How To Motivate When You Just Can't Seem To Motivate

We've all experienced it: that dragging your feet, do-anything-but-this, one more scroll on Instagram feeling when you really need to get something done, but damn it you really don't want to.

I know this feeling intimately. I can think of many times in my corporate life where I'd do every other task I needed to do except for make the cold calls that I really didn't want to do, but had to do for my job. I do it now, when I think of any excuse to stay in bed and not go to the gym. 

Since starting a business, I've had to get really familiar with my motivators and my own excuses. I'm the boss - there are no other external expectations for me when it comes to deadlines or launching a new project. Instead, I'm the one self-motivating all day every day to get things done around here. 

I quickly realized that I only have so much energy to go around when it comes to motivation.

Hence the difficulty getting to the gym...

As a result, I had to figure out how to jumpstart my motivation. I had to figure out how to motivate when I just didn't want to motivate.

Lucky for you, my fights with motivation turned into something you can actually use to help you get into action!

How to motivate when you just can't seem to motivate:

1. Get clear on your motivation style

First things first, where does your motivation come from? Are you good at being a self-starter and holding yourself accountable? Or do you get by with a little help from your friends?

Understanding your motivation style can help you create solutions to jumpstart it. For example, if you're like me and need external help to motivate for something, you can set yourself up for success by asking a friend to help hold you accountable. I know that I'm more likely to go workout if I'm going to meet a friend there, so I'll purposely sign up for workout classes with a friend to keep me from bailing.

Taking appropriate measures that align with your motivation style will help you stay accountable to what you say you're going to do and get shit done!

Need help figuring out your motivation style? Check out The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin (you may remember her as the author of The Happiness Project). I just ordered this book and am excited to dive in as it's all about understanding your natural tendencies and how they affect your productivity, habits, happiness, and more. She even has a quiz to help you get a snapshot of your tendencies so you can gain some immediate insight into how it to best set yourself up for success.

2. Where's the energy drain coming from?

Often when we think about completing a task and can't seem to find the motivation, we feel a physical lack of energy in our body. Like we're stuck in place and can't seem to pick up the pen or open up our email or take a step forward.

When this happens, ask yourself the following 3 questions:

  • Where's the energy drain coming from?
  • Why is this particular task feeling so difficult?
  • What can you do about it?

When you start with reflecting on where the energy drain is coming from around a particular task, you can address that energy drain head on - and therefore help motivate yourself.

For example, maybe you check in with yourself and realize that you've been avoiding editing your resume because the whole job search process just feels too daunting. Editing your resume feels difficult because you can't quite see how you're going to achieve the larger goal of getting a new job. When you're in a bad mindset about a larger process, it's hard to motivate to do smaller tasks to help you get to your end goal. 

Now that you've identified where the energy drain is coming from (ex. your feelings about the broader job search), now you can figure out what to do about it. This leads a bit into the next tip, as changing your mindset to look at the task more positively can help you find new found motivation.

In this example, choosing to think about updating your resume as making it easier for you to apply to the jobs you want can help you find the motivation to get it done. Once it's complete, you can send it out the door on a moment's notice.

3. Change your mindset

Often we look at the things we're seeking motivation to complete as obligations. We've got a huge To Do List in front of us and each task feels excruciatingly difficult to actually begin.

But what if you stopped looking at each of those items as an obligation or punishment? Instead, what if you looked at them as a reward? Or at the very least as something that will benefit you?

How might that change your attitude towards that task?

Take my gym example. When my inner critic starts trash talking me about how much junk I ate over the weekend and tells me to get my ass to the gym, I'm super resistant because it feels like a form of punishment. I'll make every excuse not to go because it doesn't feel like it's coming from an authentic, positive place.

Yet, when I quiet my inner critic and decide to look at going to the gym as a means for managing the stress I'm under, then I start to see the gym as a benefit and am more likely to go. 

The next time you find yourself looking at a task as a punishment or obligation, turn it on it's head and look at it as beneficial to you. You'll be much more motivated to actually do the damn thing when it feels like a choice you're making that will benefit you.

4. Go for a walk

If all else fails, go for a walk. 

Going for a walk does a number of things. First, it changes your scenery. Instead of just staring at your computer screen or your notebook or the total mess that has become your bedroom, it gets you outside and breathing fresh air.

Sometimes your brain needs a break from the norm in order to get started on something.

Second, it gets your body moving. When you're lacking motivation, getting your body moving can be a great way to shift your mind. There is something almost therapeutic about the rhythm of walking - it does wonders for your brain.

Between the change of scenery and movement involved, walking is one of my favorite ways to motivate if a task feels daunting. It's a tried and true mindset shifter and opener. I find it often makes impossible things feel possible or provides me a solution that I hadn't seen before.

If you happen to see me walking down the streets of Cambridge talking into my headset or stopping mid-stride and furiously typing on my phone, you can be sure that I was on a motivation walk and finally had some idea or solution come to me.

Okay now it's your turn! Use the tips above to discover some new found motivation, my friend! You've got this!

Be well,

Carolyn