The Importance of Motivation

Outside of surgical interventions, a person’s motivation is the single biggest factor that determines the success level of their rehabilitation. Many stroke survivors have difficulty staying motivated during the weeks and months that follow a stroke. The time following a stroke is critical for your brain to begin to heal and to create new neuropathways.

During the rehab phase, it’s important for stroke survivors to actively take part in their rehab sessions, continue working on their own and stay as mentally and physically active as possible during the remaining hours. However, research has shown that this is often not the case. Stroke survivors point to a lack of motivation as the single biggest reason why their active participation in the recovery process slows as time marches on.

This article will dissect the root cause of this lack of motivation and includes tips and tricks to help you avoid the low motivation trap that many find themselves in. Rest assured that it’s a common problem and if you suffer from low motivation you can take heart in the fact that you can alter these feelings. If you have had a stroke and currently have high motivation then congratulations, however, read this article and watch for the warning signs and employ as many of the tricks as possible. You can never have too much motivating ammunition on your road to recovery.

The Convergence of a Loss and Trying to be Motivated

If you have suffered a stroke and have been adversely affected by the stroke, then you have incurred a loss. As we know with losses of a loved one, losses can be both devastating and debilitating. However, stroke survivors have to mourn their loss and begin extensive rehabilitation simultaneously. For many people, this becomes too much to bear, and they lose motivation. Without properly grieving your loss it will be almost impossible to move on with your life. You will sentence yourself to an endless loop of negative thoughts in your head, and you will find it extremely difficult to be an active participant in the crucial work that lies ahead.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler did their research on the five stages of grief after a loss. Most of us are familiar with the importance of properly grieving a loss. However, most associate an important loss to the death of a loved one and not to the loss of one’s abilities. The five stages of grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance. They are not necessarily linear, and not everyone goes through all of them or in the same order. It is important to understand the value of acknowledging that grieving is an important element of wellness. There is an inherent danger in avoiding the grieving process just as there is a danger in remaining stuck in one of the phases of grief.

You should acknowledge your loss and try to move forward on the grieving spectrum. The ultimate goal should be to get to acceptance and at this point; you will be able to dedicate heart and soul into your recovery process.

The denial phase usually passes with time. The reality of your situation is usually enough to help you recognize what has happened to you. Once you realize this, you can move on.

The anger phase of grief can be a trap for many people, and they may find it impossible to escape. Naturally, the inability to escape anger will become a huge impediment on both your motivation and recovery. There is no magic bullet to help you get through anger other than shifting your thought patterns. Changing the way you think about your stroke can help to lessen your anger. It’s important to both accept that you have anger and that it is not going to help you recover. It’s also important to note that you have suffered a brain injury and your brain has changed. A changed brain can alter your moods and emotions, and this might increase your sense of anger.

Bargaining is an important phase and might offer the first glimpse of your path to acceptance. Bargaining involves an if/then proposal. It might be to a higher power, to members of your rehab team, a friend or family member or yourself. Bargaining may involve feelings of guilt or remorse. You might feel regretful for not accomplishing the things in your life you wanted to before your stroke and now feel robbed of those chances. At this point, you would do anything possible to return to a time before your stroke. This stage will pass, and you will come to realize that you are responsible for your recovery.

Depression is a very real threat after strokes. Depression robs you of all motivation. Feeling down after a stroke is quite normal, and most stroke survivors will go through a natural low period. However, depression is much different than feeling down. It is a day in day out pervasive feeling of hopelessness. If you show any signs of depression, you will need professional help. Consult with your physician for services that are available to you. Family, friends and your rehab team should watch for signs of depression and seek professional help. It’s important to remember that depression is a highly treatable condition but only if you get the necessary resources to help.

