Motivation for when you don’t feel motivated

It’s Saturday afternoon. The day is young. Hours of free time stretch before you. You are well rested, well fed and feeling good. There is nothing you can’t do. You turn towards one of your projects. Something you’ve wanted to . Maybe its study for the MCAT, or to create a video game. You told yourself that you were going to work on it today and here you are. On the cusp of beginning.

Seconds turn to minutes and still you stand there. Motionless. The nagging thoughts at the back of your mind kick in. They tell you that you are not feeling this today and you believe them. You just don’t feel motivated today. You tell yourself that it’s okay. That you’ll do it tomorrow, next week, someday. Next Saturday your back to staring and next Saturday you walk away. Again.

But you say you want to do this. You say you just need the motivation. It’s quite the dilemma we find ourselves in. Where can we find motivation, when we don’t feel motivated?

Before we talk about jumpstarting our motivation I want to ask you a question. Are you not motivated to do this thing today? Or are you not motivated to do this thing ever? This is a important distinction to make. If you want a shortcut to misery then repeatedly force yourself to do something you really don’t want to do. That problem has nothing to do with motivation.

My blog today focuses on giving yourself a quick boost in motivation to do things you normally would want to do. Treat it like an adrenaline shot. It’s supposed to help you in a pinch, not to be used chronically. If truly don’t want to do something these bursts just mask the underlying issue.

The long term solution is to pursue the things you are motivated to do. To do otherwise is to spend your life swimming against a strong current. You’ll die exhausted without having gotten anywhere. If you don’t feel like doing something today, that’s one thing. If you feel like that everyday…

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way here are my best strategies for a motivation boost

Do the smallest thing possible.

When we are not feeling motivated, but still want to do something the key is to start. Once we have gotten started we don’t need as much motivation to continue. Most of the resistance comes originally. Once we have overcome it our momentum carries us forward. So how are we going to overcome the initial resistance?

We will do as little as possible. By shrinking the task into its smallest possible components we shrink the resistance associated with it. There are many reasons we can come up with for why we can’t do something big. It’s a lot harder to come up with reasons why we can’t do something small. Would you rather have to move a pebble or a mountain?

With the mountain excuses come easily. The mountain is enormous, how could we possibly lift it? But the pebble… well anyone can lift a pebble.

If you are procrastinating on a paper don’t try to motivate yourself to write the whole thing. Convince yourself to write one word.(“The” is usually a good one). If you need motivation to go for a run, take one step outside.

We might not be ready to write the whole paper but we’ve at least got one word. And if we’ve written one word we can certainly write another. After all how much harder is one more word? How much harder is it to take one more step outside? Forget the big picture. Find the tiniest pixel to focus on.

Each step we take allows us to gather momentum. Don’t worry about what you’ll do next, your momentum will take care of that. Just focus on you, and taking that small step.

Leave yourself no other options

I wrote the first draft of this blog from a cafe. It’s Friday night and despite the fact that I spent all day working I am quite content to keep my fingers flowing across the keyboard. Why is that? There is nothing else to do here. I refuse to connect to the wifi here, and my phone is dead. I’ve only got my laptop in front of me. So I write. If I was at home I am certain I would be taking a nap or watching a movie. Instead I’ve eliminated all other options for how to spend my time. It is twiddle my thumbs or write. So I write.

There is a legend about Hernán Cortés who was a commander in the Spanish army when they conquered Mexico. When he first arrived on shore his men were faced with diseases and fierce Aztec warriors. His army wanted to retreat. In response Cortés had his officers burn their ships. There was no longer any chance to retreat. His army had two options conquer, or die. They conquered.

Our motivations are like this. When faced with something difficult we want to retreat. Take that option away and we force ourselves to focus on the task at hand, overcoming the obstacles in our way. Taking away any distracting options is an excellent way to overcome a lack of motivation. With nothing else to do, the thing you need to do becomes the most attractive option. Burn your ships.

Think about the things you want

This gets to the essense of what motivation is. Why do you want to do something? When I am in a bind for motivation I find it helpful to visualize what I want in my life. What is the desired outcome? Then connect that image in your mind to the action at hand. If you need motivation to work out, then picture yourself with your ideal body. Need motivation to study for the MCAT, imagine yourself in doctor’s scrubs. Connect with the reasons why you wanted to do this in the first place. Think about what you want, and then go get it.

The Last Word

At the end of the day whether you do something or don’t is up to you. I’ve shared a few of the things that I use to give myself a boost, but it really comes down to you doing the things you want to do. You can’t get to be where you want to be without doing what’s required to get there. You don’t need me to tell you that. It’s self evident. If you know the things you are doing will be good for you in the long term then do them. Trust in the process. Do it when you want to. Do it when you don’t. It’s your life. Go out and live your dreams.



Daily Action:

Do the thing you’ve set out to do.

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