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The Psychology of Self-Motivation

Scott Geller is Alumni Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech and Director of the Center for Applied Behavior Systems in the Department of Psychology. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, and the World Academy of Productivity and Quality. He has written numerous articles and books, including When No One’s Watching: Living and Leading Self-motivation. Scott will examine how we can become self-motivated in “The Psychology of Self-Motivation.”

Scott Geller


Scott Geller


The psychology of self-motivation – Scott Geller

What is self-motivation?

  • Self-motivation is reading ahead. Doing more than you need to.

In order to be self-motivated, you need to answer yes to these 3 questions.

  1. Can you do it? Do you believe you can do it?
  2. Will it work? Believing the behavior will lead to the ultimate outcome.
  3. Is it worth it? You have to convince people and yourself it’s worth it.

4 C Words That Fuel Self Motivation

  1. Competence
  2. Consequences Drive us
  3. Let them perceive choice
  4. Community – We need each other


  • When you are competent doing worthwhile work you are more likely to be self-motivated.
  • Training – Do the behavior and get feedback
  • How do you inspire people to be competent?
  • Give them feedback, recognition, show them they are competent.
  • When you get overwhelmed break it down
  • We can always learn from each other
  • We need to have the humility to accept feedback


  • When you believe you have a choice in what you are doing you will be self-motivated.
  • You are in control of your consequences.
  • You won’t feel like you’re in control when you’re working to avoid a negative consequence.
  • When you are working to get something it feels good.
  • When you’re working to avoid something you feel controlled. That’s called negative reinforcement.
  • How do we get people to become success seekers rather than failure avoiders?
  • I have to go to class vs I get to go to class it’s an opportunity.
  • Alarm clock vs an opportunity clock.
  • It’s all in how you see it.
  • It’s how you communicate to others and yourself.
  • When you perceive choice you will be motivated.
  • Sit back and reflect. Be mindful of the choices you have and talk about being a success seeker rather than a failure avoider.


  • Psychologists know social support is critical
  • People that feel a sense of relatedness, a sense of connection with other people, feel motivated and are happier.
  • We need to have each others back
  • We need a sense of community
  • We need to move from an independent culture to an interdependent culture.
  • We need to help each other feel self-motivated



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