Military Motivation: Special Challenges And Techniques

By Joanna Smykowski

Updated January 02, 2019

Reviewer Laura Angers


Military motivation has to be different from most other types of motivation. Everyone needs motivation, certainly. If you weren't motivated at all, you couldn't even move. Yet, when you're in the military, you face physical and psychological challenges most people don't face in their jobs. The challenges for you as a military member require more than ordinary motivation techniques.

What Is Military Motivation?

Motivation is a physiological response and a feeling of willingness. As for military motivation, it's what makes you keep trying when the challenges seem overwhelming. It's what keeps you engaged as long as you're needed. Military motivation is special. It's special because it has to be.

Unique Military Motivation Challenges

In the military, motivation means a willingness to do one of the most difficult jobs possible. What's more, you may have to do that job in harsh, unfamiliar environments and extremely stressful and urgent situations. Facing the unknown is a commonplace event in the military, but there are some known challenges to prepare yourself for throughout your time in service.

"Always On Duty"

When you're in the military, in a sense, you're always on duty. Sure, you have downtime and family getaways sometimes, but they're never anything you can count on 100%. When you're needed, you have to check back in and get to work.

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 supervisor or commander. You may have time off, but you always represent your branch of service. That takes consistent motivation every day!

A Constant Need To Adapt

As a military member, you always have to be ready to adapt. You'll be faced with new job tasks, unfamiliar environments, new team members, 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 making all these major adjustments. Only you can truly know what matters so much to you that you'll keep going in the face of so many changes.

Family Separations

Nearly every military couple has to spend some time apart during TDYs, and PCS moves. These are typically very short separations, and they're relatively easy to handle.

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. When your family is far away for an extended 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 and water. 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 at times.

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 what you have to to get the reward.
  • Once you receive the reward, the motivation is gone.

Factors In Intrinsic Military Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the most effective, even for people in the military. When the motivation comes from within you, from your desires, interests, and perspective, you can feel motivated with or without motivation 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

The modern military offers many options to its members. You get to request your career path, your duty station, and your choice of housing. 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. For many military members, too, that's just a way of life.

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. 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 too vague, though. Once you define for yourself what you mean by progress, 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 9-5 job. The 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 Marines, corps motivation comes partly from the knowledge that, yes, it will be hard. You can't skate your way through a critical mission.


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.

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.

When you've found the right way to express your motivation clearly and forcefully, share your insights with others. 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. Choose the words that quickly flip your motivation switch to on.

Listening To Music For Motivation

Music is a great motivator that's 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.

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. Set your alarm to wake you up with lively music. Use one of your cue words as you get out of bed. Go workout to get your body 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." 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 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. You might even keep a log of these rewards.

Staying In Touch With Loved Ones

The military is now committed to facilitating positive relationships between military members and the loved ones who wait for them at home. You have to do your part, too, though. Take advantage of field-to-home Skype calls when you can. If a military organization offers to send you on a couples' retreat, share that experience with your spouse if your spouse is willing.

Reaching Out For Help When You Need It

Because being in the military is far more than an ordinary job, 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.


You can talk to a licensed counselor at whenever and wherever suits you best. Your conversations with your therapist are kept in strictest confidence. You can also remain anonymous if you choose.

Whether you're in the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, or the Marine Corps 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!

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