How to Motivate Yourself When You Cannot Go On

It’s Not as Tough as You Think

Vishal Kataria
Jan 20, 2019 · 6 min read

he lady in the above photo is Bonnie St. Johns.

Bonnie was sexually abused between ages two and seven. At age five, doctors amputated her leg. She got an artificial leg and had to learn to walk again. Her mother was a single working woman and the family was stuck in poverty. Bonnie said they always had “month at the end of money.”

But she created miracles. She didn’t just learn to walk again, she became an athlete. She went on to become the first African American to win a medal in skiing at the Winter Paralympics though she lived in San Diego, where there is no snow.

Naturally, the question Bonnie gets asked often is, “How can I be resilient like you?” This question plagues everyone’s mind, including yours. And mine.

You want to improve your work skills. Get fitter. Read more books. Use your time better. But one thing is always missing — motivation.

You give up on something you enjoy when you must carry on. You touch your smartphone during crucial moments of deep work when you must block out distractions. Then you feel like you suck.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Most people on planet Earth feel like that. But it doesn’t mean you must resign yourself to this condition forever.

Imbibing motivation isn’t tough. All it takes to go that last mile is a tiny shift in mindset.

The 2 Forms of Motivation

The Oxford dictionary defines motivation as the general desire or willingness of someone to do something. It comes in two forms: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation depends on your surrounding. A pep talk, a fitness partner, inspiring posts are some examples.

Seeking external motivation is easy. You can read blog posts and watch and inspiring videos. You can make someone hold a gun to your head, to push you closer to your goals.

There’s just one small problem. Extrinsic motivation depends on sources outside your locus of control. Depend on it too much and you lose out.

If your fitness partner calls in sick, you don’t go for a walk. If you don’t spend an hour reading articles, you don’t feel motivated enough to work. If someone doesn’t criticize your lethargy, you fail to meet deadlines.

Hägar the Horrible

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, emerges from within you. It comes when you decide to take action.

Intrinsic motivation doesn’t appear by magic. Nor are people born with it. It comes when, in Jack London’s words, “[people] go after it with a bat.” Intrinsic motivation comes from resilience.

Don’t train yourself to stay motivated. Instead, train yourself to become resilient — to recover quickly from difficult situations.

Here are 5 ways to develop resilience that will last you a lifetime.

1. Don’t Have A Goal

If you walk regularly for the next month, you’ll lose 5 pounds. To drop 25 pounds, you must walk regularly for the next 3–4 months. Sounds daunting already right? 4 months in a world where our attention span is less than 8 seconds, is an eternity!

If you work hard, you might get a good salary increment at the end of the year. But you must put up with commuting, office politics and more for over a year. Can you stay motivated for that long?

Human beings suck at understanding causation. We can’t predict the results today’s actions will yield a few months hence.

So stop trying. Instead, do something because you enjoy it. Do it for the love, not for what it will get you.

Exercise to become fit, read for the love of it. With time, results will follow.

The more you worry about your money, designation and what people will think, the more you compromise on what’s at hand.

How should you focus on what’s at hand? Read on to point 2.

2. Ask Yourself One Question

In her book Micro Resilience, Bonnie St. Johns highlights the futility of becoming resilient for the big things. Resilience to lose 25 pounds, to write a book, to work tirelessly for the next year, is arduous.

Instead, she suggests asking yourself this question:

“How can I be more resilient in the next hour?”

Have enough grit to take small steps for the hour. When the hour is almost up, ask yourself, “how can I be more resilient in the next hour?”

The compound effect of your actions over time will yield astonishing results.

3. Batch Your Work

Distractions compromise willpower. And willpower, like any muscle, gets fatigued as it gets used.

Resilience increases when distractions reduce.

Batching your work means grouping similar tasks together and working on them.

Create a slot to batch deep work. Batch emails and phone calls together, and club them with a long walk.

The more deep work you do, the stronger your resilience becomes.

4. Increase Your Gaps

Everyone procrastinates. Even the productive people whom you (and I) envy, do. Achievers differentiate themselves in the gap.

For most people, the gap between productive times is large. For achievers, the gap between unproductive times is large.

You will slip up. That’s okay. What you do after that is important. Do you lie, face down in the mud, cursing your ‘luck?’ Or do you pull yourself up and ask, “How can I make the most of the next hour?”

Increase the gaps between days of low productivity. Fill those gaps with constructive days. That way, you won’t berate yourself for a bad day. Instead, you’ll reflect on where you went wrong, and correct it the next time around.

5. Look Back

We’re taught to never look back, to never dwell on our past. Then why should you do the opposite?

In your past, you’ll find instances where you were stuck, where you felt low, where you doubted yourself, when you felt like things would never look up again, just like you do right now.

But here you are, stronger than ever. You battled difficult times and beat the odds. Just the fact that you’re alive (and better) is proof.

Remind yourself of those times, and tell yourself you’ll do it again.

Summing Up

Life isn’t what you enjoy when you get somewhere. The journey, the highs and the lows, the victories and defeats, the calms and storms… that’s life. Resilience keeps you going through all your good and bad times.

You cannot master resilience after doing it once. It’s a lifelong process, a game of “you’re-getting-hot-you’re-getting-cold.” You will have bad days followed by good ones, ugly days followed by beautiful ones.

Don’t turn your mind into master or slave. Befriend it. Build the grit to stick to what’s important every hour. You’ll find that you can achieve more in two months than you achieved in the last two years.

Go on. Start. Happiness beckons.

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Vishal Kataria

Written by

I write to teach myself and hit “Publish” when I think it might help you.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +785K followers.

Vishal Kataria

Written by

I write to teach myself and hit “Publish” when I think it might help you.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +785K followers.

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