Finally, acceptance of your stroke is the last and ultimately most important phase of the grief process. Without acceptance, you will never be able to create the new you. Suffering a stroke is life-altering, however, so too can a successful stroke recovery be life-altering. Moving forward means accepting your situation and working hard to make it better. Acceptance offers hope for the future and the drive to get there. If you have accepted your stroke, then you must take great care to not slip back into the previous stages of grief. Remain vigilant and make sure that you have only one direction and that is forward.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation comes from within; it occurs when the drive to achieve an outcome is completely fostered by your desire to achieve this outcome. Extrinsic motivation is when your motivation comes from an external source, it can be a monetary reward, the approval of others or some other external reason for wanting to achieve a goal. Research has shown that intrinsic motivation is more powerful and ultimately more successful than extrinsic motivation. However, in motivating a stroke survivor, both forms of motivation have proven to be powerful motivating forces and one should consider to use them in conjunction with each other.

You can boost your level of intrinsic motivation, but you need to dig deep inside and focus on what is important to you. Ask yourself what do you want to achieve. It might be to focus on your loved ones, whether it’s your spouse, children, grandkids or friends. Imagine what it would mean to them if you could regain some of your abilities. Close your eyes and imagine the future you, doing the things you loved to do and enjoying time with those you love. Keep this picture in your mind and focus on working towards that future you. The power resides inside of you.

In a collection of 17 different studies on the benefits of external motivating techniques, all of the results concluded that external motivation benefits a stroke survivor. Video games, virtual reality, robotic training and other electronic games all proved to be effective in increasing stroke survivors adherence to their rehabilitation program.

Using both intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation is the key to maximizing your chances of staying on track and avoiding a collapse in motivation during your rehabilitation.

Surround Yourself with Positivity

Your environment has a very big effect on your recovery. It is not only important for the stroke survivor to have a positive attitude towards recovery it’s equally important that the people that surround them do as well. Your environment includes everyone who spends time with you on a daily and weekly basis.

Your rehab team may provide excellent service. However, your team’s attitude is equally important. If a member of your team doesn’t motivate you or creates a negative environment, then you need to replace them. Everyone working on your behalf needs to be a source of motivation.

Your loved ones have an understandably difficult task. They have been thrust into a new role as caregiver and also charged with picking up the slack around the home. However, they also have the job as a chief motivator. If you are a loved one of a stroke survivor, do your best to keep your loved one positive and motivated.

Make sure to surround yourself with friends and relations that will help to encourage a positive attitude. Seek out people who make you want to keep investing time in your recovery.

Everyone who touches your life will have either a positive or negative force in your motivation. Surround yourself with people who both have a positive attitude and help to foster a positive attitude within you.

Family of a stroke survivor
” It’s important to stay social after a stroke. Interacting with friends boosts your mood and feeds your motivation. “

The Importance of Staying Social

Strokes affect almost every aspect of a survivor’s life. A survivor’s social life is no exception, and many stroke survivors shrink from their previous levels of social interactions. There is a multitude of reasons why this might be the case. Low self-esteem is a leading reason. Emotional reactions vary among survivors, and these reactions might depend on whether you are a right or left hemispheric stroke survivor.

Left hemisphere stroke survivors often suffer a greater emotional impact and experience lower self-esteem as a result of their stroke. Lower self-esteem can lead to avoidance of social situations. Social isolation can lead to depression and depression will zap you of all of your motivation.

Stroke survivors often feel diminished by the effects of their stroke. They avoid social setting to avoid humiliation and ridicule. It’s important to note that these are perceptions that are often far removed from reality.

It’s important to stay social after a stroke. Interacting with friends boosts your mood and feeds your motivation. No matter where you live there is a stroke survivors group available to you. These groups are often referred to as lifesavers by many stroke survivors. Join a group and attend their meetings and get-togethers. Survivor groups offer an abundance of benefits to a stroke survivor. You can share experiences and gain emotional support from the group. Over time the social aspect of the group setting will give you confidence in the other areas of your social life.

Being social was an important part of your life before your stroke. By returning to your social norms, you can boost your mood and help to increase your self-esteem. Don’t wait for others to contact you, reach out and be the first to start the dialogue.

