Solving The Motivation Problem
Almost everyone I speak to at the moment - friends, colleagues and clients alike - seems to be having a motivation problem. Whether it's the furlough funk, lockdown lows or overwork woes, it seems no-one is spared.
It really isn't surprising that so many of us are feeling this way, and of course this problem isn't a new one or limited to a lockdown situation, unfortunately. The good news is that there are things that can help, so keep reading to discover my top 9 motivation tips.
This advice is generic and not a replacement for individual therapy. Not all the tips will work for you - take what you need and leave what you don't. Low motivation can be a symptom of depression and other mental health concerns; please seek support if you think this might be the case for you.
Last thing I want to say before we get to the tips is that: it is winter. We are not really meant to be dashing about at 100 miles an hour right now. Nature is resting, gathering it's energy ready for Spring. We are part of nature. Please bear that in mind.
TIP 1: Don't wait to feel motivated.
The no1 mistake I see people make around motivation is waiting to feel it before they do something. Maybe this has happened for you in the past, but if you're slumped on your sofa waiting for the mood to hit you, you may be there a while! The truth is that motivation follows action - it's a bit like cycling, you build momentum once you get going.
You don't want to be forcing yourself to do stuff, but you do need to encourage yourself to 'just do it' even when it feels easier not to. It's important to be firm but kind with yourself - doing this without self compassion is not going to improve things.
TIP 2: Consider your future self.
Hopefully this tip will help with tip 1; when we're struggling to motivate our selves in the moment, it can help to think about how we will feel when we've completed the task. Knowing that later today - perhaps even in a really short amount of time - you'll feel glad you did go for that walk/do the washing up/start that project/send that tricky email etc can inspire you to get going. It's not just the accomplished task you're aiming for but the sense of satisfaction of doing it. The other way to look at this is that you want to avoid the feeling of regret later that you didn't do the thing. Be kind to future (even if that's in 30 minutes time) you and consider how they want to feel.
TIP 3: Self awareness & curiosity
Instead of criticising yourself for not being motivated, can you get curious about what's actually going on for you? What is it that you're really avoiding? Maybe you've set your expectations too high so you give up before you really get going. It could be that the things you're telling yourself you should be doing aren't really what's important to you. Perhaps you're genuinely exhausted.
You could try journaling, meditation or talking it through to help you process what's going on.
Example: I'm currently doing some studying that requires me to do some written work. Although I'm really interested in the topic, I noticed I was having a hard time actually sitting down to do it. Whilst exploring this with my mentor I identified that one of the problems was my own imagination; when I thought of what it would be like to do this work I imagined sitting down in a tidy study, having just been out for a long walk, with nothing else on my to-do list (ha!). Unfortunately, my days don't really look like that (and we're in the process of redecorating the study) so I'd unconsciously decided not to do the work because it couldn't be how I imagined. Now I'm aware of that I've adapted my mindset to a more realistic one and accepted that it's not ideal but that I will start writing anyhow. The take away: don't wait for things to be 'perfect' or ideal before doing whatever it is you need to do.
TIP4: Make it easy for yourself
It's so often the little barriers that trip us up. Luckily, with a little awareness and planning we can do something about it. Say you want to go running first thing in the morning - make sure you put your running gear - clothes, watch, headphones, trainers etc - near your bed ready to put on when you wake up. Not knowing where my leggings are or the fact my yoga mat is in the car are the kind of daft things that have stopped me doing my morning practice.
What do you need - physically and emotionally - to be able to do the thing(s) you want to do? Start with gathering these before you expect yourself to 'get on with it'.
TIP 5: Be mindful of your thoughts
It's really important that you know that your thoughts are not facts. They're just thoughts. Sometimes they are helpful, other times quite the opposite. If you are going around telling yourself "I can't be bothered", "I won't be able to do it", and "I'm so lazy" then it's going to be even harder to cultivate motivation. We can't control which thoughts come into our minds but we can choose how we respond to them, Look up 'growth mindset' and see how you could switch your negative, fixed thoughts for more helpful ones.
Tip 6: Recharge
You can't run on empty. Sometimes we don't feel motivated because we are depleted, either physically, mentally, or both. Did you know there are 7 types of rest? Frontline workers and others working full time through the pandemic are likely to be feeling mentally and physically drained. Those on furlough might be feeling emotionally and spiritually depleted. Recognising what kind of recharge you need might help you top up your battery so you can keep going. During lockdown this can be really difficult; for example, travel is a big source of inspiration and emotional energy for me and simply isn't available at the moment. So just do your best with what you have and amend your expectations - it might be too much to ask yourself to be at 100% capacity right now.
TIP 7: Notice your progress
It's an unfortunate tendency of the human brain to focus on what is yet to be accomplished and what we haven't done over what we have already achieved and how far we've come. However, we can override this negative bias by making a conscious effort to recognise our achievements. I have a notebook where I record positive moments and career wins; I look at it when I'm having a low confidence day and it helps a lot. Making a 'have done' list is another idea that might work for you. Having a conversation with family over dinner (or whatsapp with friends) about what went well that day is another nice way to feel more positive and motivated. You could try the 3 good things practice to improve your mindset.
TIP 8: Move your body
Low motivation can be a symptom of your nervous system in a hypo-arousal state - this is the 'freeze' response where you feel numb, disconnected and stuck. A simple way to start bringing yourself out of this is physical movement - this doesn't have to be high intensity exercise, it could be dancing in your kitchen, going for a walk and engaging your senses, a few yoga stretches or just some star jumps - anything to get your heart rate up a bit and perhaps give you some endorphins. Even just getting up and moving around the room can help shift your mindset.
TIP 9: Know your why
If you don't really feel connected with your intention - your why- then you will struggle to either get going or keep going. Doing something because of a vague sense that you "should" or because so-and-so is doing it? That's not going to work I'm afraid, or feel very satisfying. This isn't a 'quick fix' but in my experience, if you don't get to the root of the issue it will keep coming back up to bite you in the bum. Your why doesn't have to be profound, by the way, it can be mundane like "I need to do the laundry because otherwise I won't have clean pants for tomorrow and that will make me feel rubbish". If it's a bigger task or something that takes time to do then start by asking yourself why you want or need to do it? How will it feel? What purpose does it serve in your life?
These can be big questions so don't pressure yourself, practice self compassion and talk to a friend, mentor, life coach or therapist if you want some support.
I hope these help! Do get in touch to let me know how you've got on and please share this with anyone who might need it.