How to Get (And Stay) Motivated: 10 Science-Backed Tips from Super Successful Men

by | Apr 8, 2024 | Mental Health

You wake up with ambitions of a fruitful, productive day ahead. As you brush your teeth, you envision a Rocky montage of kicking ass, a thousand tasks collapsing at your feet as you dextrously navigate up and down the skyscraper of your to-do list. Yes, that real, tangible feeling of getting motivated.

The imagined version of yourself reduces a seemingly impossible workload to a trivial opponent in the ring. You leave the office just after lunch, everything’s done and “Eye of the Tiger” is beating a steady triumphant rhythm in your ears.

Except, in reality, just getting started on that list requires a gargantuan effort. So, instead, you dither about at the home office, checking emails, watering plants or gazing at the ceiling and wondering whether you might have a mold problem. Maybe you do… you’ll deal with it just now/tomorrow/when you have energy. 

That becomes the status quo for everything: the leaky tap, the dentist’s appointment, the tax returns and absolutely everything on your to-do list. Suddenly, it’s COB and your Rocky-inspired victory royale has gone AWOL. It’s okay… there’s always tomorrow.

Motivation can be an elusive beast, sometimes evading your clutches for weeks at a time before suddenly striking at 2am on a weeknight. No wonder the most successful guys in the room rarely wait for inspiration to strike. Instead, they build up formidable habits, and watertight schedules and create reliable processes to ensure they’re going full-steam ahead even when their motivation levels have hit a proverbial iceberg.

Want to follow in their footsteps? We’ve compiled 10 rules for success, discipline and, yes, manifesting motivation from guys who’ve perfected the productivity formula:

1. Make Micro-Habits Stick

We think that those sweeping, life-changing decisions have to take on gargantuan proportions, but the path to success is often a series of seemingly minuscule steps.

Motivational speaker and author of Pitch to Win Justin Cohen is an advocate for so-called “micro habits”, i.e. those mini routines that translate into major gains. “My favourite micro habit is gratitude,” says Cohen. While studies have shown that daily sessions of gratitude can boost happiness like nothing else, a gratitude journal never worked for him. “But a gratitude micro habit did the trick,” he says.

“At bedtime, I switch off my bedside lamp and I think through five things that happened that day that I’m grateful for. Creating a link between a current habit—switching off the light—with a new habit— focusing on these five things—is what finally got gratitude to stick.” Stanford University research has shown that these “micro habits” are far more likely to become second nature on the big ‘uns.

2. Become a Visionary

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InstaEats visionary Dean Horwitz starts every year with a “massive and audacious goal”. It’s this major aim that becomes the nucleus for all the other steps he takes for the next 365 days. “It forms the vision for the way I plan out the year,” he says. “I have a focused set of goals and to-dos that amount to small steps that get me closer to that massive and audacious goal.”

READ MORE: 8 Mindfulness Exercises to Beat Stress, Spark Motivation and Feel Better

To make sure he’s staying on track, he schedules daily, weekly and monthly check-ins so that he doesn’t stray from his overarching vision. These check-ins are also an opportunity to evaluate what he’s done so far, and recalibrate his approach if necessary. 

3. Turn Up the Motivational Tunes

As the co-owner and co-founder of local shoe brand Hibacci, Bheka Dlamini has constant pressure to be creative. It’s a daunting prospect that requires daily doses of inspiration, and for Dlamini, that inspo comes in the form of music. His days always start at 6am where he gets the jump on the day by resisting the temptation to hit “snooze”. “Then, I spend time being intentional about the day ahead of me by finding music that resonates with me,” he says.

For instance, rapper Meek Mill’s album Expensive Pain might provide motivation and passion, while an EP from hip hop artist Rick Ross’s catalogue could represent a rich day ahead: “[His music] makes me feel accomplished and helps me visualise all things luxe,” says the fashion designer.

A 2017 study in PLOS ONE found that listening to upbeat, stimulating music helped listeners perform better in tasks that require so-called “divergent” thinking. Simply put, divergent thinking is at the core of what it means to be creative as the process enables you to explore all possible solutions to a given problem, upping your chances of arriving at an answer that feels like the perfect fit.

“I haven’t figured it all out yet,” says Dlamini. “But I’m confident about how I have developed as a designer and all-round creative.”

4. Put Your Phone Down

Radio and media personality Rob Forbes has one simple rule for staying focused and on track: “Take control back from your mobile device,” he says. His trick? Go into your phone’s setting and disable every single notification. Yes, all of them. It’s a terrifying prospect, especially if you suffer from a particularly severe case of FOMO.

“The only notifications I leave on are for my SMSs and bank notifications – and even those don’t make a sound, they just have a screen prompt,” he says. His digital cleanse even extends to WhatsApp’s blue ticks. “My phone never vibrates, or makes a noise for messages or calls,” he adds. “There’s no red dot telling me I have unread emails. I don’t get banners telling me who messaged me, or that someone DM’d me on Instagram. Nothing. Nada. Niks.” It’s been four years since Forbes adopted this new notification-free way of life.

READ MORE: 4 Mind Tricks That Work When You Have No Motivation to Workout

The result? “I engage with my phone on my terms when I want to. No longer does this thing in my pocket control how fast I check it or when—or how quickly—I reply,” he says. Forbes has noticed an immediate uptick in his productivity, mood and improvements in his relationships with those around him.

A study published by BMC Public Health found that high-frequency phone use is associated with a higher risk of stress and other mental health issues, so taking Forbes’ approach could translate into immediate gains.

