Tag Archives: motivation

How to get motivated when you’re not feeling it

Reasons for low motivation can include:

Avoidance of discomfort.
Sometimes a lack of motivation stems from a desire to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Discomfort could include feelings that a task is too hard, too big, too exhausting, or too complicated (task expectations that are not clearly laid out are one of the biggest motivation killers). Feelings of distress or task aversion are one of THE most common reasons for de-motivation.

Repetitive everyday tasks are often avoided. From doing dishes, laundry, to cleaning up after the kids, every single day feels like Groundhog Day. It feels never-ending. For students, the parallel is ‘busywork’, such as repetitive homework.

When you think you can’t do something—or just don’t know how to get it done. When you lack the tools, skills, or even the training to get it done, it can be very un-motivating.

Being over-extended.
When you are juggling a lot in life, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed. You may not even know what to tackle first and this feeling can zap your motivation.

Procrastination has a positive correlation with perfectionism. Often, perfectionists have difficulty starting or staying on task because the internalized goal of doing it perfectly feels so hard to meet.

Executive Functioning Weaknesses.
Executive function is mediated by the frontal lobe, the conductor of the brain or the Head Chef. What appears to be low motivation is sometimes a direct result of difficulties with planning, organizing, sustained effort, attention, processing speed,  prioritizing, and self monitoring. If you have a bunch of talented musicians who can’t work together in an orchestra, the result is a jarring cacophony of sound no matter the skill level. Learn more: What Is Executive Functioning?

Lack of commitment to a goal.
Agreeing to a task simply because you felt obligated, may mean your heart really isn’t in it. And you are less likely to take action when you aren’t committed to your goal.

Mental health issues.
A lack of motivation is a common symptom of depression. It can also be linked to other mental illnesses, like anxiety. So it’s important to consider whether your mental health may be affecting your motivation level. Read more on how mental health can sap your motivation.

Strategies for Motivation That Work
One Goal.
Probably the most common mistake that people make with regard to motivation: they try to take on too much, try to accomplish too many goals at once. You cannot maintain energy and focus (the two most important things in accomplishing a goal) if you are trying to do two or more goals at once. You have to choose one goal, for now, and focus on it completely.

Find inspiration.
Inspiration can come from all over: clients, mentors, friends, entrepreneurs, colleagues. Read blogs, books, magazines,  Watch movies and shows, talk to people. Write down ideas that you find inspiring. Having an inspiration journal is a boon when it feels like your mind is blank.

Ask for help.
Having trouble? Ask for help. Join an online forum. Talk to a colleague or friend you trust.  Find somebody who can coach you through the rough bits. Having an executive coach or emotion coach can get you back on your feet.

Reward Yourself.
Create small rewards for yourself that you can earn for your hard work. You might find focusing on the reward helps you stay motivated to reach your goals. For example, if you have a long paper to write for a class or a work assignment, you might tackle it in several different ways: Consider whether you are likely to be more motivated by smaller, more frequent rewards or a bigger reward for a complete job. You may want to experiment with a few different strategies until you discover an approach that works best for you.

Use the 10-Minute Rule.
When you dread doing something, like walking on the treadmill for three mile or lifting weights for 30 minutes, you may lack motivation to do it. You can reduce your feelings of dread by breaking it up into short components.  The 10-minute rule can help you get going. Give yourself permission to quit a task after 10 minutes. When you reach the 10-minute mark, ask yourself if you want to keep going or quit. Life, 10 minutes at a time.

Break it down.
I work with a lot of students, researchers, and writers. Having to write or produce a large amount of material is a daunting task for most people.  Learning how to break down a large project or paper into smaller steps, each with its own deadline, requires practice. One of the largest factors in motivation is feeling overwhelmed by the huge-ness of a task.

Ebb and Flow.
Motivation is not a constant thing that is always there for you. It comes and goes. But realize that while it may go away, it usually doesn’t do so permanently. Be patient with yourself on bad days.

Start small.
If you are having a hard time getting started, it may be because you’re thinking too big. If you want to exercise, for example, you may be thinking that you have to do these intense workouts 5 days a week. Do small, tiny, baby steps. Just do 5 minutes of exercise. Organize one cupboard or drawer.  Want to wake up early? Don’t think about waking at 5 a.m. Instead, think about waking 10 minutes earlier for a week. That’s all. Baby steps are powerful. Just think about it, a tiny human learning to walk. That’s a powerhouse.

Manage Your To-Do List.
First of all, it’s impossible to keep everything in your head. When some of my students or clients tell me it’s all up there, I just nod politely. No matter how great your memory, something will slip through the cracks. Having a list is not optional.

