What Is the Connection between Self-Esteem and Motivation?

B. Miller

Self-esteem and motivation are very closely linked. Put simply, the way an individual feels about himself or herself is directly related to what he feels he is capable of doing. If he feels capable of accomplishing a task, he will be motivated to do it; unfortunately, the reverse of this is also true. Psychologists recognize the link between self-esteem and motivation, and work to assist people in building up their self-esteem to increase their success in work, life, and relationships. People who recognize this connection may also be able to work independently to boost their self-esteem and their accomplishments.

Lack of motivation is a common symptom of someone with low self-esteem.
Lack of motivation is a common symptom of someone with low self-esteem.

The way a person perceives himself or herself has everything to do with his or her behavior in life, and this is the strongest connection between self-esteem and motivation. If a person has been told his or her entire life that she is a good, capable person who succeeds with hard work, this person will be likely to continue to pursue her goals. Most importantly, setbacks will be viewed as simply that -- setbacks -- and not as a final determination of an individual's value as a person. Conversely, people who have not experienced this support, or have even been raised in abusive situations, might believe that they aren't good enough or capable of accomplishing anything, and may see setbacks as personal failings.

People with higher self-esteem often strive to accomplish more.
People with higher self-esteem often strive to accomplish more.

Another way that self-esteem and motivation are linked is when people try to determine their career path, or where they want to direct their energies. Generally, people tend to feel best when they are completing the activities in which they are the most competent or capable. For example, a person might feel that he or she is an excellent piano player and really enjoy practicing and learning on the piano. This high self-esteem, directed in a particular area, can lead to increased motivation to pursue this as a career, or just to continue to work hard at developing even more skill.

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A person with low self-esteem may not strive for success.
A person with low self-esteem may not strive for success.

These connections between self-esteem and motivation highlight the importance of encouragement and positivity when working with people in all aspects of life. Children who are praised for working hard, rather than for inherent intelligence, are more likely to internalize this and continue to work hard. Adults who take the time to recognize their own accomplishments, set realistic goals, and really do their best to meet them will likely find their self-esteem increases even if they do not meet all their goals. It is also important to cultivate positive supportive relationships, and avoid any toxic relationships that drag down self-esteem, because it can have an impact in all areas of life.

People with high self-esteem are generally more motivated to stay healthy.
People with high self-esteem are generally more motivated to stay healthy.
If someone feels capable of accomplishing a task, they will be more motivated to do it.
If someone feels capable of accomplishing a task, they will be more motivated to do it.
Motivation and self-esteem are directly linked.
Motivation and self-esteem are directly linked.
Bullying can affect a child's self-esteem which impairs their motivation to connect with others.
Bullying can affect a child's self-esteem which impairs their motivation to connect with others.
People with higher self-esteem are typically more adventurous.
People with higher self-esteem are typically more adventurous.

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