Finding Your Wings at Home: Tips for Motivation
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
W & J Staff Psychologist
Motivation has been defined as the process by which activities are started, directed, and sustained to meet needs and accomplish various tasks or goals. The study of motivation is nuanced and complex, but several key ideas are helpful for a basic understanding. It is important to recognize that motivation is both conscious (explicit) and unconscious (implicit), suggesting that motivation can be influenced by things outside of our awareness. Motivation can also be influenced by both extrinsic (external) means as well as intrinsic (internal) means, such as internal values, ideals, or inspiration. Intrinsic factors are often most powerful and long-lasting, making it important to stay connected with your internal values and sources of inspiration. Lastly, social interest plays a role in maintaining our motivation and has the added benefit of supporting the larger community.
Motivation can be difficult at any point in our lives, but it is especially difficult when dealing with increased stress and the loss of a daily routine. Furthermore, when we feel the tasks ahead of us are very difficult or somehow less important given all the changes happening around us, we can struggle to get started and experience frustration or feel helpless. We may also experience a strong desire to retreat or isolate ourselves through avoidance or distraction. However, as is true with most mental health hurdles, withdrawing or getting by with minimal effort can lead to further problems and will most likely decrease our motivation. For example, just getting by on a project can lead to negative self-evaluations and doubt, self-criticism, or feeling disconnected from the meaning or purpose of our work. Although we cannot simply flip a switch to activate our motivation, there are a number of things that can be helpful to improve motivation and get the ball rolling.
Tips for improving your motivation:
Get started somewhere. It is often helpful to make a first step on a project or just get the day started. Take a shower, get dressed, or write an email. Getting started somewhere can help to build some initial momentum and shift your attention to the task at hand, leaving less room for the negative thoughts that can fuel low motivation. Getting started somewhere also opens the door for a boost in your mood and provides an opportunity to see concrete movement forward and some sense of accomplishment. Pause and say, “I did it,” no matter how small it might seem.
Find and organize a work space. If you have lost access to your work space, it is important to establish a new space. If you are limited, try to find a place you can set up each morning such as a small desk or table. Getting your things organized can also decrease the chances that you will feel overwhelmed or lost when getting started.
Sit at a desk and avoid the couch. When possible, try to recreate your physical work space and avoid getting overly comfortable. Although it is good to enjoy some increased comforts, avoid siting on the couch with your laptop or lying in bed.
Make a schedule and write it down. Many people have lost the typical schedule that might be expected in a work or academic setting. However, this schedule can be very important for motivation, so it is important to create your own schedule as a way to reestablishing a routine.
Get up at your usual time. It is tempting to sleep late, but your body and work mind are not used to this change. By sleeping late, you are sending yourself a vacation signal and moving further away from a routine that will help improve your motivation.
Incorporate daily rituals such as lunch or other breaks. Adding breaks and enjoyable activities will help make your schedule more enjoyable. Don’t just stop working, but try taking an intentional break.
Work in chunks of time or chunks of a project. Breaking things down into smaller tasks helps us to experience the tasks as more manageable and achievable. This is especially helpful when the larger task seems daunting or out-of-reach. Take a short break after you accomplish each chunk and acknowledge your progress.
Closing time. Plan to end your work day at a typical time. It can be tempting, but you will likely be more productive if you stick to typical hours and use your other time for personal tasks and self-care.
Limit your time online. Connecting online is important right now. However, be aware of your media consumption and how it is might be impacting your stress. It can also be easy to escape reality through the internet, which can ultimately make it more difficult to engage in your current tasks and goals. Research also suggests that you will be more motivated if you see others enjoying and benefiting from productivity, so consider who you are following during your work day.
Congratulations. Take a few minutes to review what you have already accomplished today or this week. Tell yourself you did a good job.
Self-care. Get outside for fresh air and exercise. Find a funny cartoon about motivation and share it with a friend. Find small things to look forward to in the short-term.
You are not alone. Finally, recognize that everyone is probably struggling with motivation and show some compassion towards yourself. Do the best you can right now and avoid dwelling in the past. Focus on what you are currently accomplishing, not what you wish you had accomplished. Every new moment is an opportunity