How to Stay Motivated in the United States Military

It is no secret that service members of the United States Military have stressful jobs. Whether you are in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, or Space Force, you will likely run into a situation where you are running out of motivation or lacking resilience.

I am here to tell you that it is completely normal to run into these challenges throughout your military career and that it is important that you find a way to overcome a lack of motivation, remain resilient, continue to live a healthy lifestyle to continue to be a contributing member of your team or workcenter. 

military health motiation war

Internal Motivation

Internal motivation or intrinsic motivation is the motivation within one’s self. Some people are born with strong internal motivation, and others are not. The military starts you off in basic military training where they put you through stressful situations and difficult times on purpose.

It is to build up an internal motivation that you will continue to have deep inside of you throughout your military career. If you lose the fire and drive that you have to be all you can be, you should reevaluate your mental, physical, social, and spiritual pillars of resilience. It is possible that some stressor in your life is inhibiting your intrinsic values.

External Motivation

External motivation or extrinsic motivation is the motivation that comes from an outside source. In the military, we can act on extrinsic rewards. An example would be an NCO spending a lot of time organizing and planning volunteer opportunities because he is trying to stand out for a promotion.

There is nothing wrong with external motivation. It can also be used as a tool to be a great motivator in your tool belt of supervisory skills. Military leaders can offer external motivation through days off or getting to go home early one day as a way to motivate and get hard work out of their team.

However, it is important not to over do it because the team could lose their internal motivation. If you find yourself not caring about anything offered to motivate you externally or you notice that your team does not respond well to external motivation, you may need evaluate you and/or your teams four pillars of health.

Mental Health

I believe that mental health is one of the most overlooked factors in the military. The fact is that suicide rates are and have always been too high for the military. Suicides in recent years have outnumbered the death toll to our active military service members than combat or job related deaths.

So before I continue on, if you are struggling with your mental health and you are considering hurting yourself or others in any way please reach out to a chaplain, military family and life counselor, or your first sergeant for help. If you feel uncomfortable talking to them, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) which is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and press 1 for the military crisis line.

For the majority of us, we do not struggle with suicidal thoughts. Our jobs are just mentally exhausting. That is okay and there is nothing wrong with that. The trick to stay motivated and resilient at work in the military is to take care of yourself and find a way to replenish your mind. 

The first and best way you can take care of your mental health is to get enough sleep. The importance of sleep is slept on in the military. (pun intended) Use your time wisely enough where you can block out 8 hours of sleep for yourself.

Think about seeing your co-worker on Monday morning and they look like they haven’t slept all weekend. You ask them how they’re doing. The response you will get 90% of the time is, “I’m doing okay I’m just tired.”

As a supervisor, if my troops responded to me with that, I would tell them that is unacceptable. I would take the time to ask about their sleep patterns, and give them tips to get more high quality sleep.

Follow these tips to get more high quality sleep

  • Try to stay in a routine. Go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time every day to include the weekends.
  • Turn your phone off or put it on do-not-disturb mode before you go to sleep.
  • Turn off the TV and avoid looking at your phone for prolonged periods of time an hour before you go to sleep.
  • Read a book for an hour before your scheduled bedtime in bed. You will learn something new and it will make you sleepy. 
  • Avoid big meals 3 hours prior to going to bed. It will be harder to get to sleep because your stomach will be digesting. 
  • Avoid taking a hot shower an hour before your scheduled bedtime. Your body temperature will be high and you’ll have a hard time falling asleep. 
  • Keep a bottle of water and melatonin by your bed just in case you are still struggling to fall asleep. I will only take half of a melatonin after an hour of not being able to sleep. 
  • Get blackout curtains or find another way to blackout your bedroom. This is a great tip for shift workers. As a young Airman, I would tape aluminum foil over my window.
  • Your routine will have to vary while you’re in the military, but take your weekends and days off to adjust to what your schedule will be for the following week. 
  • Seek the advice from a medical professional and possibly schedule a sleep study if you think you need it.  

It may sound simple, but getting quality sleep is the most important thing you can do for your mental health. If you struggle with anxiety, depression, or PTSD, you should try and see a mental health professional. There is no shame in seeing mental health. They are a great resource. 

Staying mentally fit is absolutely a must in the military. You want your wingman to be just as sharp as you are.

In addition to getting quality sleep, finding a hobby that you enjoy, reading a book that interests you, or watching an episode of your favorite TV show at the end of a long day are other great ways to stay mentaly sharp, motivated, and resilient.  

Physical Health

The common misconception with this pillar of resilience is just staying physically fit to fight. While this is important with this pillar, it requires more than just regular exercise to stay motivated and resilient in the military. 

Professional athletes like football players, bodybuilders, marathon runners, and Olympic swimmers do not spend their entire day training. They follow their training up with things that aid the muscles in recovery like eating a nutritious meal, taking an ice bath, or getting a massage.

