Originally I wanted to write this post about different techniques to keep yourself focused on creative projects, not how to be motivated generally. Obviously the world has done a 180 and we’re all just doing our best to motivate ourselves to get out of bed and put proper clothes on. And it’s hard! It is so hard! It’s not easy to be motivated on the best of days, and now this?
Instead I’m going to write a little about how to be motivated at various stages of energy. We all move through cycles of emotion – so these tips aren’t for when you’re feeling horrible, like the walls are closing in. When you feel like that, it’s ok to just feel like that. I’m in that misery with you in solidarity. I can tell you from living through various types of grief and depression though, that it will get better and it just takes time to move through the crappy part.
Here’s how to be motivated when you’re in a major slump:
Start by noticing. This comes from my practice of meditating for 5 minutes every morning, and about five years of therapy with a brilliant woman named Karen. Notice small things like “it’s hard to move my eyes over to the clock to see what time is.” Or, “Hey – I just physically sat myself up off the couch.”
When you notice that you’re feeling even marginally motivated (i.e. when you finally get up to go to the bathroom even though you’ve been holding it in for the last 3 episodes of Westworld) pay attention to how your body feels and see if there’s a shift in your energy. That’s it. Don’t worry about doing anything else for now. Noticing is the most essential part of motivating yourself. And when you’re in a horrible major slump, you don’t need to be adding more pressure to yourself.
Look For Little Bursts Of Energy
When you’re able to get off the couch and go to the bathroom when nature calls, not 3 hours later, that’s great! Maybe you’re even showering daily by this point! Guess what – we’re still going to practice that “noticing” thing to get us to the next level.
At this stage you’re probably capable of cooking yourself some sort of food, even if it’s just air-frying a sweet potato for dinner. What this means is that you DO have some momentum and you can find little bursts of energy to get small things done. So you need to notice when those energy bursts happen.
Keep this idea in mind: an object at rest likes to stay at rest, and an object in motion likes to stay in motion. And like all of those fitness pros say, the more you exercise the more energy you have! It’s true! If I go for a run every day, I just want to keep going. As soon as I stop, I find the simplest reason to not go. (Granted, I’m terrified of leaving my apartment right now so that’s a liiiiiitle different.)
Try to think of an activity that makes you want to keep going, the same way I feel like running longer and harder the more I do it. Pinpoint the moment that your brain and body say “YESSSSSSSUHHHHH THIS FEELS SO GOOD”. Then, try to notice when that “YESSSUHHH” moment happens as you move around your home.
When I get that “YESSSUHHHH” feeling, I challenge myself to clean one thing. Last week I cleaned one window pane every time I felt a little energy burst. Now I have clean windows. That’s a small accomplishment but one to be celebrated when previously, I was immobile.
How to be motivated when things are sort of normal
You’re in motion and you’re continuing to move forward on your projects. But life is getting in the way and honestly you’d much rather be hanging out with your friends doing weird improv than writing a press release about the show you’re producing.
You skip a day of painting and suddenly you’ve created a new routine for yourself that consists of a long walk to the cafe, an hour of reading “news” on your phone, then a long walk to the grocery store, and now it’s 8pm and there’s just no time left to paint today.
If it does, that means you’re already noticing a pattern of behaviour and you need to give yourself some tangible tactics to get back on track. My favourite trick for this is Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule (here’s an amazon.ca link, and an amazon.com link). Mel tells the story best (obviously, she invented the rule!) but to give you an idea, you need to count backwards from 5 down to 1 and then BLAST OFF! Sounds simple – but it’s SO effective.
Other ways to get motivated again when you do have the energy include:
- Hanging out with people that are doing the things you want to be doing
- Spending time with art forms that are high contrast to what you’re doing (shift your perspective)
- Literally sitting yourself down and doing the thing for 25 minutes at a time (try the productivity planner – amazon.ca and amazon.com)
- Keeping to a strict schedule of productivity generally
- Hiring a coach to keep you accountable
- Telling people about what you’re doing – again to keep you accountable
- Remembering that you’re actually really great at what you do and you need to give yourself a little tough love
When your motivation makes you jump from project to project and you never finish anything
I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you really just need to do the f*king thing. Wait no I’m not sorry! I’m not sorry because you need to hear this right now. You’re avoiding whatever it is you SHOULD be doing (and you know what you should be doing), and you’re spending your energy on low-return tasks that fill time and space.
Dude, I am a PRO at that. Shout out to my fellow ADHDers in the crowd!
It took me years to figure out how to motivate myself to finish things until I realized it’s as simple as this: Pick the thing, do the thing. Don’t worry about anything else, don’t get distracted by shiny objects, just force yourself to do the thing. And do it a lot. The more you do the thing (i.e. writing sketches, practicing monologues, recording podcasts) the easier it’s going to get and the faster it’s going to go and the better you’ll be! But you absolutely WILL NOT get far if you allow yourself to be distracted by other things.
GUESS WHAT. We’re going to start noticing again! Oh you’re jazzed to be noticing your inner workings so much, I can tell!
If you really want to figure out how to be motivated to stay on track and accomplish your goals, you need to be absolutely vigilant about noticing when you get distracted, and by what. And if that thing is not serving you, you need to get it the hell away from you immediately. How will you know? Try meditating for 5 minutes a day. Notice shifts in your energy levels and refocus yourself on your goal. Shiny objects will ALWAYS make you feel super awesome (I’m looking at you Facebook notifications). Don’t give in!
I do stress here though, that you really need to want whatever it is you’re working towards. If you don’t really want it, it’s not going to happen. And if you’re thinking “hey! I do want that thing! It’s just not happening for me!” I will invite you to check out Mel Robbin’s book “Take Control Of Your Life” (amazon.ca link | amazon.com link) to figure out whatever the heck is actually blocking you from achieving your goals. (Hint: It’s likely a belief you have about yourself that is causing a pattern of behaviour to sabotage yourself over and over again.)
You must give yourself no other option but to succeed, friendo. I say this with love.
So, in a nutshell, here’s how to be motivated:
- Notice when you have little bursts of energy and act on them in the moment.
- Don’t give into “shiny objects” – they do not have your best interests at heart! You do!
- Plan for different types of strategies to stay on track like the pomodoro method
- Meditate for at least 5 minutes a day to train your brain to notice what’s going on so you can stop yourself from creating patterns that slow you down
- Give yourself no other option BUT to succeed.