There are a lot of benefits to setting goals and having aspirations. Having visions for yourself, whether in your personal or professional life, can keep you focused, keep you going, and allow you to connect with yourself, your values, and your higher purpose. Having goals is a way to break up daily tasks and typical setbacks with a focus on something important to you. Your goals might be personal and private, or you might enjoy the experience of sharing them with others. No matter the situation, working toward some self-satisfying goal is always good.
However, we sometimes find ourselves waylaid by a drop in motivation. This might result from internal forces, external forces, or both. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have had a pretty consistent reason to feel insecure about making plans. It can be hard to stay motivated with something looming over us or to plan to go somewhere while worrying that we won’t be allowed to travel by then. COVID restrictions and fears have limited some of our access to services or communities that might help us reach our goals. This has probably made a huge impact on a lot of people’s motivation.
Even if your life and schedule are not dictated by school calendars, you might struggle with your motivation in the summer months. The heat rolls in, and everything begins to feel a little slower. The urge to take shelter anywhere with air conditioning cannot be ignored. The sun is out; people are traveling; perhaps you have a few sets of visitors who want to visit Sunny, California, on their vacation. Special summertime events, like fairs and outdoor concerts, pop up and beg our attention. Summer may also be a triggering time for you; it may be an anniversary that makes you sad or involve memories of people or events that are particularly difficult for you.
Signs That You Are Struggling With Motivation
There are some signs to look for if you are wondering if you are struggling with motivation. Everyone has days where their energy is lower or goes through times when they have to put some of their goals aside for a little while. If you are consistently struggling to stay motivated, you might experience some of the following symptoms or behaviors for an extended period of time or in conjunction with others.
- Decrease in concentration, focus, task completion, and fatigue. You find you can’t see a task through from beginning to end without lots of breaks or getting repeatedly sidetracked.
- Increase in procrastination. You delay starting tasks more and more and more often.
- Getting easily distracted; stopping in the middle of a task; being slow to start things. You are avoiding the work for some reason, even if you tell yourself that it is important to stay focused.
- Feeling indifferent, short-tempered, easily bored, and easily upset when there are plans changes. You might feel that you need a specific circumstance and/or environment to achieve anything on your list.
3 Ways to Boost Your Motivation
1. Talk about your feelings:
Often you judge yourself when feeling unmotivated by calling yourself lazy or selfish. These judgments only make things worse and can cause you to try to keep your problem to yourself or avoid even thinking about the issue. Judgments don’t help you identify the disconnect between your desire to achieve something and your ability to stay motivated. They do not make it easier to cope with your struggle. All they do is bully and shame you.
It is important to approach your lack of motivation with compassion and curiosity. You want to unpack your experience to understand what is behind the lack of motivation. Identify triggers: did something change? Has your sleep changed? Is there something else taking up your time and energy? Is there a bigger issue looming over you?
Would it help you to reach out to friends and/or other trusted people in your life for support? You might feel less alone if someone else has had trouble staying motivated and can offer some tricks. You might also discover that people in your life are happy to participate in activities with you. This doesn’t mean you use others as a crutch, so you don’t have to motivate yourself. Having a buddy to take on tasks with can be a helpful boost sometimes. There is nothing wrong with setting yourself up for success; nobody achieves all of life’s milestones in a vacuum.
You might wish to get support from therapists, whether one-on-one, in a group, online, or in-person. A therapist can help you to determine where your issues come from, how they show up in your daily life, and which tools are best used to deal with them. Therapy is a safe space in which to talk about your feelings and experiences. It can help you explore patterns and triggers to build healthier habits and develop resilience to setbacks. Resilience is especially important when it comes to motivation. It is easy to have a busy week or have some other issues come up. When we are resilient, we are able to roll with the punches and not let obstacles derail us.
2. Look at the thoughts behind your emotions:
As CBT therapists, one thing we know for sure is that the way you think affects the way you feel. If you are feeling unmotivated, it is important to explore your self-talk. We tackle tools for combating self-defeating thoughts here at our therapy practice in Woodland Hills, CA. Often, it takes observation and exploration to realize that you are having these thoughts; you might have been thinking this way for a long time.
Where and when did these thoughts begin? Were you raised to believe that you had to do everything perfectly? It can be hard to keep motivation high when there is so much pressure involved. Putting a bunch of value on the end result does nothing to make the journey more enjoyable or sustainable. Are you trying to become and stay motivated from a place of avoiding failure or pursuing success? When you think about setting your goals, are you taking the time to choose them based on your values and wants? Or are you thinking about them as a solution to self-perceived shortcomings, flaws, or failures?
