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11 Powerful Ways to Motivate Yourself, Even When It's Hard

Updated on July 13, 2017
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Jorge has been an avid reader of personal development literature for years. He likes to blather on about what he's learned.

How to Get Motivated

Getting and staying motivated is a common struggle for people in this age of distraction. No matter what it is that you have to do, there is likely something more fun and stimulating that is fighting for your attention.

Do you have to put together a presentation for work? Do your taxes? Complete a project for school?

Facebook, Youtube, and all the other usual suspects are way more interesting when you're in the throes of procrastination. The more urgent and important your work is, the more fascinating these distractions become. Sometimes it seems impossible to tear yourself away and force yourself to work.

It can be done, though.

Here are some things you can do to get started when you need to motivate yourself.

Having trouble motivating yourself to follow through on your tasks?
Having trouble motivating yourself to follow through on your tasks?

1) Do What You Can to Stop Worrying

The first thing you might notice about your lack of motivation is this catch-22: You are worried that you're too unmotivated to get the work done, and the anxiety about this makes you even less motivated.

Some people claim that they work well under pressure, but they're usually deluding themselves. The enemy of productive work is anxiety. If you can calm yourself down and try to view the situation more objectively, do that before anything else.

Imagine the worst case scenario if you didn't get your work done. Is it the end of the world? Probably not.

2) Cut Your Task Into Pieces

One of the biggest issues with staying motivated is when a task seems to huge that you can't imagine completing it. This is especially problematic when it's a long-term task, something that will take months or years and can't simply be crammed into one sleepless night.

Even if your task will only take a few hours, much of your resistance to starting may be due to the simple fact that you are mentally overwhelmed. Take a moment to step back and breathe. Ask yourself: What is the first tiny step?

Let's say you are trying to push yourself to go to the gym. Your first tiny step might be to put your gym shorts on.

Maybe you're trying to work on your first novel. The first step is to write a single sentence.

Perhaps you have no motivation to do your homework. The first step might be to write your name at the top of a piece of paper.

The point is that instead of viewing your task as a giant behemoth that you can never hope to conquer, view it for what it is: a series of small steps. Start with what you know, and do one piece of the project at a time.

3) Make Your Focus Laser Thin

Once you have cut your task into smaller sub-tasks, keep focused on each individual step. Do not look away from the exact step that you're doing right now in the moment. Keep your attention on what is right in front of you and resist the temptation look ahead with trepidation.

Looking ahead or mentally zooming out to the larger project will only make you lose your motivation. You can't swallow the whole thing at once, so focus on every little bite.

If you're not sure how to motivate yourself, take a deep breath and focus on a small piece of the task.
If you're not sure how to motivate yourself, take a deep breath and focus on a small piece of the task.

4) Have Scheduled Breaks

Taking breaks when you're working on something that takes more than an hour or so can be beneficial for your motivation. It's normal to become restless when you've been sitting for a long time. Sometimes your brain might be subconsciously resisting a task because it knows you won't be able to adequately rest for hours until the task is done. So give yourself a break!

However, because it's easy to fall prey to procrastination when you're taking your breaks, it's a good idea to schedule them and not go beyond your set limits.

You can also set certain conditions before you go on a break. For example:

"If I have been working for 2 hours, I will take a 20-minute break."

or

"If I have written 5 pages, I will go on a 10-minute break."

You get the idea. The key is to give yourself plenty of rest, but to also stick to your own rules of when the breaks should happen.

Your Procrastination Habits

What is your favorite method of procrastination?

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5) Don't Fight Your Biological Needs

Your lack of motivation could be biological and you may not even realize it. Busy people are often tempted to stretch themselves by skipping lunch or working late into the night, but this rarely has positive long-term effects.

If you are sleep-deprived especially, it will almost certainly take a toll on your motivation. This is why it's important to keep to your sleep schedule and not plan all-nighters for your project. You'll start to lose steam quickly and all caffeine can do is keep you from nodding off--it won't help you recover your brain's will to do some work.

As you sit there with zero motivation, ask yourself: Are you hungry right now? Thirsty? Sleepy? Painfully aroused? Take care of these things first if you can, and then sit down to do your task.

Make sure you get enough sleep or you'll have trouble motivating yourself.
Make sure you get enough sleep or you'll have trouble motivating yourself.

