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10 Ways to Get Motivated During the Pandemic

Proactive steps to take control in tough times.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a jolt to every aspect of our existence—and that can seem numbing at times. But now is a good time to take proactive steps that will help you regain motivation in your personal and professional life.

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It’s been several weeks now, but this is not the new normal yet. To many, it’s a dystopian, dark version of Groundhog Day … and the rules are changing daily. It's natural for such a chaotic situation to cause physical and mental lethargy. Behind the reduced initiative are powerful emotions:

1. Fear. Some of the wide-ranging questions COVID has triggered:

  • In the short term: How will this affect my career and finances? When will this be over? When can I see my family and friends? Will I get sick? What will life be like once the lockdown is lifted? The implications and questions are endless. Financial and health worries, on top of a lack of normalcy for everything comfortable, are causing immense anxiety and self-reflection.
  • In the long term: Will this happen again? How can I be better prepared in the future? What can I learn from this?

2. Isolation. The shelter in place phenomenon has triggered a range of challenges. For many, being sequestered from colleagues, friends and family members is beyond stressful, as it’s contrary to finding satisfaction as a human being. While it has bonded families and created a unique opportunity to finally slow down and smell the roses, for others, it's claustrophobic, with limited personal space.

Technology has helped society cope with the impact, partially bridging the gap and reminding us that “we’re all in this together.” Still, social media can provide too convenient an escape from the crisis—pushing aside personal or professional obligations.

3. Lack of focus. Headlines, changing sometimes by the hour, dictate how, when and where we can walk, talk and even breathe in public. It’s no wonder productivity can plummet amid the constant distraction and disruption to our routine. Letting go of control isn’t easy, yet it’s a must-have skill set at the moment. It’s time to realize what you can control.

Being at the whim of this cyclone can make you feel helpless and detached from everything that makes up your well-being. But if you look, there are some silver linings, on a macro and micro level. From a personal perspective, you do have the choice to manage your life, even if in small ways. Some ideas:

1. Create a schedule. Having some semblance of a daily plan will empower you. Set your agenda the night before, knowing it’s flexible. At least you’ll have a starting point for the next day—and it will help you stay driven.

2. Separate work from your personal life. Working remotely is new to many, so discipline is the word of the day. Get up, get dressed, get your space organized and remind yourself that you’re ultimately in control of your waking hours (as hard as that seems right now). Look professional even if you're casual for those Zoom meetings.

Avoid the temptation to read the headlines first thing. Instead, jot down your intentions for the day as your “starter engine.” Commit to doing your personal chores on non-business hours. You want structure and control—which will foster greater initiative.

3. Exercise and take walks outdoors. Get yourself in motion. You don’t need to set up a grueling routine to the latest YouTube exercise fad. It may just mean starting with a 20-minute nature walk. No pressure. Remember the words of Harry Truman: “Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.”

4. Learn relaxation techniques. There’s no shortage of great meditation apps, and yoga is also a great way to release tension from the last COVID news alert. Think about what gives you peace of mind.

5. Connect. Stay in regular touch with friends and family by phone, text, email, video apps, social media, or all of the above. This may be an opportune time to reach out to those you’ve been meaning to contact. Are there friends, family or networking contacts with whom you’ve lost touch? They’d likely enjoy hearing from you now. And if you can lend a helping hand, even better. Picking up groceries for a neighbor may seem like a small gesture, but can mean so much. Volunteering on a phone bank, for example, assists others in a time of need—and can bring added joy to you, while broadening your perspective.

6. Make time for yourself. Read that book on your to-do list; learn that recipe or new app; watch TV; paint; listen to music; or enjoy that comedy film you missed. Maybe it's time to check off that nagging business to-do item. Just don’t put undue pressure on yourself to overachieve in any one area, or you may miss out on any relaxation during this transition.

7. Eat healthy. It can be easy to eat comfort foods or binge during stressful times, but avoid the temptation to use food, alcohol or drugs as an escape. This could be the time to learn more about better eating habits, as you likely have the time now to devote to it.

8. Focus. Eliminate the usual culprits of distraction. While at home, if others are constantly interrupting you, set some ground rules. Get used to putting your cell phone on Do Not Disturb for certain periods. Use your earbuds. Set aside time for calls and video conferencing. Schedule certain times of the day to check news updates and social media.

9. Check in with your boss (or clients) and team regularly. Make sure you’re in regular contact with your manager and/or clients, especially if you’re concerned about the tenuous business environment. Your team may need to hear from you for reassurance, too. Turn up your emotional intelligence with all points of contact, in and outside the office; as their stress levels are high, too. A regular, upbeat check-in will keep you more grounded.

If you're unemployed at the moment, this is an important time to reach out to your network and remain visible. Set weekly goals for checking in with prospective employers, as businesses reopen, for example.

10. Set monthly goals three months out, or longer. The next three months may be pivotal in what COVID-19 could mean to our lives. But that shouldn’t stop you from moving on with yours. Absent of this pandemic, what goals would you normally be setting, personally and professionally in the next 90 days? Or might it be time to reset the big picture? Many feel the pandemic is having a transformative effect. Whether or not that's the case, thinking ahead may give you incentive to move forward and follow a long-term roadmap.

It’s easy to let the shock of a global pandemic consume you or at least slow you down. But each day, you can take concrete steps to manage your thoughts on exactly how you spend your time. Unprecedented events like this are also a good time to give yourself a little more patience, kindness, and nurturing.

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