Motivation. It’s what keeps us going to push through tasks and achieve our goals. However, sometimes, like the country song says, “it feels like my get-up-and-go has got up and went”. When your motivation is nowhere to be found, what can you do? Here’s a handy guide to staying motivated when you aren’t feeling it.
Analyze Your True Motivations
Before you figure out how to motivate yourself, you need to understand what motivates you, and why. After all, you can try all the motivational tips in the world to get yourself to drink a spinach smoothie every morning but if you detest spinach, it’s not going to be very successful.
So, how do you know what it is that motivates you? This is a surprisingly difficult question for many people to answer. Sometimes, society’s expectations — to make money, to have “good” job, to have a house, a car, and 2.5 kids — can overwhelm our own sense of what we truly value. To peel back the layers and understand your true motivations, think about the following:
· Identify your core values. In other words, what’s most important to you? Is it family, making a difference in the world, or making the most of your skills and talents? Once you’ve identified your values, consider how closely your current position aligns with them.
· Identify the job, project or class that was most satisfying to you. Why? Did you love learning something new? Teaching skills to others? Interacting with a team? Making a difference? Beating the competition? The more factors you can identify about your positive experiences, the more you can seek out similar experiences in the future.
· If you’ve had more than one satisfying job, class or project, think about the commonalities between them. What made them all good? The team? The type of work? The values? The learning?
· At the same time, think about experiences where you were bored, frustrated, or unwilling to work. What about the experience, specifically, did you hate? Was the project too easy? Or did you lack key skills? Were you working with others or alone? Did you believe in the project, or was it somehow contrary to your values?
These sorts of questions can be difficult but there are no wrong answers, unless you aren’t honest with yourself. The more you can identify your core values and drives, the more you can get in touch with what truly motivates you.
It may help to chat through these questions with a career counselor or life coach. You may also find it helpful to work through some of the questionnaires on happiness, optimism, and values from the University of Pennsylvania Authentic Happiness Project (questionnaires are free, but registration is required).
Once you know what really motivates you, you can take steps to bring your current situation closer to your ideal.
If you aren’t motivated at work because your position isn’t satisfying your core needs, consider ways to get what you need. Could you move to a different position within your company? Is there a juicy project you could persuade your company to take on? Are there classes, conferences, or other learning opportunities you could take advantage of? Could a volunteer opportunity add meaning in another part of your life?
If you can’t see a way to change your current position, then create a roadmap to get from there to where you want to go. You may find you regain motivation in your current situation if you can see how it fits on the path to your ultimate destination. For example, you may be happier in a boring but well-paying job if it helps pay for school or travel. If all else fails, start on your path toward your goals as soon as you can, no matter how small your steps.
Always remember that what matters most to you is the key here — not what matters to society, your friends, or your parents. For example, if spending time with your children is the most important thing for you, it may make you happier to turn down a promotion and keep the job that lets you leave on time every day, even if others urge to you to advance your career.
Only you can know the best path for you; however, sometimes seeing the path clearly can be a challenge. Consider talking with a trusted therapist or life coach who can help you discover that path.
Setting up Conditions for Success
Everyone is different. Some people jump out of bed raring to go at 5 am, while some barely stir until noon. Some people love to work to the sound of classical music, and others prefer rap or death metal. If you are struggling with motivation, try identifying the conditions in which you do your best work. Answering these questions may help.
What time of day are you most awake?
Everyone has a natural circadian rhythm that guides when we feel awake and when we fall asleep. Some people are larks, feeling peak energy early in the morning and falling asleep early evening, while others are night owls, just starting to be productive as the larks are falling asleep. Most people are somewhere in between.
Whether you are closer to a lark or an owl, schedule your most demanding tasks for the time of day you feel most alert. You can’t always change the hours you are assigned to work, but the more you can shift your tasks to fit your natural rhythm, the better.
What time of year are you most productive?
Do you feel most alive when you can bathe in the summer sun? Or does the crisp fall air and beautiful colors set your mind soaring? We all feel the passing of the seasons to some extent, but for some people, changing seasons can cause wide mood shifts.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that recurs seasonally. Estimates vary, but as many as ten million Americans may suffer from SAD. SAD usually strikes during dark, cold winters, but some people experience SAD in summer as well.
If the changing seasons make you feel seriously down, tired, cranky, and unmotivated, speak to your doctor about treatments that may help. Even if your symptoms aren’t severe enough for an official diagnosis, recognizing the effect that time of year has on you can help you plan for your changing energy levels.
What kind of space do you prefer to work in?
Does your desk have to be clutter-free, or do you work best in a little nest of papers? Do you need quiet to focus, or does background noise help you think? Identify how you work best and set up similar conditions when you really need to get something done. By establishing a regular work environment, you prime your mind to focus.
How does your health affect your motivation?
We all know that cars need regular maintenance in order to perform well, but sometimes we forget to apply that lesson to ourselves. If you haven’t been to the doctor in a while, it may be time for a check-up.