A Self-Motivation Primer

I have spent a lot of time over the last month studying exercise adherence research and other sports psychology topics. One of the more interesting topics I have come across has been self-motivation. Like a most of the core topics related to sports psychology, this one has implication in our daily lives beyond just sport and exercise. I plan on covering self-motivation in the context of exercise adherence in a future article.

Self-motivation is the ability to persevere without outside help.

Self-motivation is the ability to persevere without outside help and, what is really interesting, is that it is the only psychological construct I have found so far that is enduring and trait-like1. Other traits, such as personality type, introverted, extroverted and degrees of vigor, were evaluated in the context of exercise adherence, but only self-motivation was found to have a noticeable impact1,2. While a lot of this research was done around exercise, there seems to be link between self-motivation and other medical treatments3.

The other interesting element of self motivation is that you can easily evaluate1 how likely someone is to persevere in a new behavior or activity before they have even started it. For anyone that has to help others change their behavior (Counsellors, Dietitians, Trainers, etc.) this can be valuable in tailoring the amount of support and self-management assistance needed for their client in order for them to achieve the success they seek.

While the research I have read so far seems to point at the enduring nature of self-motivation1. Anecdotally, I seem to feel that self-motivation can evolve over time. This is because motivation is related to high self-efficacy4 according to social cognitive theory. While self-efficacy is generally evaluated on a per behavior basis (also known as task self-efficacy), an overall increase in self-efficacy in multiple behaviors could have a positive change on self-motivation. Due to lack of material on the subject, I can’t really expand on it further than that.

Regardless of this, the assessment of someones’ self-motivation should be an integral part of any behavioral intervention.


1 Dishman RK, Ickes W. 1981. Self-motivation and adherence to therapeutic exercise. J Behav Med 4:421-38. PubMed
2 Adherence to physical activity. Dishman, Rod K.; Buckworth, Janet Morgan, William P. (Ed), (1997). Physical activity and mental health.Series in health psychology and behavioral medicine., (pp. 63-80). Philadelphia, PA, US: Taylor & Francis, xv, 286 pp.
3 Baekeland, F., and Lundwall, L. (1975). Dropping out of treatment: A critical review. Psychol. Bull. 82: 738-783. PubMed
4 Bandura A. Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. New York: Freeman; 1997.