How to Get Motivated

Woman with a "Today I Will Shine" T-shirt. How to Get Motivated.
Image by Cindy Parks from Pixabay

Do you know what you should be doing, but you just can’t seem to get started? Need some help? There is a plethora of great advice on how to capture, prioritize and manage your tasks. But for some, figuring out what to do isn’t the problem.  Sometimes you know exactly what to do, and even how to do it, but you just don’t feel like it. You are “stuck.”  How can you get motivated?

“Making the jump between knowing and doing is what productivity is all about.”

Chris Bailey

Make The Scene More Appealing

If we can make the task seem less like drudgery, we are more likely to do it.

The other day I had a list of podcasts I needed to listen to from a conference I had missed. At the same time, it was a beautiful day and I was resisting working inside. I decided to “take the job to the beach.” I listened, took notes on my iPad and was very productive, all because I was sitting in a place I love. 

If you can’t move the job to a new location, improve the atmosphere by putting on some favorite music, lighting a scented candle, opening a window, pouring yourself a large glass of your favorite soft drink, or simply taking off your shoes.

“If you want an easy job to seem mighty hard, just keep putting it off.”

Richard Miller

Add Company to Your Misery

Frequently, having another person around can keep us motivated. Having others nearby can benefit us in many ways:

  • We are less likely to allow ourselves to succumb to distractions.
  • We have someone to help when when we aren’t sure how to proceed.
  • The “peer pressure” helps us sustain focus. (“If she can stay on task, so can I.”)
  • With someone else watching, we are more likely to try to do our best.

Having someone nearby who is “in the fight” with us, even if they aren’t working on the same task, can be powerfully motivating. “Body doubling” is when one person intentionally works next to another person doing a similar type of task for a specific period of time. This can be particularly helpful for those who have ADHD. For example, a parent might sit at the table and work on paperwork to help a child sit still and focus on homework. Alternatively, we go to the gym and work out next to others who are also exercising. It is even possible to find a body double partner online!

Lastly, having another person show up to tackle a project is a great way to ensure that we will carry through, especially if it is someone you are paying, such as when you pay a personal trainer or enroll in a class. Clients know that once I show up, we will be getting things done for at least the following three hours!

Break the Project Down into Tiny Pieces

One common reason we put off tasks is because we think we lack sufficient time. “I can’t possibly clean out the attic because that would take all weekend (or longer) to complete.” While this might be true, it doesn’t need to keep us from making progress.

If your project seems large, consider breaking it into very small pieces. Using the attic example, one approach might be:

1. Buy some empty cardboard boxes for sorting.

2. Spend 10 minutes a day walking around, selecting 5 items to give away and putting them into a donation container, focusing only on what is out and easy to reach.

3. When the donation container is full, drop it off at a charity, and then repeat as appropriate.

4. When you get down to boxes and bins, bring down one bin a week, and sort through it. Pair this activity with something you enjoy, such as watching a movie or sipping your morning coffee.

Breaking down a large task into bite-size pieces limits the time you need to invest. Knowing the unpleasantness will end shortly can make a task more palatable.

“Nothing is particularly hard when you divide it into small jobs.”

Henry Ford

Give Yourself an Incentive

This idea takes advantage of the old “more bees with honey” idea.

Since it is easy to lose momentum, we need to keep reminding ourselves of the benefit of staying strong.  There are many ways to do this, including:

  • Allow yourself a “treat” when you’ve achieved your goal for the day
  • Take a “before” photo and keep adding images until you are finished.
  • Start a log where you keep track of your progress toward a goal.
  • Assign yourself external accountability (e.g. sign up to run a race, apply to speak at a conference, hire an editor for your book, etc.).
  • Go “public” with your intention.

Be sure to follow through on your promise to yourself. Otherwise, you undermine your ability to employ this strategy going forward.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Albert Einstein

Nominate a “Nag

Well, perhaps not a true nag, but someone to whom you give permission to ask how you are doing. Accountability is very motivating to some. In fact, some people thrive when the pressure is on. If you know that someone will be checking in, coming to visit, calling, or texting – someone you’ve intentionally asked to perform this service – you may be more motivated to dig in.

“If you have time to whine then you have time to find a solution.”

Dee Dee Artner

*     *     *

Getting motivated to do things we dislike is difficult. Cultivating techniques to motivate ourselves increases our productivity, builds self esteem, and empowers us to achieve our goals.

How do you motivate yourself?

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18 thoughts on “How to Get Motivated”

  1. I love all these ways to build motivation. One other I would add is to have an exhilarating feeling and reason. That should be a reason that promotes a FEELING to help you start an activity or task. Most of the time that feeling is negative. If that is the case, change that around to the positive feeling when you have accomplished that task. An example of this is we fear getting in trouble with the IRS if we don’t do our taxes. But if we think then we will really know all our finances this year or get a refund from our taxes, that is a positive feeling. Including a positive feeling and reason makes for profound motivation.

    1. Oh, I love this addition! Feelings can be very influential on our behavior, for both good and bad. Why not try and harness that power, right? Focus on the emotion we want to cultivate. I love it!

    1. I’ve seen the power of body doubling with some of my clients. It’s impressive how they are able to get things done if I am sitting there or standing there with them!

    1. I’m not sure clients realize that this is one of the reasons they are hiring me, but I do think it ends up working out this way. My presence provides both accountability and guidance, and even I am often surprised by how productive we are!

  2. These are so many stellar ways to get motivated. For me, body doubling works really well for motivation and easy accountability, and I always feel so much more ready to tackle something when I’ve got a “buddy” working nearby. I’ll admit, I’m hit-or-miss on the accountability through nagging; sometimes it gets me going and sometimes it gets me gone (from the conversation). I need to find other ways to make the scene more appealing when it comes to housework drudgery; I should definitely add podcasts to the music mix! Thanks for the motivation. 😉
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Paper Doll’s Ultimate Guide to Getting a Document NotarizedMy Profile

  3. Definitely love the body doubling concept. It becomes more of a social hour than an actual chore to get the project complete! As a matter of fact, I have been meaning to do this with my sisters to get through these family photos and slim down the boxes that I have.

    1. Sounds like a fun family time if you do it with your sisters! I agree that it turns what feels like drudgery or challenge into a shared pleasure.

  4. Motivation is a funny thing. So often we think we need to “feel like” doing that thing. But if we wait for the feeling, we might never move forward. As you said, we know what to do, but feel stuck getting there. I love all of the ideas you shared to get unstuck and move forward.

    I’ve noticed that exhaustion or sadness can knock make taking action challenging. Sometimes we need to get more rest or reach out for support to address those issues first. And once that’s done, using some of the strategies you suggested can be amazing. It’s often taking that first action step, which then helps build momentum. We build from there.

    1. I completely agree with your comment about sadness. This certainly applies to grief, depression, confusion, or other negative emotions. They hinder us from taking action… even action we want to take. I love your point about taking that first action step, which can often be just enough to get us moving forward. Life is hard, so doing whatever we can to help us move in the direction we long to pursue is so worth it!

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