Military Motivation: Special Challenges And Techniques

Updated October 6, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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Everyone most certainly needs motivation, otherwise we might never leave the couch, or even the bed for that matter. Varying degrees of motivation propel us through life. Military motivation, however, is in a league of its own. Military across all branches of service face physical and psychological challenges at work that most people don't. Being armed with the right set of motivational techniques is critical for rising to the occasion of such challenges and making the best of them.

What Is Military Motivation?

Motivation is a physiological response and a feeling of willingness. It is an incentive or stimulus that drives you to act. As for military motivation, it's the force that makes you keep trying when the challenges seem overwhelming or nearly impossible. It's what keeps you engaged for as long as you're needed. Military motivation kicks in when you have a mission to accomplish, duty nights, or are standing watch on very little sleep. Military motivation is special. It's special because it has to be. And it has to be because, more often than not, lives, freedoms, and security are at stake.

Unique Military Motivation Challenges

What's more, you may have to do that job in harsh, unfamiliar environments, or in small spaces, with lots of gear, oftentimes under extremely stressful and urgent situations. Facing the unknown is a commonplace in the military, but there are some known ways to prepare yourself for your time in the service.

"Always On Duty"

When you're in the military, in a sense, you're always on duty. Sure, you have downtime and the occasional family getaway, but they're never anything you can count on 100%. Oftentimes your days off are interrupted and, if you're needed, you have to check back in and get to work. This also makes it difficult to plan events or vacations in advance, because the needs of your command always take precedence and schedules are subject to change as different needs arise.

If you're out on a mission or even if you have a nice home on base, your military duties are never far away. You have to conduct yourself according to military rules and customs or face the consequences from your chain of command. You may have time off, but you always represent your branch of service, both in and out of the uniform. That takes consistent motivation every day!

A Constant Need To Adapt

As a military, you always have to be ready to adapt. You'll be faced with new job tasks, unfamiliar environments, new team, new living quarters, new missions, and new supervisors with little choice but to adapt and survive.

You'll need a flexible mindset, but you'll also need a steady source of motivation you can rely on in any situation. The only motivation that fills that bill is intrinsic motivation. You have to find reasons within yourself for dealing with all of these major adjustments. Only you can know what truly matters so much to you that you'll keep going in the face of so many changes. A report titled, Intrinsic Motivation in the Military: Models and Strategic Importance states that 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 has to spend some time apart during TDY or TAD orders, duty nights, or PCS moves. These are typically very 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 set for you. 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 less real and immediate.

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 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 missions are 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 confidentiality.

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

If you're in a combat situation, awareness of the increased possibility of injury or death never really goes away. Some people find this exciting, while the thought debilitates others. The biggest difference between these two types of people is that the first group feels so strongly motivated that they can keep going in the face of fear.

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.

  • You need someone else to supply the reward.
  • The reward might not appeal to you at all.
  • You do only to 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 motivation or reward from someone else.

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

  • Your commitment to the mission.
  • A sense that your contributions have meaning.
  • The feeling that you have some degree of choice over your actions.
  • The desire to be competent in a job and gain mastery over skills.
  • Wanting 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. Because you're committed, there are some things you've promised to do and others you've promised not to do. So, commitment is a serious thing.

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 will act as its own motivator.

Sense Of Meaning

When you find a sense of meaning from 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 get to request your career path, your choice of housing, and sometimes even your duty station. You also have a wide variety of opportunities available to you that you can choose to pursue now, later, or not at all. Those choices increase your motivation as you understand intuitively that you are creating your destiny.

Not all duties come with options, though. You may be in a situation where you don't have a say in much of anything. The good news is that there is one thing you always control.

Viktor Frankl, in studying the reactions of prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps, realized that everyone always has a choice. You may not always be able to decide how you're treated, where you live, what you eat, or even exactly what job you do.

What you can always do, though, is to decide how you will think and feel about what's happening to you. With this sense that you're choosing your response, you gain self-esteem, self-confidence, and yes, motivation to survive.

The Desire To Be Competent

Everyone wants to be competent at something. You want it for yourself, and you probably want others to see you as competent too. Being good at something is such a desirable thing that most people will work hard just to get the feelings that go 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 becomes 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 have to 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 needs to be stronger and more reliable than motivation to do an ordinary 9 to 5 job. Following are some of the techniques you can use to boost your motivation.

Accepting The Difficulty Of Your Position

Start by accepting the drawbacks and difficulties that come with the job you're in 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.

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Know as much as you can about what kind of situation you'll be facing. Then, remember your commitment and find a way 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.

People who seek to enter the Peace Corps are required to write such a statement as a part of their application. A Peace Corps motivation statement can help you understand what you might want to include. To personalize it to your career, start by reading some military-related quotes and feel out which ones resonate with you the most. The “why” behind the feelings evoked may help you recognize what needs to go into your personal motivation statement.

Write down the reasons behind your choice. Express why these reasons make sense to you, based on your prior education and experience. Write out what parts of the job are most appealing to you and why. If you prefer not to write it out, you can create your own video. Or, perhaps, you can print out your statement with a background of your choosing and post it somewhere you can see it daily.

When you do that, you can help them understand you better, inspire them to consider what motivates them, and get them on board with your plan.

Developing Skills

If you feel your motivation lagging, take some extra time to develop your military skills on your own. As you become more competent and later, as you gain mastery, your motivation to use those skills appropriately will increase.

Using Words Or Phrases To Cue Action

The military is very good at using crisp, meaningful words and phrases to initiate actions. Just look at a military parade to see how it works. When the leader yells "Forward, march!" everyone moves on cue. Cue words and phrases aren't just for parades, though.

You can call out specific words or phrases whenever you need to do something, especially if it requires extra effort. You might say, "Up and ready!" as you rise from bed. You might say, "Time to move!" whenever you need to walk or run faster, or “Keep going” when things are rough. Choose words that are easy to remember and will quickly flip your motivation switch to on.

Listening To Music Or Podcasts For Motivation

Music is a great motivator used in sports, schools, the military, and virtually every area of human endeavor. Music affects our brain circuitry and the emotions it produces. Listen to music as you take your morning run, workout in the gym, or any other time when it's allowed. You'll find yourself more awake, alert, and ready to move. Facing a task that is mundane or one that you are dreading? If you have time and it’s allowed, create an upbeat playlist or one from your favorite music genre to help motivate you to see it through.

Podcasts are another great option for enhancing motivation. There are plenty to choose from that focus on motivation and they can provide benefits similar to music. Short on time? Start 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 Right

Every day is going to bring new challenges. Starting out right is the best way to set the tone for a productive and fulfilling day. Start each day with a set morning routine. For example, you could set your alarm to wake you up with lively music and use your cue words as you get out of bed. Maybe start your day with thoughts of what you are grateful for and what is going right in your life. Then go workout to get your blood pumping and body physically geared up for the day.

Relying On The Buddy System

There will be times when you want to work out or develop your skills on your own. At other times, a buddy can help inspire you and "keep you honest." There are many benefits to the buddy system that can be applied not only in high-risk situations, but in everyday scenarios as well. For example, if you're telling yourself it's okay to skip a workout session; your buddy might provide you with feedback that makes you realize you need to be there after all. Your buddy can be there for you in difficult times. Being there for them in return can provide you with extra motivation as you work to avoid letting your buddy down.

Recognizing The Rewards Of Effort

Intrinsic rewards aren't always easy for others to see. Yet, you know what rewards are important to you. When you feel rewarded because an effort you put forth had a positive effect, take a moment to savor that feeling of satisfaction. Give yourself a pat on the back when you completed a task or a job well done. You might even consider keeping a log of these intrinsic rewards.

Staying In Touch With Loved Ones

You have to do your part, too, though. Take advantage of field-to-home Skype calls when you can. 

Reaching Out For Help When You Need It

The circumstances and demands of being in the military are far more than an ordinary job, so it isn't surprising that many people need help along the way. If you can't discuss your problems with someone in your chain of command, consider talking to a therapist.

The National Defense Research Institute stated that military services have been actively engaged in developing policies, programs, and campaigns designed to reduce stigma and increase service help-seeking behavior. Part of that stigma is tied to the fact that military are taught to handle their problems on their own. There may be a misperception of appearing weak or incapable if you need to reach out to someone for help. Seeking counseling is actually a sign of strength. Recognizing that someone else can help you become a better version of yourself and a willingness to take that step is courageous. Seeking assistance to find how you can improve your motivation in such a demanding career will ultimately positively affect those serving with you and the mission as a whole. When you feel good about you, you are able to serve others better.

Online counseling through BetterHelp allows you to talk to a licensed counselor at whenever and wherever suits you best. This convenience works well with a military lifestyle, as it is an ideal option if you are in a remote area. Your conversations with your therapist are kept in strictest confidence but, if you still have concerns, you have the option to remain anonymous as well. Speak to your therapist prior to getting started about any hesitations you many have regarding privacy.

Whether you're in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, motivation is a crucial aspect of your service. Once you find what motivates you the most, you can find the power within you to face whatever challenges come your way. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people with military backgrounds.

“I was very reluctant to try counseling after a negative experience many years ago. However, after experiencing the passing of various family (My husband, sister and recently my Mom) within a very short period of time, I had no choice but to seek out help to cope. Elizabeth made me feel at ease right away, despite my initial reluctance. Coming from a military family myself, she understood and related to me in a way that gave me the right amount of compassion and gentle focus that makes me safe and heard. She has also given a straightforward plan of action that is successfully helping me deal with my family crisis.”

“Joseph takes a caring, individualized approach for what I need to cover for my mental health, whether it's talking about past traumas or an ongoing crisis. He is attentive and recalls details that I wouldn't have expected him to, which really helps me know that there's a genuine rapport. I am a military and police veteran with divorce and relationship issues, post traumatic stress, and major depression. Sometimes I feel like I just want to update Joseph on what's going on in life when I don't really have a general direction in the conversation that I want to go in, and he shows interest even when I'm just venting. I would absolutely recommend him to a friend or coworker.”

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