and make it smaller while still speaking positively to yourself. “I will write a fiction novel, by completing a chapter every week.”

“Study skills really aren’t the point. Learning is about one’s relationship with oneself and one’s ability to exert the effort, self-control, and critical self-assessment necessary to achieve the best possible results-—and about overcoming risk aversion, failure, distractions, and sheer laziness in pursuit of REAL achievement. This is self-regulated learning.” ― Linda B. Nilson

A few helpful tips for setting goals that will help you implement these strategies

Since the seventh and eighth strategies revolve around goal setting, these helpful tips will make them easier to implement. First, make sure you are setting SMART goals. This means goals that are:

  • Specific – It should be explicit, detailed, and have meaning.
  • Measurable – The goal should have quantifiable benchmarks.
  • Attainable – Is it realistic? Do you have, or can you get, the resources you need?
  • Relevant – Keep your set goals aligned with your values and mission statement.
  • Time -based-How much time will the goal take to complete? When is the deadline?

If you are having trouble staying focused on a task to achieve your goal, try using the Pomodoro Technique. This can help you stay on task and works well with the Self-Consequating and Proximal Goal Setting strategies because it helps you can break your goal into small pieces (to work on during the 25-minute pomodoros) and reward yourself with something fun during the break times!

Another thing that might help you set goals and stay focused is a daily planner. The one I have has spots for each day of the week, and I use it to write tasks I want to finish on each day. The tasks are things that are due at the end of the week, but breaking them up daily lets me see how much time I spend on them, how many things I left to do as I near the end of the week, and gives me the satisfaction of crossing things off!

Whichever way you choose to stay motivated, mastering these strategies and putting some thought into planning out your goals will help you. Motivation helps us achieve our goals, stay focused, and succeed.

Some people are more naturally motivated than others, but it is a skill that can be developed like any other, and it is an important one that shouldn’t be overlooked. If you have any tips on how you stay motivated share them with us in the comment section!

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” ― Jim Rohn



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