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As a chronic procrastinator with big dreams, my #1 problem always seems to be finding the motivation to work towards my goals after a long day or week of doing the things I have to do. The last thing I want to do after working and running errands is to sit down and do more yet more work, even if it’s important to me. Learning how to get motivated when motivation is the last thing you feel is the key to accomplishing those goal list items that are constantly pushed to tomorrow.
Over the years I’ve developed some tricks to get my brain working when all it wants to do is turn to mush in front of the Netflix box. All of them are ridiculously simple as well! If one method isn’t working for you, move on to a new one until you find the one that works best for you.
10 Tips to Spark Motivation
1) Fake it ‘til you make it
Sometimes all it takes for your brain to settle into work mode is to tell it that’s already in work mode. It sounds absolutely crazy, I know, but simply repeating to yourself that you are SO PUMPED to get started on this project helps signal to your brain to start sending those wake-up vibes to the rest of you.
2) Think of something you’d rather NOT do more
When your brain is playing keep-away with your motivation, playing hardball with it might be necessary. Think of something you’d really rather not do at that moment (clean the stove, run a mile, weed something) and give yourself an ultimatum. Do the thing that you want to do but are having trouble finding the motivation for or do the thing you DON’T want to do instead. A little mental blackmail goes a long way.
3) Ask for help
Find or call a friend or family member and ask them to help pump you up. If you can’t find the motivation on your own, there is no shame in borrowing some from a loved one just to get you started. When all you need is a jumpstart, a spark, to get you going, the fastest and easiest way is to simply ask for help rather than beating yourself up.
4) Take a short break
If you’ve been working hard for a while your motivation will likely start to lag a bit. In this case, taking a short break to walk away from the work and recharge might be all you need. The key is that this break should only include things that take a short amount of time and have a limited ability to distract you completely. Some good choices include getting a snack or drink, a light workout or some stretching, or taking a short nap between 20-45 minutes (anything longer than 45 minutes will be harder to wake up from. This article by the Guardian suggests drinking a caffeinated drink right before taking a 20-minute nap since caffeine takes between 20-30 minutes to start working. You’ll wake up refreshed and ready to dive back in!
5) Remind yourself of your goals
A sure-fire way to get motivated to work some more is to remind yourself WHY this is important. You have big dreams and to reach them you need to get this task done.
6) Give yourself a sense of urgency
Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? It basically states that the amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task. When you give yourself all the time in the world to complete the task you are trying to do, motivation will be hard to come by because there is no sense of urgency in “eventually”. To spark your motivation limit yourself to a smaller window of time. 5 minutes, 30 minutes, 2 hours. This not only gives you the encouragement that you only have to work for that long, but it also encourages efficiency. Just try to be realistic with your time estimates. You are unlikely to start and finish a 20-page paper in 30 minutes no matter how motivated you are.
One of the ways I build this into my daily routine is through time blocking. Time blocking is essentially your to-do list reworked with actionability. You take your priority tasks and give them a specific timeslot in your week that you intend on doing them. This allows you to see right off if you have overestimated how much you can do in a week, as well as allowing you to give yourself a plan of attack. If you are interested in this type of scheduling I wrote a more detailed explanation of this method in Time Blocking Basics.
7) Getting started is good enough
If the thought of how much you need to accomplish is putting you into action paralysis give yourself permission to start out slow. You don’t need to finish everything all at once. Most times simply getting started and working as much as you can will be okay. Getting motivated is much harder than staying motivated in the moment when you’re actually making progress.
When I’m faced with a writing assignment that is kicking my unmotivated self, I make a deal with my brain. Just 500 words or just 1 paragraph or just 1 page, and then I can take a break. Something to get me started so that I have something to hook onto to make motivating myself again, later, easier.
8) The 5-Second Rule of Getting Motivated
The 5 Second Rule is a book by Mel Robbins where she talks about her #1 productivity hack. I highly recommend this to anyone who struggles with motivation as it has helped me more than any other book I have read on the subject. The basic concept is that when you find yourself unwilling to start an activity, give yourself a 5-second countdown (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) and then LAUNCH into it like a rocket. It sounds a little silly, but it really does work to get your blood pumping and your mind aligned with STARTING which, as I said before, is sometimes all you need.
9) Give yourself a reward… or a penalty
This particular tip doesn’t work for me because I have absolutely no self-control, but I was compelled to add it to the list because I’ve seen it work for so many of my friends. If you are the type that is highly motivated by external rewards, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t set a goal completion rewards system up for yourself. A piece of your favorite candy after each page was written or the promise of a nap if you can mop the floor in less than 10 minutes for example.
The reverse could also be true, in that you receive a penalty for every time you don’t do something you are struggling with. A dollar automatically donated to an organization that you disagree with every time you don’t wake up early to go exercise for example. This ties in with the mental blackmail I talked about earlier.
An important note though: make sure that the reward that you choose doesn’t go against the goal that you are trying to achieve. For example, rewarding yourself with an entire cake because you stuck to your diet for a month won’t help you in the long run. You’ll still be craving that cake all month. Instead, think of something that will propel you on your fitness journey instead like maybe splurging on the healthy sweets alternatives that the fitness bloggers always talk about but that would be outside of your budget on a regular basis. Or maybe a new pair of running shoes to help literally propel you to your next fitness goal.
10) Break down the task into parts
If the task is large and imposing, see if you can break it down into smaller parts. Giving yourself a smaller goal, reducing overwhelm, can sometimes be all your brain needs to get the motivation going. This ties in handily with just getting started. The other benefit of this is that by breaking down the task, you also create the basics of a plan of attack. Having a plan and knowing more concretely the small steps you need to take can sometimes be all you need to get excited about starting.
Bonus: Preventative Care
My best tip I saved for last. Simply taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do to get and maintain motivation for the hard things in life. This includes things like:
- Drinking plenty of water
- Getting between 7-8 hours of rest a night
- Eating healthy foods
- Exercising regularly
- Literally all the things your mom friend and your doctor have been telling you for FOREVER
Being motivated is something that you will constantly have to work on. It will rarely show up on its own in the times that you really need it. Using these 10 tips though, you will be able to wrangle it enough to get some serious work done. On YOUR terms. Just remember: if one tip isn’t working for you, just move on to a different one. Sometimes it takes a couple tries to find a method that sparks your motivation at that moment.
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