Unpacking Motivation: The Key to Sustainable Habits


by Elena Rey Velasco, Liva Healthcare

Making lifestyle changes can often feel like a tough and uncertain journey. Whether it’s about being more active, feeling better, or just picking up healthier habits, there’s a powerful tool that can give us a great push: motivation. If we learn how to read it right, we can make better decisions and steer ourselves toward positive, long-lasting changes. In this blog post, we reveal the motivational insights that Liva coaches use to help you realise your full potential and make these changes a reality.

Motivation is the engine that drives our actions, influencing our behaviours and how persistently we pursue our goals. Simply put, it’s about what pushes us to do things, think in certain ways, and develop habits, and why.

What shapes motivation?

Our motivation is influenced by a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that determine the two types of motivation: autonomous and controlled, respectively.

  • Autonomous Motivation: This is the ‘I-want-to’ motivation, where we do things because we genuinely want to. It’s driven by personal satisfaction, enjoyment, and alignment with our values, which are intrinsic factors. For instance, you might take up a new sport because it makes you feel good and teaches you new skills. This kind of motivation is often more sustainable because it springs from personal satisfaction or fulfilment.
  • Controlled Motivation: On the other hand, controlled motivation is the type of motivation driven by extrinsic factors, such as deadlines, societal pressures or rewards. For example, you might exercise because your GP is recommending it or because you want to win a competition. This kind of motivation might kickstart change, but it will likely not last as long as the autonomous motivation.


Understanding this ‘why’ behind what we do is essential in making changes that stick. It helps in making sure that the changes we make are not short-term, but will last for a longer time. People who are internally motivated, driven by personal goals and values, are more likely to maintain their efforts over the long term. Therefore, it’s essential to identify and tap into intrinsic motivations to bolster lasting behaviour change.

Moreover, similar to our interests, our motivations can fluctuate and change over time. For example, imagine someone who wants to increase their daily step count. Their initial motivation may be to improve their overall health. Over time, they might find joy in discovering new walking routes and areas of their city. Reinforcing this by tracking their steps can serve as a progress reminder as well as a sense of self-achievement, which fuels motivation. Continuously exploring new sources of intrinsic motivation and reinforcing existing ones can help us connect with the deeper reasons for our desired behaviour change, making it more likely that we will stick with our goals even when faced with challenges like bad weather or a hectic schedule.

The three basic psychological needs

For sustaining health behaviours in the long term, overwhelming evidence emphasises the importance of self-determined motivation. Here, health coaches play a crucial role in managing and fostering lasting, autonomous change. The key to optimal motivation, according to Self-Determination Theory (SDT), is to meet three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

  • Autonomy is all about having the freedom to do things your way, like picking hobbies you love, setting personal goals that matter to you, or deciding how to spend your free time without feeling pressured by others.
  • Competence comes into play when you feel skilled and successful in what you’re doing, whether it’s becoming really good at a hobby, completing a challenging project, or achieving a personal goal that boosts your confidence.
  • Relatedness is the desire for connection and belonging in your social life, like building strong friendships, feeling part of a supportive community, or experiencing a deep connection with like-minded people who share your interests.


These needs guide us towards self-determined motivations, leading to positive behavioural outcomes. For instance, a person who wants to improve their eating habits may find intrinsic motivation by autonomously exploring new, healthier recipes. Planning a cooking session with a friend will not only improve their sense of competence in the kitchen but also strengthen their connection with that friend (relatedness). Moreover, the shared experience of the cooking process and the satisfaction of tasting one’s own creation contribute to the enjoyment of the overall experience. All these factors will likely boost the intrinsic motivation to incorporate healthy recipes into their daily life.

In the Liva model, these psychological needs are pivotal. Our approach emphasises creating an environment where individuals feel in control of their choices, setting realistic and achievable goals, and fostering a supportive community.

So, the next time you’re looking to make a change, dig deep and understand why you truly want it. Aim for goals that resonate with your personal desires and values. When your actions align with what genuinely matters to you, you’re more likely to stay the course, and that’s when real, lasting change takes root.


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