My point is that many of us have physically demanding jobs. While we do not have to go all out like a professional athlete, we should take care of our bodies the best we can. 

Follow these do’s and don’ts of taking care of yourself physically. 

  • Do have a regular exercise routine. Tailor it to your needs. For example, if you go on 10 mile rucks during your workday, you do not need a lot of cardio during your workout routine. 
  • Do set yourself a big goal to work towards. Remember to keep it specific, measurable, attainable. relevant, and time based
  • Do drink plenty of water.
  • Do eat high protein meals that will aid in muscle growth and recovery. 
  • Don’t create a dependency on caffeinated drinks like energy drinks or coffee. One a day is more than enough. 
  • Don’t start using tobacco products or quit if you do use them. It creates a dependency that harshly impacts your long term health and your wallet. 
  • Don’t binge drink alcohol to the point where it ruins your whole next day. 

I would highly recommend joining a club of like minded individuals when it comes to physical health. For example, I joined a morning run club a few months ago, and it has really improved my cardiovascular endurance. We share tips when it comes to recovery as well. 

jogging physical fitness military

The bottom line is that you need to do whatever it takes to take care of yourself physically. Listen to your body, set some goals, and get after it. 

Social Health

The social aspect of your health and resilience will vary depending on what stage of life you’re in. It deals with your family members, your friends, and your support system. 

As a newer member of the United States military, you may be missing your family. I know that I did during my first few years of being in the Air Force. Thankfully technology has come a long way in helping us stay connected to our loved ones back home.

Follow these tips to stay connected to your loved ones back home. 

  • Schedule a time to facetime or video chat every week. 
  • Stay in touch through text messages or messenger. 
  • Send them cool pictures of the stuff that you do and are exposed to day in and day out. (just remember OPSEC) 
  • Take leave when you need to. You get 2.5 days a month of leave to use and it adds up fast.
  • Keep your supervisor in the know. If something is going on with your loved ones that is causing you to not perform well at work. Talk to your supervisor. They may give you some time off to deal with it or if the situation is bad enough you may be eligible for emergency leave. 

If you are married, your social pillar of resilience and health will correlate highly with the relationship that you have with your spouse. You could be going through a great part of your marriage where you couldn’t ask for anything to be any better. On the opposite end, you could be going through a hard time and barely hanging on. 

military couple love spiritual health motivation

Follow these tips to keep your family life in a good balance. 

  • Find a way to provide quality time to your spouse and family. This may mean going on a trip for the weekend or just putting the devices away for a nice family dinner. For your spouse, you could surprise them with a dinner date one night. 
  • Surprise them with a gift sometimes. Nothing says I love you like you receiving a gift from someone you love just because they were thinking of you. 
  • Do something special for your spouse sometimes. If you are an early bird like me, clean the house while your spouse is sleeping in. 
  • Give words of affirmation. Telling your spouse that you love them and that they mean the world to you will go a long way. 
  • Show your love through physical touch by kissing your spouse goodbye before you leave for work for the day. 
  • When you go on TDY’s or Deployments, stay connected through text, facetime, or a phone call. Try to not leave them in the dark with what is going on with you. That is a recipe for disaster. 

At work, you may have an awesome unit that you work for and have an abundance of friends. Or you may be struggling to fit in and be a lone wolf. Both instances are okay. 

Follow these tips to increase your social bubble with friends. 

  • Ask questions. Asking questions will help you get to know a person and help you get better at your job too. 
  • Share information about yourself. You may find that you have a common interest. 
  • Join a club. This is a great way to find friends outside of your workcenter. 
  • Try to plan little get-togethers like going bowling, golfing, or a game night. I would not recommend throwing any rager parties. 

Spiritual Health

Spiritual health can keep you motivated and resilient. If you believe in a religion, practice the religion you believe in and find like minded people to associate yourself with. 

For example, my wife and I are Christians and we practice our faith by tuning into a webcast of our home church that we both used to go to, and we read the Bible. 

bible spiritual health motivation

This keeps me motivated because it paints a bigger picture for me. I must keep going on being the best version of myself possible because I am working for the greater good of the world. 

If you are unconvinced or on the fence about Christianity, I would encourage you to read Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

If you are not a religious person, spiritual health can include your core values and your purpose of why you joined the military. 

Stay focused on your goals and your why and it will help you remain motivated and resilient in the military. 

The Enlisted Experience  

We go through some hard times being military members, but the mission goes on and we must stay motivated and resilient to fight. Stay strong. Focus on your mental, physical, social, and spiritual health, and you will get through whatever is challenging you. You will live to fight another day.

Try your best to bring a positive attitude with you to work every day. Remember to keep your supervisors in the know with whatever is going on in your life. You matter and you can do it!

  • The NCO You Never Had

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