When you are working toward a goal and hit a bump, what do your thoughts tell you? Do you suffer from all-or-nothing thinking? Or are you able to navigate the gray area of mishaps and setbacks by thinking positively and proactively? Sometimes, you might want to focus on the bigger picture to see how far you’ve come or to keep yourself from getting caught up in every minor change or fluctuation in your goal. Other times, you might begin to feel overwhelmed by the largeness of your goals and opt to break your journey down into smaller steps that you think about and tackle one at a time. You may want to use a combination of these tactics. The important part is that you speak to yourself affirmatively.
Some affirmations you might want to try include, “I am doing my best,” “I am worthy of the things I want,” “This is not a race,” or “I am proud of myself for working on this project!” Try to choose affirmations that counteract your most prominent self-defeating thoughts, for example, that you are not good enough, you’re taking too long, and someone else would do it better. If you tend to take every goal very seriously, you might want to try, “The goal is to have fun”; or, “My goal is to enjoy the process.”
3. Make some changes:
Another key factor in the way we feel is the way we act. Our emotions and behaviors have a relationship that impacts each other. Yes, our thoughts impact our actions. But sometimes, if we are stuck in detrimental thoughts, changing up our actions can have a positive impact! If we want to change our emotions, we can start by changing our actions to kick-start rewiring our thought process. First come actions, then come feelings.
You might need to make changes to your environment, relationships, and morning or evening routines. In terms of relationships, you might be caught up in an unhealthy relationship; it could be anyone, a parent, friend, or partner, that is distracting you from your work. If the challenging relationship dynamics make it harder for you to focus on other areas of your life, then setting boundaries in that relationship will be the kind of change we are talking about. It can be difficult to set boundaries, but it is important for healthy relationships. Your relationship can’t thrive if you are not meeting one another’s needs; boundaries help to ensure that. If a person cannot or will not respect your boundaries, you might need to take a step back from that person.
There is a more traditional kind of change you definitely need to consider when talking about motivation, which is changes in your environment and routine that are getting in the way of your focus and concentration. Making small changes is the easiest and simplest way to start. Identify steps you can take today and this week only, not the whole month. Too often, we get wrapped up in overhauling our entire lives. We think that we need to burn everything to the ground and start completely fresh to see results. In actuality, that is too overwhelming and doesn’t set up a good routine. It is easier to visualize going for a walk around the block every day after dinner than signing a year-long membership at a gym you’ve never used. To support our health and nutrition, it is easier to buy a bigger water bottle to use during the day and try to eat more whole foods than to completely change the way we eat and drink. If our goal is to clean sweep our home, it is easier to do one drawer or cupboard at a time than to pull everything out and try to sort it.
When we look at task-oriented goals or losing motivation when doing something that takes several hours, it is good to consider the value of rest. The idea that a human being can work for several straight hours in a row at a task with no breaks isn’t a psychological one; it’s an industrial necessity. Taking breaks throughout the day as needed allows us to focus more intently when we are working. Some people set timers; some work for fifty minutes, take a ten-minute break, work for forty minutes, take a ten-minute break, and so on. Others work for twenty-five minutes at a time with five-minute breaks in between. These little breaks allow us to rest along the way instead of working for hours only to feel burnt out and never return to work in the end.
At the core of feeling motivated is often going to be seeking a positive outcome based on your values. The more we reach toward things that are meaningful to us, the more we pursue our happiness and health, and the better we feel. Taking even small steps toward something that will expand our horizons, increase our sense of inner peace, create more security, or improve our quality of life allows us a sense of satisfaction that keeps us going. The trick is to avoid turning our entire lives upside down where only minor changes are needed while taking big leaps when necessary. For example, a goal to build physical strength is a long game; lifting heavier and heavier weights every other day for a year is going to do more good than lifting heavy for three weeks in the gym and then never returning because you were miserable the whole time and then you injured yourself. On the other hand, some goals might require big leaps, like moving to a new city or enrolling in school. As long as you keep returning to the values that are driving you, you have the ability to tap into the source of your motivation. The rest is habits, support, and self-confidence, all of which you can and deserve to do and have. Most of life is a marathon, not a sprint. Be kind to yourself.
Other Services at Embracing You Therapy
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Contact us today for your complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with one of our Client Care Coordinators.