6) Connect the Task With Its Results

Lots of times we might be unmotivated because the task seems pointless or mundane. This is when it's helpful to imagine how the task connects to its results and how those results might be beneficial to you.

Sure, maybe you don't like cleaning your toilet, but remember that scrubbing the streaks off your porcelain bowl will make your bathroom smell better. If your bathroom smells better, then using it will be much more pleasant.

Similarly, mowing your lawn will help you enjoy your yard more. Doing your homework will help you learn your material better. Paying that bill will help you avoid late fees.

Thinking about the results of the project will also help you shed genuinely pointless tasks from your to-do list. Maybe you were doing something out of habit or because someone demanded it from you, but after thinking about it, you realize that there's actually no benefit. Great! Then you don't have to do it.

7) Flee From Distractions

For people who are easily distracted, just the threat of distraction itself can be enough to cause distraction! If you know that you're going to be interrupted, it's common for a part of your mind to tell itself, "Meh, Gary is probably going to burst in any second anyway. What's the point of even getting started?"

You might be in this situation right now and be unaware of it because it is often totally subconscious. Did someone mention that they would drop into your office today and now all you can do is giggle at cat videos and rearrange your pencils until they arrive?

Distractions can really throw you off track, so don't accept appointments or random visits while you are working. Make sure that people know not to disturb you unless there's an emergency.

Put this sign on your door if distractions keep making it hard for you to stay motivated.
Put this sign on your door if distractions keep making it hard for you to stay motivated.

8) Revisit the Big Picture

Though it is important to stay focused and cut your task into pieces, if you're totally unmotivated it can also help to remember the bigger picture of what your task is meant to accomplish in the world. Who is it benefiting? What kind of a brighter future will you and other people have when your task is done?

If the answer is that it will benefit no one, then maybe the task isn't worth doing. It's hard to stay motivated when all you're doing is busywork.

9) Remember How Far You've Come

Before you start, take a moment to see how far you've come.

Maybe you're struggling to write the next page of an essay; it can help to look back at all the work you've already done in your class and how well you did it. It helps you to see how small the task is compared to everything you've already accomplished.

The same can be true for motivating yourself to do a project at work or your next heavy lift at the gym. What did you do to get where you are now? Don't give all of that up!

10) Disconnect the Task From Your Ego

One of the common causes of procrastination and lack of motivation is performance anxiety.

"What if I do the task badly?" Your perfectionism is getting the best of you.

This is because you are attaching the task to your ego. If you make a mistake, then it means you are a lesser human being. Instead of taking that risk, your mind tries to protect itself by making you avoid the task.

This is a whole topic in and of itself, but just being aware of it can be enough to snap you out of it to some degree. A random task you do for school, work, or anywhere else doesn't have to reflect on your competence as a person. This is especially true if you're only a beginner.

Expect to make mistakes. You are only human. One way to motivate yourself in this situation is to focus only on making your first rough draft. Give yourself permission to screw up as much as you want. Give yourself permission to be terrible. You can always fix any mistakes later. The point is to just have something done that you can work into a final product.

Give yourself the right to mess up and be "stupid." You are only human.
Give yourself the right to mess up and be "stupid." You are only human.

11) Remind Yourself That You Have a Choice

The feeling of freedom is a very powerful thing. When we feel trapped, our brain will rebel, even against our better judgement.

Sometimes we tell ourselves that we have to do something. We have no choice. We are forced. There's no way out of it. Then we're shocked when we find ourselves less motivated to do it.

This is because it's harder to fool our brains than we might think. You may have told yourself that you have no choice, but deep down inside you know better and you want to rebel against these constraints.

You do have a choice, though. You can choose between doing your presentation for work and getting the stink-eye from your boss. You can choose between doing your homework and failing your class. Exercise that choice consciously and you will have real freedom. You're not trapped. You're merely choosing between one consequence or the other. Which result do you want?

Knowing how to motivate yourself means that eventually you will succeed!
Knowing how to motivate yourself means that eventually you will succeed!

Stay Motivated

Motivation is something that everyone struggles with at some point. The divide between what we want to do in the moment and the results we want in the long-term can be wide indeed.

Using the above tips, hopefully you can connect these two aspects of life together and fall into a state of flow.

How to Motivate Yourself: Your Methods

How do you motivate yourself when you're having trouble staying on task?

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© 2017 Jorge Vamos

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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Very insightful. You gave good, practical suggestions, all doable. Thank you.