Military Motivation: Challenges, Experiences And Helpful Techniques

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated March 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.
Military personnel may face a unique set of work challenges

Everyone might require a little extra motivation at some point—especially as we continue to achieve and discover on our life’s chosen path. However, many consider military motivation to be in a league of its own. 

Military members across all branches of service can face physical and psychological challenges at work that most people may not. Being armed with the right set of motivational techniques can be critical for rising to the occasion of such challenges and making the greatest possible impact—no matter what role you serve.

Read on to learn more about what military motivation is, possible challenges members may face and supportive strategies to help increase one’s quality of life. 

What is military motivation?

Military motivation, just like other forms of motivation, can look different for everyone. For some, it's the force that might help you to keep on when challenges seem overwhelming or nearly impossible. It can “kick in” when you have a mission to accomplish, duty nights, or are in an otherwise demanding situation, such as fighting, training or standing watch on very little sleep.

Unique military motivation challenges

Many may find that they have to perform a military mission in harsh, unfamiliar environments, in small spaces, with heavy gear, or under extremely stressful and urgent situations. Facing the unknown can be commonplace in the military—and it can feel completely overwhelming. However, identifying these challenges can be a helpful first step in the process of using military motivation to overcome them. 

Always being on duty

When you're in the military, you may sense that you are always on duty. Sure, you might have some downtime or the occasional family getaway, but your schedule and expectations can change at any time. This can make it difficult to plan events or vacations in advance, as the needs of your command might always have to take precedence.

This instability may require a higher level of mental fortitude and motivation than you may initially think, as it can feel overwhelming to handle.

A constant need to adapt

As a military member, you might find that you always have to be ready to adapt. You may be faced with new job tasks, unfamiliar environments, a new team, new living quarters, new missions and new supervisors with little choice or option for flexibility. 

You'll need a flexible mindset, but you'll also need a steady source of motivation on which you can rely in any situation. You’ll need intrinsic motivation. As opposed to extrinsic motivation, which relies on the expectation of external punishment or reward, you need to be incentivized to engage in something based on your pleasure in the activity itself. You must find reasons within yourself for adjusting to all these major changes. 

Only you can know what truly matters so much to you that you'll keep going in the face of so many changes. The potential benefits of intrinsic task motivation and self-management include, at the individual level, flexibility, adaptation, responsiveness, innovation, learning, and satisfaction. These, in turn, are expected to lead to enhanced retention and readiness, at individual and unit levels.

Family separations

Nearly every military couple must spend some time apart during TDY (temporary duty travel) or TAD (temporary additional duty) orders, duty nights, or PCS (permanent change of station) moves. These are typically short separations, and they're relatively easy to handle for seasoned military families.

However, there are also times when a military family is separated for a year or longer. You might be sent to a remote duty station or even be called on to go into a combat zone with no definite return date. If you are stationed on a ship, you will most likely deploy for many months at a time. When you are away from your loved ones for extended periods of time, that source of motivation can seem more difficult to identify.

Extreme physical challenges

Some military jobs demand exceptional physical strength and endurance. Even if you're at a desk job, you'll be required to stay in top physical condition because there may come a time when you're needed for something more strenuous than typing out forms.

If you're in combat, the physical strain can be extreme. You may have to keep going despite a lack of adequate food, water, and rest. You may have to sustain yourself when you're injured until help can reach you. As you struggle to survive and fulfill your mission, you'll likely need more motivation than you've ever needed before.

Intense mental challenges

The mental challenges you might face can be as difficult to overcome as the physical ones. In fact, the physical challenges bring mental challenges of their own. Every practical or physical challenge you face comes with the mental challenge to maintain your sense of reason, balance, and identity as you go through it.

The urgency of the mission

No matter what job you have in the military, your main mission is to keep your country safe and defend it from other countries and entities that mean to do it harm. This is an urgent mission that comes with dangers, critical timelines, and strict discretion.

The urgency of your mission can feel like a weight you're never able to release. This increases your need for motivation even more.

Facing possible injury and death

Missions may require you to traverse treacherous terrain, encounter chemical warfare, or escape situations with armed opponents attempting to thwart your efforts. If you’re in a combat situation, awareness of the increased possibility of injury or death may feel ever-present. 


Drawbacks of extrinsic motivation in the military

Military leaders often use extrinsic rewards to motivate their troops. Extrinsic rewards can include weekend passes, movie or sports event tickets, or even a trip to a nearby resort. These types of motivators can be very effective, especially in the short term.

However, extrinsic motivation does have a few drawbacks, when compared to intrinsic motivation, which is doing an activity for the internal satisfaction of performing it:

  • You need someone else to supply the reward
  • The reward might not appeal to you at all
  • You tend to do only the minimum required to get the reward
  • Once you receive the reward, the motivation is gone

Factors of intrinsic military motivation

When the motivation comes from within you, from your desires, interests, and perspective, you can feel motivated with or without encouragement or reward from someone else.

