Staying Motivated When You Don't Feel It
Last week, we talked about setting goals, and all of the different ways that can help you. This week, we’re going to talk about something similar: motivation. The different types of motivation, how it works, and some ways to help you stay motivated when you’re struggling with it.
Motivation can be hard for a variety of reasons. Sometimes you don’t want to be doing the task at hand. Other times you don’t have the energy. Or you could be struggling with mental illness, or not be able to focus, or… the list goes on and on.
But during these times, there are ways that you can help yourself stay on track. So let’s look at a little bit of the psychology behind motivation, as well as some tips for staying motivated.
Positive vs. negative motivation
For almost every task or goal, there are two main categories of motivation you can choose from: positive and negative. This post does a great job at explaining the difference between them, as well as when each one can be helpful.
In short, positive motivations are beneficial reasons that you have for completing a task. For example, “if I finish this paper I can have a better grade” or “doing my laundry means that I’ll have fresh clothes to wear on Monday”.
On the other side, negative motivations give you something you are trying to avoid. “If I don’t finish this paper, I might fail the class” or “if I don’t do laundry, my family will be upset with me.”
Both positive and negative motivations can be helpful in their own ways. But in general, you are more likely to do something if you feel you’re getting something good out of it, and in fact focusing on avoiding negative outcomes could serve to worsen your motivation.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations
Another way to separate types of motivation is through intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Extrinsic motivations come from outside yourself, like your boss wanting you to complete something or a teacher assigning homework.
Intrinsic motivations, however, come from you. You could be doing homework because you want to increase your understanding of a subject, or you’re cleaning your room because you want a nicer living space.
Both types, again, can be useful. However, we’re more likely to get things done if we want to do them. This article, from which we draw some of our other information, puts it very succinctly: “extrinsic motivation alone is unlikely to help us truly excel”.
When you want to stay motivated, and especially stay motivated at work, try to give yourself a positive, intrinsic motivation. Even if your boss wants you to get a task done (extrinsic motivation) you can say: “I want to get this task done because then I will have less to do”.
Goal setting is one of the best ways to keep yourself motivated, as we discussed last week. They give you something concrete to work towards, as well as a way to track your progress.
If you’re looking for a way to stay motivated, a great place to start is in setting good goals. This includes having concrete goals, milestones, and a method of tracking your progress. Indeed, many of the same thought patterns as goal setting apply to motivation.
Choosing effective rewards
A great way to keep yourself motivated is to reward yourself when you make progress. And when you do this, you should choose rewards that are likely to make you feel good, and keep you wanting to work hard.
First off, don’t let your rewards undermine your goal. A recovering alcoholic wouldn’t celebrate their 30-day chip with a bottle of whiskey, and you shouldn’t do the same to yourself. Make sure that your reward still helps you make progress, rather than reversing it.
Also, again, consider positive vs. negative options. Loss aversion— completing a goal to avoid losing something— has been shown to be more effective than gaining something of equal value. However, this is a form of negative motivation, and it can lead to you feeling hopeless, stressed, and even less motivated.
So when possible, choose rewards that will make you feel good, and that won’t undermine your goal. These are more likely to help you stay motivated.
Be mindful of your progress
Throughout the process of completing your task or goal, keep track of your progress. You can do this through a variety of means, but what’s important is it’s something that works for you, and it helps you sustain your progress.
It can also help to switch your mindset about halfway through. Early on in your process, remind yourself of all the progress you have made, and how many steps you have achieved. Once you get closer to your goal, it can be more helpful to remind yourself of how few tasks you have left, so you can feel even closer to completing the goal. This flip in mindset can really help with sustaining motivation.
Other people can really help you stay motivated when you need to. This can happen in two ways.
First, you can have other people to hold you accountable. This could be a friend, family member, coworker, or even therapist. Someone who knows what your task is, and how much progress you should be making, so they can make sure you’re doing it.
Now, this is an extrinsic source of motivation and can often be negative, but it can work well. But that’s not the only way other people can help you.
You can also find out what is working for others, and possibly get advice from them. If you have a coworker who always seems to be on top of their stuff and has no problem getting their work done, you could use them as inspiration.
Don’t just passively observe their success and wish you could be like them— that will only serve to make you feel worse, and struggle more with motivation. Instead, have a conversation with them. Ask them how they do it, and if they have any advice to help you out. Even if you may be feeling like “how stay motivated???”, just talking to someone else can help you figure it out. Be active in your pursuit of betterment, and it will pay off.
Like many other things, this is a chance for you to better yourself, not batter yourself. Focus on ways that you can improve, and why you personally want to improve, and stick to those.
Finding positive, intrinsic reasons to get things done will really help you stay motivated for whatever you need to do. And if you keep trying and go easy on yourself, you could see the betterment that you are working towards.
Do you have other tips for staying motivated? Something that has worked for you that you want to share? Let us know by leaving a comment below or tagging us on social media (@llctherapeutic on Twitter and @therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram).