You planned on reading daily, reorganizing your closet, and finally tackling your mile-long to-do list over the last few weeks. But you’re finding it hard to do any of it.
This makes sense, as the pandemic has caused many of us to experience difficult emotions, including fear, shock, and grief, according to Vienna Costanzo, LMHC, a psychotherapist in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “Many of us are thinking and acting from a place of emergency response and are experiencing burnout as a result,” adds Samantha Markovitz, NBC-HWC, a Mayo Clinic-trained national board-certified health coach and the author of “Type 1 Diabetes Caregiver Confidence.”
Any current lack of motivation is not a personal failure. “It’s a symptom of the crisis we are experiencing,” says Markovitz. And there are strategies you can employ to re-ignite your internal spark. Here’s how:
1. Tend to Yourself
It’s tough to feel motivated when your basic needs are neglected. Wisconsin-based psychologist Kristin A. Hoff, PsyD, stresses the importance of eating nutrient-rich foods, getting enough sleep, and moving your body. For example, do a 10-minute yoga practice in the mornings, and listen to a guided meditation before bed to prime yourself for sleep.
According to Costanzo, it’s important to ask yourself daily: “What do I need right now?” The answer might be anything from crying to taking a shower to taking a walk.
2. Create a Motivating Environment
In his book “Atomic Habits,” James Clear notes that we don’t need to rely on motivation; the key to accomplishing our goals is to create an environment that makes it easy to do the things we want and need to do. Similarly, our environment can sink our motivation. Think of how a cluttered space or smartphone on your nightstand shapes your behavior.
To create a supportive environment, lay out a business-casual outfit the night before and stick to your usual morning routine if you’re working from home. Replace your phone with an inspiring book. Keep a motivational quote on your desk. Use essential oils with an energizing scent, or keep plants by your desk—they’ve been proven to boost productivity!
3. Start Your Day Well
When you begin your day with something to look forward to, you feel motivated to get up and get moving. According to Hoff, this might look like: eating a delicious breakfast with your family, snuggling with your pet, going for an early walk, or reading a religious text.
4. Have an Accountability Partner
According to research from the American Society of Training and Development, people with accountability partners increase their chances of reaching a goal by 65 percent. When partners have regular check-ins, that number surges to up to 95 percent. When picking a partner, make sure they “have the spark you’re looking to reignite,” says Markovitz.
Costanzo suggests sharing your goals with your partner at the beginning of each week. Then check in, again, at the end of the week, and “identify any barriers that stopped you from completing your goals and make adjustments for next week.”
5. Schedule Appointments
Similarly, since we rarely cancel on others, make virtual appointments around tasks and activities you’d like to complete—and put them on your planner. Sign up for Zoom workouts with your local yoga studio. Skype with a colleague as you both work on your reports. FaceTime with your best friend about your novel-writing progress.
6. Set Concrete Boundaries
Staying motivated throughout the day is a lot easier when you know when your day starts and ends, says Hoff. “If your goal is to handle everything all day, motivation will decline and stress will increase.”
Hoff advises setting boundaries about your “hours of operation” and expectations around availability (e.g., when is too late to reply to email or receive phone calls?). Check in with your manager about these expectations, and then create your own boundaries with small transitions in your day. Set an end-the-day alarm to signal the end of the workday, or set a reminder to stretch between tasks or after long calls.
7. Take Tiny Steps
It’s hard to get out of bed when you’re “overwhelmed with all the expectations that follow [after you do],” says Andrea Walker, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Grand Forks, N.D. Instead, she recommends taking it one tiny step at a time: Pull the covers back, put your feet on the ground, walk into the bathroom, and so on.
“You can still choose to stop anywhere along the way,” says Walker. “But once we get started, it’s often easier to keep going.”
During this pandemic, many people’s motivation has taken a hit. So, know you’re not alone in feeling this way, and be gentle with yourself. You, along with millions of people, are truly doing the best you can.