5. Embrace Change (And Learn to Always Stay in the Fight)

Transitioning into a professional athlete, Cheetah’s lock Oupa Mahoje watched as something fun turned into a full-time, high-pressure commitment. “The sport changes, and it becomes a whole lot more competitive,” he says. “It’s always a big adjustment for all players.”

However, instead of resenting this sudden shift, Mahoje took it as a sign to level up his approach. As rugby went from something tough and physical to a new beast that required an in-depth, tactical understanding of the game, the athlete rose to the occasion. “I took notes during meetings and watched clips of opponents closely,” he says. “The sport has gotten to the point where there’s not a lot of time to switch off—even at home—so you have to make use of every moment you have to find ways to beat opponents.”

This approach has translated into an ironclad mindset: “Whatever happens, you have to stay in the fight, even when things are tough.” That means adapting to everything the sport can throw at you, whether it’s to new rules, injuries or a bad result on matchday.

6. Go Silent to Reset

While Depeche Mode have long espoused the benefits of silence with its synthy pop hit, few of us take time to soak up real periods of quiet. Wealth manager and director of BOVEST Wealth Geo Botha, says that he’s carved out time in his busy schedule for a regular hush time throughout the week.

“I wake up at 5.30am, find a quiet room in the house or garden and set a timer for 15 minutes,” he says. During this break, there’s only one rule: no distractions. Some mornings he’ll go through a guided breathing routine—his go-tos are Wim Hof’s popular techniques (you can start with his 11-minute guided meditation on YouTube).

Alternatively, Botha uses apps like Headspace and Aura (iOS and Android) which serve up meditation sessions led by experts and gurus from across the world. And, for a dose of real silence, Botha will sometimes engage in the practice of visualisation: “I sit and focus on what I want to achieve for the day, the week, or even the year,” he says. “This whole daily exercise is about putting you in the right state of mind at the start of the day.”

7. Use Failure as a Motivation Tool

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Growing up Hardley Matlwa-Seleka watched as his father—a businessman—took on, and overcame, new challenges to provide for his family. His old man didn’t shy away from failure, but used each hurdle as a learning opportunity.

Now, as the founder and chairman of fashion brand Atlantic Apara O Tlale, Matlwa-Seleka has emulated that same mindset. “I embrace failure and think of it as an achievement,” he says. “It teaches you to be able to stand firm no matter the circumstances and gives you the courage to do more.”

READ MORE: Monday Motivation: This Is the Best Time to Workout

However, thriving after failure is easier said than done. One study suggests practicing self-compassion—i.e. being understanding and warm with yourself rather than ignoring your emotions or being overly critical after a setback—could translate into an immediate mental health boost. A BMC Public Health study discovered that this approach may lead to improved physical health, too.

8. Get Your Priorities Straight

“The best habit, which has helped me every single day for the past decade, is something that isn’t sexy or exciting—in fact, it’s pretty simple: prioritise your day,” says Warrick Kernes. The eCommerce expert was named London’s Young Businessman of 2009 and is a local authority in the eCommerce space.

The process of getting your priorities straight starts with three columns: A, B and C. These categories represent tasks of decreasing levels of urgency, with those falling under “A” requiring immediate attention and those in the “C-list” that can left until later (or even the next day). Tasks in each column are numbered in order of priority, too. Kernes only lets himself advance from “A” to “B” (and eventually “C”) once all tasks in the previous column are complete.

By mapping out his day, and taking out all the guesswork of what he needs to be working on. “This seemingly simple habit has helped me to ensure that I always get the most important things done first, so even if the day runs away from me, I would have still had a massively productive day provided I completed my ‘A’ tasks,” says Kernes. “It’s important to remember that the less time you feel that you have to do this, the more you need to do it.” 

9. Cast Votes For Your Future

The book Atomic Habits by James Clear has become a productivity manual for successful men across the world. In it, the author says that the habits you adopt in the morning are essentially votes cast for the type of person you want to be.

So, making the bed isn’t just a chore to keep things tidy, but a building block for the future “you”. Muskcoin co-founder and director Juan Olivier is an advocate for this new-wave ideology and has geared his morning routine to springboard himself into the best possible day ahead. But this awakening to a more productive (and ultimately successful) way of life didn’t happen on its own.

The businessman hired the services of a life coach who helped him build successful routines, disciplines and boundaries in his own business. “She held me accountable to constantly elevate, navigate and communicate in service of the vision I set out to achieve,” says Olivier.

READ MORE: See Our 10 Science-Backed Tips to Boost Focus and Productivity

One immediate upgrade to your morning routine is to set a specific and non-negotiable wake-up time. In the book My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired, the authors found that among the 300 successful individuals they interviewed, the average rising hour was 6.27am every day.

10. Take More Time Off

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“I don’t work on Fridays,” says marketing guru Max Guedy. As the founder of Zebra Agency, he’s constantly busy—but taking time off for himself is a non-negotiable rule. Even on workdays, his mornings start with some R&R: “I generally take my dogs to the beach at sunrise to organise my thoughts and after that I put on the news on YouTube or listen to the radio,” he says.

While it’s tempting to log long hours in the office if you’re chasing a promotion or fighting to get your fledgling business off the ground, research has found that taking time off could be far more beneficial for your productivity than early starts and all-nighters. Recent research revealed that a vacation—even a short one—could help increase productivity by up to 80%. Next Friday? Maybe it’s time to take a day off.

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