Stuck in a rut? Going around in circles on the same bit of work and achieving very little? You need help.
My ex-colleagues will tell you that I’ve ALWAYS had the motivation to put in long hours. Some would probably call me ‘driven’ (though I hate that… who or what, exactly, is driving me? And where are we going?!).
Working hard feels great for me — that’s why I decided to become a freelancer. And I can stay focused for really long stretches. Sometimes.
But we all experience that ‘meh’ feeling that makes us drag our feet and stay in the shower just a FEW minutes longer to put off starting work…
But I’m working for myself now, I should be constantly energised and raring to go: ‘when you’re doing what you love you never work a day in your life’, right..?
Well, I’m not convinced the world really works like that for 99.99999% of us. Plus, when you’re in start-up mode or freelancing, there aren’t many (if any!) people around to give you a kick and hold you accountable.
Right now, I’m doing what I really love: I’m challenged, I’m writing, I’m working on weird and wonderful marketing projects, I’m learning about a vast array of topics, and I have loads of variety. And yet some days I feel totally unmotivated.
No, that’s a lie — I am motivated, I’m just motivated to stay in bed or watch box-sets. We’re ALL motivated by something all the time, we just have to make sure it’s the right focus.
‘Motivated’ doesn’t mean being full of smiles, or whistling while you work, or constantly feeling just SO excited and enthusiastic about how SIMPLY MARVELLOUS everything is… Very few people in the world are like that all the time and, frankly, they give the rest of us a headache.
Motivation means persevering when you least feel like it. Motivation means carrying on DESPITE not feeling like it.
Motivation means muttering in frustration under your breath while you’re working because you can’t stay focused, then putting in the extra hours because there’s something better just over the horizon.
Motivation means realising that you’ve run out of steam, gritting your teeth and carrying on.
So how do we ‘get motivated’?
Find your hook
Find something that, no matter what, gets you back into that productive head-space. For me, watching the first 10 minutes of this is a sure-fire way to change my attitude.
Separate your mood from your motivation
You can be in a REALLY bad mood, but still be ultimately motivated toward your goal. Equally, you could be in a great mood but struggling to focus on the work you should be doing. Find a way that helps you snap out of your mood (Chocolate? Going for a swim?) or helps to focus you (perhaps a few meditative deep breaths, or putting on some concentration music?).
Get trigger happy:
Work out why you have this goal. Not what you want, but what your purpose is and what you were put on this planet to do. Need to find your passion? Read my tips on how to find your passion here.
Write it down.
Write it again in a different place.
Frame it and plaster it around the walls and make it your desktop background. Put your ‘why’ in every place that your eyes will wander when you’re distracted.
Bottle the good feelings
Write down how you feel in the great moments. How you feel when you’re congratulated, or when you put in extra effort and it’s worth it, or when people say ‘how did you manage that?!’. How you do feel when you win that pitch after struggling through late nights and trying not to scream with anxiety…? Capture the great feelings and let them spur you on when you’re struggling.
You don’t feel motivated? You don’t feel like sitting down and finishing the piece of work that’s been dragging on? Well buckle up, you’re going to finish it.
Stand up (maybe go somewhere discreet — no need to weird anyone out…) and put your hands on your hips. Put your feet shoulder-width apart and stand as tall as you can. Lift your head high and take some big breaths.
Go back to you desk, sit tall, open your eyes wide and pretend that you feel motivated to finish. It sounds ridiculous, but I promise it works.
Block out the noise
You knew social media would come up somewhere, but this is about getting rid of emails and texts too for chunks of time.
If we have too much input then we can’t focus on anything properly and it becomes totally overwhelming.
Grab a new, blank piece of paper. Write your goal at the top (so you see it every time you look at your to-do list!), then write down everything you’re going to do that day. Split it into hours if you have to. Stick to it, set alarms, and hit your deadlines. You’ll be so focused on what you’re doing that you won’t be thinking about ‘whether I feel motivated or not’.
Look back at the end of the day at how much you’ve achieved despite initially feeling rubbish. Do a celebration dance.
It’s about you.
Your goals are your goals. No one else can set them and you’re only cheating yourself if you don’t achieve them, so compare yourself with yourself. As weird as it seems, give yourself a weekly check-up and pick out the progress you’ve made. Hold yourself accountable and remember to reward yourself for the progress you’ve made!
Comparing yourself to others can be a dangerous game. We all tend to exaggerate how well we’re doing and ‘put on a brave face’, particularly on social media. If you come across people like this then congratulate them, but take it all with a pinch of salt. This is about you.
Eat the frog!
This means tackling the tasks you hate most, first thing in the day. The tasks you hate most will always taste awful (as frogs do) but they’re not going to go away. Postponing them leaves a feeling of anxious dread hanging over you and spreads doom and gloom to your other tasks.
Eat the frog, get some ticks on your to-do list.
Find your hero
Imagine what it will be like when you get to where they are. What’s ahead can be far more motivating that what’s already been achieved! Visualise yourself making a breakthrough, or winning an award, or reaching the top of that mountain, or being published in a national paper, or giving a TED Talk (or whatever your goal is!). How does it feel?
Think about the speed you’re going now — could you work harder to get there faster..? (I bet that gives you a little jolt of energy!)
Change the background
Get the blood pumping, get out and gain different input. Changing your physical location can kick-start a mental shift too.
Don’t just move to a different room. Move to a place where you can sit in a different position, or use pen and paper instead of typing, or switch from your laptop to your phone. Do something that makes you ‘feel different’.
It’s not just about your environment, it’s about mixing it up and finding different inputs. Go and watch a free lecture about something that’s totally unrelated to your ‘real job’ and see what ideas it brings.
Have a word with yourself
Write down all the excuses you’ve used before, or that you think you’ll use in the future. You know them, because they’re your excuses. Write your responses to those excuses as if you’re talking to yourself.
De-motivation and Procrastination are a toxically hedonistic pair — they spur each other on whilst whispering enticing sweet nothings in your ear.. Cover your ears and don’t listen to them!
Write out your ‘do not do’ list. Weirdly, washing-up is on my procrastination list. I hate washing up yet, when I’m struggling to focus, I gravitate towards a few cups that need washing….weird.
It doesn’t matter what your goal is. Whether it’s to climb the highest mountain, learn a language, write a book, become an expert in your field or find a new job, our goals are daunting mountains when we start (otherwise they’re not goals, they’re just a simple to-do list).
To become expert at anything, we have to practice…
Yet we expect to suddenly ‘be motivated’ without putting in any effort? Not gonna happen.
Motivation to pursue your goals doesn’t just happen, people! We have to find motivation, nurture it, and constantly add fuel to its fire.
We have to learn to motivate ourselves. You’re the one in charge of your goals. You’re the only person responsible for you.
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