You can be motivated by any or all of the five main factors in your thinking:

  • Your commitment to the mission
  • A sense that your contributions have meaning
  • The perception that you have some degree of choice over your actions
  • The desire to be competent in a job and gain mastery over skills
  • An overall goal to make progress


A commitment is a promise you make to yourself, to someone else, or to an organization such as the military. It's dedication to a cause as well as loyalty to your country and those who defend it. 

When you enter the military, you take an oath that details your commitment. You also need to make a personal commitment to yourself as a part of the military. Once you make that commitment, it can act as its own motivator.

Sense of meaning

When you find a sense of meaning in your work, you're more likely to do it wholeheartedly. When you find meaning in your unit's mission, you can contribute your best to it.

Meaning is a primary motivator because it is the most basic reason for doing anything. If something has absolutely no meaning for you, why would you even bother?

Sense of choice

You may get to request your career path, your choice of housing, and sometimes even your duty station. Choices like these can increase your motivation as you understand intuitively that you are creating your destiny.

The desire to be competent

Many of us want to be competent at something. We may want it for ourselves, and we probably want others to see us as competent. Being good at something is such a desirable thing that most people will work hard just to experience the feelings that come with competence.

On one level, people want to be competent enough to avoid punishments and other negative consequences. On another level, once you become competent, you may feel the desire to do even more. That's when the desire to attain mastery can become your motivator.

The desire to make progress

The desire to see ongoing progress can motivate you in the long term. "Progress" is a vague term, though. You can define what progress means to you, and then you can gain motivation as you work toward it.

Military motivation techniques

Military motivation techniques can be applied to all walks of life. Still, if you’re in the military, these techniques may be more important to your daily life than for a civilian. For example, Navy SEAL motivation, in general, may need to be stronger and more reliable than motivation to perform a 9-to-5 job. Keep reading for six techniques you can use to boost your motivation.

Accepting the difficulty of your position

Start by accepting the drawbacks and difficulties that come with your job in the military. If you're in the Marine Corps, for example, motivation comes partly from the knowledge that, yes, it will be hard. You can't skate your way through a critical mission.

Military personnel may face a unique set of work challenges

You can then learn as much as you can about what kind of situation you'll be facing, attempting to prepare yourself as best as you can. This can prompt you to further embrace your branch commitment, sense of purpose and autonomy in your role—all of which can help you to accept whatever lies ahead of you.

Creating your own motivation statement

Writing a motivation statement can help you firmly fix in your mind your reasons for a military task, mission or career.

To begin, you can write down the reasons behind your choice. You might express why these reasons make sense to you, based on your prior education and experience. You can write out what parts of the job are most appealing to you and why—or if you prefer not to write it out, you can create your own video. 

Listening to music or podcasts for motivation

Music can be a helpful motivator for many and is generally able to be conveniently reached—even if you’re deployed. You may listen to music as you take your morning run, workout in the gym or during any other time when it's allowed. You may find yourself more awake, alert, and ready to move as a result. 

Podcasts can be another great option for enhancing motivation in many. Many may find that there are plenty from which to choose that focus on motivation, and they can provide benefits similar to music. 

Short on time? You can start listening on your morning commute and finish it later that afternoon. Or, it can play in the background while you are accomplishing everyday tasks.

Starting the day with a morning routine

Every day can bring new challenges and opportunities. Starting with an intentional routine can be a helpful way to set the tone for a productive and fulfilling day. 

Mindfully recognizing the rewards of effort

Intrinsic rewards aren't always easy for others to see. However, it can feel incredibly powerful and rewarding when you take the time to congratulate yourself on the effort you know that you have contributed.

To do this, you may set aside time to mindfully take a moment to savor that feeling of satisfaction. You might even consider keeping a log of these intrinsic rewards.

Reaching out for help when you need it

The circumstances and demands of being in the military can be challenging. Many may find benefits and heightened motivation after working with a licensed therapist.

Recognizing that someone else can help you become a better version of yourself and maintaining a willingness to take that step can be considered courageous. Seeking assistance to find how you can improve your motivation in such a demanding career can also positively affect yourself, those serving alongside you, and the mission as a whole.

How can online therapy help?

Online counseling through BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed counselor whenever and wherever suits you best. This convenience can work well with a military lifestyle, as it can be an ideal option if you are in a remote area. 

Studies suggest that online therapy is just as effective an intervention as in-person therapy and has been correlated with positive outcomes for various populations, including those who live with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Research suggests that PTSD and depression are two of the most publicized mental health challenges facing current and veteran service members—and that approximately 14-16% of U.S. military personnel deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq are living with one or both mental health conditions. 

Additionally, an analysis of 14 other studies explored how iCBT (internet-based CBT) resulted in a 50% improvement in symptoms in people living with anxiety disorders, depression or panic disorder(s). 

In these specific cases, online trauma therapy was suggested to have decreased the overall impact of stress and chronic fatigue in participants.


No matter what branch you serve, you may find that motivation is a crucial aspect of your service. Once you understand what motivates you the most, you can find the power within you to face whatever challenges come your way. However, you don’t have to accomplish your goals on your own. A licensed, caring online therapist can be a convenient and effective part of your support system. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need. 
Struggling to find motivation in your life?
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