Staying Active Outside of Rehab

Many stroke survivors fall into the trap of staying inactive between appointments, and this naturally leads to a decline in physical abilities and cognitive functions. It’s important to stay active given the restrictions on your abilities. Develop a schedule of activities throughout your day allowing for necessary downtime as well. It can be very easy to settle into a nasty habit of waiting; for the next appointment, the next meal, the next phone call. It is much better to be proactive, plan your day, try and achieve something meaningful and be satisfied with your accomplishments no matter how big or small.           

Appreciating What You Have

No matter what situation we find our life in, it’s always important to take some time to appreciate what we have. Appreciating the good in your life is always important. However, it is substantially more important in the lives of stroke survivors. Think about your loved ones and what your recovery means to them. Try and immerse your thoughts into the love you have for them and the love they have for you. Recovering for others can be a very powerful motivator.

Find joy in the things that make you happy. Do you like gardening, sports, music, animals, art or some other special interest? Immerse yourself into your passion. Feel connected to the things that use to make you happy. Staying positive and joyful is the secret to staying motivated.

You will naturally have to alter the way you may have participated in your passion if your stroke has restricted you physically. However, by maintaining a passion for things you once loved, you will be stoking a very powerful motivating force inside of you.


Our minds have an incredible ability to store information about past experiences. Whether you road a motorcycle, bike or drove a car. Whatever activity you once did naturally you may have lost the ability to execute. However, even if you can no longer perform that task due to the limitation imposed on you by your stroke, your mind still remembers how to perform these tasks. Research has shown that by simply visualizing an action that once was automatic can have both a positive effect on regaining some movement and also act as a very powerful motivator.

Ways to Stay Motivated After a Stroke

  1. Never give up. Stroke recovery may last years and every day is a chance to get better. Even if you feel that you have plateaued, most likely are wrong, push through and tell yourself tomorrow is another chance to recover some more.
  2. Find the best, most motivating team of professionals that you can. Do not be afraid to change your team members if they no longer inspire you to get better.
  3. Set honest and realistic goals. Focus on incrementally improving on a week to week basis. You may have dips in your progress but setting goals along the way will help to focus you on staying on track.
  4. Focus on the process and not the outcome. Setting your mind on long-term goals is a recipe for disappointment. Staying in the present and focusing on the small things can feed your motivation on a daily basis.
  5. Make sure that you have grieved properly. It’s important to understand that you have suffered a loss and that grieving that loss is important in moving beyond the loss. Without a proper grieving process you run the risk of getting stuck in a grieving phase, and you may lack the ability to move forward.
  6. Surround yourself with positive and emotionally supportive people. Whether they are family or friends, the people are around you matter a great deal to your motivation and ultimately your recovery. Cut out the deadwood and encourage those who encourage you to spend more time with you.
  7. Stay social. We are social animals, we thrive in the company of others, however, many stroke survivors shelter themselves after a stroke. Don’t make this mistake because being social is a very powerful motivator. The best thing you can do is to join a group of stroke survivors in your town. They will collectively help you to push yourself forward in your recovery.
  8. Use visualization as a powerful tool to help your body go where your mind wants. Learn how to visualize outcomes in your recovery, and this will help your mind to set a path for recovery.
  9. Spend your idle time wisely. The time in between physio appointments, meals, social encounters is often time wasted by stroke survivors. Don’t make this mistake, fill your idle time with activities that make you happy.  Your motivation will improve dramatically when your days feel fulfilled and worthwhile.
  10. Appreciate all that you have. You survived a stroke and remind yourself that unfortunately, not everyone does. If you focus on what makes you happy and what you still have around you, then you will have a deep and profound motivational force to go through the tough times.
  11. Use every external motivating trick you can find. There is a large assortment of commercially available motivationally items that can help you stay motivated. There are video games, apps, brain-building exercises that have all been proven to improve motivation and enhance recovery. Use whatever means you can to enhance your motivation.
  12. Remember there is a better you inside and it is ultimately up to you to bring that person out.​​​​​​​


You are the single most important person in your recovery process. It does not matter if you have a supportive spouse, great family members, incredibly supportive friends or the best rehab team in the world. If you are not motivated, then none of it matters. Take the necessary steps to employ these important tips for staying motivated. You owe it to yourself and those that love you dearly.

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