It’s tough to feel motivated when your to-do list is overwhelming. If you feel like there’s no hope in getting everything done, you might not try to do anything. Keep in mind that most people underestimate how long something will take them. And when they don’t get it done on time, they might view themselves as lazy or inefficient. This can backfire by causing them to lose motivation, which makes it even harder to get more things done.

Take a look at your to-do list, and determine if it’s too long. If so, get rid of tasks that aren’t essential. See if other tasks can be moved to a different day. Prioritize the most important things on the list, and move those to the top. I like keeping separate notebooks, for tasks that are essential and those that are long-term. You can further divide both categories into work deadlines, social commitments, family commitments, self-care,  and academic or educational endeavors. I actually like to use different color pens for each area. The important thing is to break your to do list down into components that are actually possible or else you will have the same long list day after day.

Mindfulness and Self-Care.
You’ll struggle with motivation as long as you aren’t caring for yourself. Sleep-deprivation, poor nutrition, stress/worry, and lack of leisure time are just a few things that can make trudging through the day more difficult than ever. Learn more about Mindfulness and Self-care.

The Pillars of Self-Care.

    • Exercise regularly.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Drink water, and eat a healthy diet.
    • Make time for leisure and fun.
    • Use healthy coping skills to deal with stress.
    • Find meaningful social connection.
    • Avoid unhealthy habits, like binge eating and drinking too much alcohol.
    • Seek professional help as needed.

Get support.
It’s hard to accomplish something alone. A landmark study in 2016 (Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology) found that not feeling alone was an incredibly potent variable in motivation. Researchers gave out an impossible task, that is, it had no actual solution. The participants were split into two groups and given a complex puzzle to complete. People in one group were told they’d be working in teams, and were introduced to their teammates before being sent off to work on the puzzle alone. The other team was told they’d be working alone, and didn’t meet any teammates. While working on the puzzle, those in the team group were given handwritten notes supposedly from their teammates (they were actually from the researchers). These notes, and the process of meeting their teammates before starting the puzzle had an impact on their experience, despite the fact that they were working on the puzzle all alone, just as those in the non-team group were.

The participants who felt like they were part of a team, worked 50% longer on trying to solve the puzzle. They also reported finding the puzzle more fun and more interesting than participants who didn’t have teammates. The mere idea that one is working with a group and not alone can increase intrinsic motivation, that is, an inner drive to finish the work and increased internal satisfaction working persistently.  Read: How to Ask for Help Without Feeling Weird.

State Your Mantra.
Print out your goal in words. Make your goal just a few words long, like a mantra (“Exercise 15 mins. Daily”), and post it up on your wall or refrigerator. Post it at home and work. Put it on your computer desktop, bathroom mirror, and cell phone. You want to have real reminders about your goal, to keep your focus and keep your excitement going. Learn more about Mantras.

Pair a Dreaded Task With Something You Enjoy.
Our emotions play a major role in motivation level. If you’re sad, bored, lonely, scared, or anxious, your desire to tackle a tough challenge or complete a tedious task will suffer. Boost your mood by adding a little fun to something you’re not motivated to do. You’ll feel happier and you might even look forward to doing the task when it’s regularly paired with something fun.

Here are some examples:

  • Listen to music while you run.
  • Call a friend, and chat while you’re cleaning the house.
  • Light a scented candle while you’re working on your computer.
  • Rent a luxury vehicle when you travel for business.
  • Invite a friend to run errands with you.
  • Listen to audiobooks or interesting podcasts while commuting.
  • Turn on your favorite show while you’re folding laundry.

Give yourself a time out.
Giving yourself breaks throughout a large task can be very energizing. The average person can only sustain attention for30 to 45 minutes and often less. Get up, stretch, move, see below.

Include physical movement.
Although you might be getting ready to do something that’s not physical, like working at a desk, your schedule routine should include some movement. Exercise oxygenates your brain and can do wonders for your motivation and energy.

Get outside.
Walking or spending time in nature can be very beneficial. A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that walking half a mile through a park or working in a garden for thirty minutes reduces brain fatigue.

Write it down.
Numerous studies have shown that you are more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. A guided day planner with a daily list of goals will give you the motivation to achieve your objectives step-by-step. When you know what steps to take to achieve your goals and you see them in writing, you’re more likely to get motivated to complete them.

Practice Self-Compassion.
You might think being hard on yourself is the key to getting motivated. But harsh self-criticism doesn’t work. Research shows that self-compassion is actually much more motivating, especially when you are struggling with adversity. For example, a 2011 study conducted by researchers at the University of California found that self-compassion increases the motivation to recover from failure. After failing a test, students spent more time studying when they spoke to themselves kindly. Additionally, they reported greater motivation to change their weaknesses when they practiced self-acceptance (a key component of self-compassion). Self-compassion may also improve mental health (which can increase motivation). Having a kind inner dialogue is a key component of avoiding discouragement, the motivation killer. Learn more about Self-Compassion

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