- A lack of motivation can have many sources, from fatigue to anxiety to feelings of overwhelm. Identifying the root cause is key to overcoming it.
- Low motivation makes it harder to dive into unpleasant tasks. Start with quick, easy, or satisfying tasks, even if they're not high-priority.
- Once you've warmed up, tackle the work that needs to get done, making sure to take regular breaks and reward yourself for each achievement.
No motivation? You're not alone, especially now. The five steps below can help you overcome the roadblock.
1. Accurately diagnose your feelings.
Many other emotions masquerade as low motivation. If you accurately diagnose your emotions, the path forward will be much clearer.
Your underlying feeling might be:
- Social comparison
If you're overwhelmed, shrink your goal for today until you don't feel overwhelmed. If you are expecting yourself to work for longer than 90-minute blocks, or to get more than three-four hours of highly productive (intensely focused) work done per day, you're potentially psyching yourself out by having unrealistic expectations.
If you're suffering from social comparison, talk to yourself compassionately (explained here). Are you expecting yourself to perform as well as someone who has practiced more than you have?
If you're feeling fatigued, make sure the problem isn't that you've been resting too much. When people feel low, they sometimes rest a lot, and then feel less energetic because of this. (This is easy to do. It actually happened to me over the weekend. There is no shame in it.)
These suggestions don't cover all scenarios, but when you accurately diagnose what you're feeling, you'll likely see a solution.
2. Don't "eat the frog."
The idea of eating the frog refers to doing the task you're least motivated to do first. This can be a great strategy, but if you're feeling low, trying to do your hardest task first can lead to you not getting out of bed.
Ask yourself, "What's the most productive task that is within my capacity right now?" For example, if you'd like to go for a run but you can't get yourself to do that, then going for a walk is better than staying in bed.
3. Do a few minutes of quick but satisfying tasks.
Sometimes you need to warm up into action. To do this, try quick, satisfying tasks, like ordering the vitamins you've run out of, picking up dirty clothes, or changing your sheets.
If you do these tasks too long, they can distract you from more substantial work you need to get done. Five to ten minutes of these types of tasks is great, but don't do in excess of 30 minutes when you have more important things to do. When we overdo busy work, we risk being too tired to start more important work.
4. Plan your reward.
Plan to work on a high-priority task for 90 minutes, then take a break. How do you want to spend your break? Would you like to take a walk or lie out in the sun? Would you like to check a Reddit sub or Slack channel you visit daily? Would you like to message a friend? Would you like to browse swimsuits for a vacation you have coming up? Would you like to do a few minutes of yoga?
Planning and choosing take tremendous mental energy. If you wait to choose what you will do for your break until you're already exhausted from a period of focused work, you may not make a very satisfying choice. Plan your fun from the outset, when you have the cognitive energy to do that. When you choose in advance, you're likely to make a more rewarding choice.
5. Fuel yourself.
Understand how fuel influences your personal concentration, focus, and motivation. Currently, I like drinking electrolyte water in the mornings. Test out what works for you. For example, try eating a high-protein yogurt and see if that gives you the little boost you need. Physical boosts may have meaningful but small effects. For example, they might increase your energy by 10 percent. Small improvements like these can be hard to notice if you're not paying close attention, Consider structured self-experimentation like trying a strategy every day for a week, then no days for a week, and comparing.
Low and no motivation can be a sign of a serious problem like depression or anxiety. For example, for people who are chronically anxious, everything they need to do can feel scary and hard because they're constantly thinking of what could go wrong or ways they're inadequate.
For more serious problems like clinical depression or anxiety, you'll need more than just "tips," but tips like these can be part of the solution. (For more practical ideas along these lines, try this post, which includes a story about how I dealt with low motivation after a major disappointment.)
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