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Maintain Motivation As A Vet - Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

Being a vet can be exhausting. Endless cases, high workloads, and demanding clients. Sometimes it can all just get a bit much. And when you are at the end of your tether, maintaining motivation as a vet can feel like an impossible task.

But the reality is that people who can self-motivate set themselves apart from the rest of the population. Although these endlessly motivated people can be quite annoying (where do they get the energy from?), in this article, we show you exactly how they do it.

Let’s Talk About The Reward-Effort Ratio

Before we discuss motivation, let’s discuss the reward-effort ratio.

The reward-effort ratio is what determines all motivation. On a basic level, motivation is determined by the incentive and effort needed to earn it. In other words, if you feel that a job’s effort outweighs that of the payoff, you are far less likely to do it.

A big problem in veterinary medicine is that many professionals feel as if this balance is skewed. Although many love working with animals, the effort required to do so can tilt this equation out of their favor. This is a big driver of staff turnover¹ and dissatisfaction in the profession.

Knowing this, what are some of the ways vets can maintain motivation in their lives?

Accept That Motivation Comes In Ebbs And Flows

The first thing you need to accept is that you’re NOT always going to feel motivated. And you know what – that’s ok!

This may seem a bit redundant, but feeling unmotivated (on occasion) is normal. To get out of this ‘funk’, you need to rebalance your internal effort-reward ratio. One way of doing this is by appreciating the small wins.

A small win requires little effort but makes you feel good.

An example of a small win could be calling a client back on time or leaving work on time. It may also take the form of reading through a few thank you cards that clients sent you to remind you that the work you do matters.

Whatever it is, reaching for these little markers can rebalance your reward-effort ratio, re-energizing you.

One thing to note is that during the earlier stages of your career, the reward-effort ratio is intrinsically imbalanced against you.

This is because as a new grad, your skills and experience are lower so things feel a lot harder. The effort side of the ratio is higher and the rewards less frequent.

Awareness of this, however, is crucial as it is with ongoing commitment and training a temporary situation. Those that do not appreciate this, risk spiraling into an unmotivated career crisis.

New grads struggling with this would be well advised to invest in skills that reduce the effort required or the resistance in their work. Such skills include familiarising themselves with where equipment lives in the practice, learning protocols for common problems, learning who the best people to ask for help are, and of course, building up their non-clinical skills.

While this increases learning effort in the short-term, in the long-term, it will make practice life a lot easier – and therefore pleasurable.

Recognize The Value Of Goal Setting

Having concrete goals can be great for motivation.

As vets, we often see many of the same cases, making the work feel endless. This can feel demotivating because there rarely is an end goal in sight. One way to overcome this is by setting short and medium-term career development goals that excite you.

Such goals need to be measurable and realistic. Saying you’re going to ‘be a better vet’, for example, is not a good goal. It’s far too vague.

Ideally, goals must be driven by intrinsic needs rather than extrinsic ones. Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivators can be described as:

Intrinsic motivators - These motivators directly satisfy your basic psychological needs. They tend to be better than extrinsic motivators, as they are innately pleasurable to pursue.

Examples include:

– A desire to help animals

– A need to feel valued

– A desire to grow and learn

Extrinsic motivators - These motivators focus on outcomes that indirectly meet our basic needs. Since they do not directly impact well-being, they can be weaker motivators.

Examples include:

– A good income

– A desire not to fail or disappoint others (often a driver for perfectionists)

– Career progression or title²

To create goals based on intrinsic motivations, outline actions that give you pleasure at work. Consider how to formulate this desire into a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timed (SMART).

Once completed, you’ll have a list of intrinsic goals to work towards!

Don’t Neglect Extrinsic Drivers

Not everyone loves their job just for ‘the feels’ – we get it. So intrinsic goals may not always be enough.

If this is the case, you may want to set yourself some extrinsic goals. Or at least a mixture.

But be warned, extrinsic only goals tend not to result in the best level of motivation or long-term positive outcomes.

To create goals based on extrinsic motivators, consider how your goals can indirectly meet your needs. Whether it’s working hard to get a promotion or managing your time better so you can spend more time with your family, as long as it is SMART, it can be a great goal.

Preserve Your Energy

It is pretty hard to motivate yourself when you’re exhausted.

Being tired (both physically and mentally) makes everything harder, maximizing effort and killing motivation.

To venture back onto the right path, you must first tackle feelings of depletion.

Start small. Make sure that you are meeting your basic needs and physically resting enough.

That should provide the space needed to then think about a worthy goal.

If you feel more depleted than simply needing a break, you may be in burnout territory. If so, then evaluate what stage of burnout you are at and learn how to handle it.

Recovering from burnout takes time. So relax, be kind to yourself, and as you become more balanced, your motivation will return.

Words Of Warning

One thing to avoid is inadvertently negatively reinforcing your thoughts or behaviors.

For example, if you persistently reward yourself with treats outside of work, you may create a paradox in your mind whereby work equals bad and your free time equals good³.

Recognize thought patterns or stories that arise in your mind that leave you feeling deflated or lacking the desire to go to work. The belief that clients are ‘bad’ is one such example.

Finally, beware of time spent listening to others who are also unmotivated. Time spent on social media or listening to vets not having a great time is unlikely to help do anything other than deepen your misery.

Maximize What You Love

In an ideal world, we’d wake up every morning with a zest for life, ready to take on the day.

But in reality, motivation comes in ebbs and flows. Some days we might feel on top of the world, and others, ready to hibernate under our covers.

The key to keeping a good level of motivation is finding aspects of your work you love- and maximizing this. This will make your ‘off’ days feel a lot less tiresome.

Are you a new grad in need of career guidance?


1- ‘Retention, motivation, and satisfaction – British Veterinary Association.’ 1 Nov. 2018, Accessed 30 Jul. 2021.

2- ‘Expanding the Map of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Aspirations … – Frontiers.’ 11 Oct. 2019, Accessed 4 Aug. 2021.

3- ‘How to Keep Working When You’re Just Not Feeling It.’ Accessed 30 Jul. 2021.


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