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8 simple ways on how to stay motivated - even when times are tough

How to stay motivated?

Motivation is a powerful, yet tricky beast.

Sometimes it is really easy to get motivated, and you find yourself wrapped up in a whirlwind of excitement.

Other times, it is nearly impossible to figure out how to motivate yourself and you’re trapped in a death spiral of procrastination. 

In today’s competitive work environment, our greatest untapped resource may be our own motivation.

Whether you’re trying to figure out how to motivate yourself or how to motivate a team, this blog should ideally cover everything you need to know.

Though before jumping right into the techniques on how to stay motivated, it’s very important to have clarity on the fundamentals of motivation. 

What is Motivation?

The author Steven Pressfield has a great line in his book, The War of Art, which I think gets at the core of motivation.

To paraphrase Pressfield, “At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it”.

In simple terms, at some point, it is easier to change than to stay the same.

This is the essence of motivation. 

We all have choices and all choices come with a price, but when we are motivated, it is easier to bear the inconvenience of action than the pain of remaining the same.

Somehow we cross a mental threshold—usually after weeks of procrastination and in the face of an impending deadline—and it becomes more painful to not do the work than to actually do it. 

The most common misconception about motivation

We have this common misconception that motivation arrives as a result of passively consuming a motivational video or reading an inspirational book.

Though that is not the case. 

Motivation is often the result of the action, not the cause of it. Getting started, even in very small ways, is a form of active inspiration that naturally produces momentum. 

So as now we have gained some clarity on what is motivation & how it roughly works, the natural question that you may have in your mind now would be:

What can we do to make it more likely that we cross this mental threshold and feel motivated on a consistent basis? 

Here is the content outline of the 8 strategies on how to stay motivated that we will be covering in this blog:

I have personally applied the strategies that I will be sharing with you today.

And they have worked wonders. Additionally, they are based on well-established principles of psychology & behavioral science. 

So be assured of the fact that you are getting some vital, valuable knowledge on this.

Let’s get to it… 

1. Set a clear goal & have a system in place to achieve it

Defined goals put your ideas into action mode.

If you want to succeed, you must create a clear compelling vision, something that you can relate to and resonate with. 

If it doesn’t speak to your heart, it won’t motivate you to stay on target. Create the highest grandest vision possible, because you can achieve only what you see.

Once you have a goal in place, a plan will take your vision and break down the steps you need to get it done. 

There is a quote by James Clear, the author of the book ‘atomic habits’ which is appropriate to illustrate this point further:

“You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems”. 

That doesn’t mean setting goals is wrong, in fact, it is a vital step.

A goal acts as a compass for you which gives you direction.

However, once you have the goal clear then it needs to be backed up by a system & plan in place. 

A goal without a plan, as we know, is just a dream.

You can use the further strategies in this blog to build your own systems. 

I also have written two blogs on goal setting & planning.

You can check them out too as they complement each other. 

2. Get organized & schedule your motivation

An article in The Guardian gets the crux of this strategy by saying, “If you waste resources trying to decide when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work”.  

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/05/daily-rituals-creative-minds-mason-currey

Setting a schedule for yourself seems simple, but it puts your decision-making on autopilot by giving your goals a time and a place to live.

It makes it more likely that you will follow through regardless of your motivation levels. 

And there are plenty of research studies on willpower and motivation to back up that statement.

Just this simple strategy of scheduling & organizing your tasks helps in reducing the cognitive load on your brain for making decisions. 

Example: If your workout doesn’t have a time when it usually occurs, then each day you’ll wake up thinking, “I hope I feel motivated to exercise today”.

Stop waiting for motivation or inspiration to strike you and set a schedule for your habits. 

In addition, have a dedicated workspace that has been carefully curated by you where you get the most serious business done.

Ensure it is uncluttered so your mind can be organized.

A calm environment gives you a better chance of being more efficient and productive. 

3. Eliminate distractions

One of the biggest obstacles to our ability to stay motivated and make progress on our goals is distraction: 

Don’t divide your attention but give your full and undivided self to the task at hand.

When you do, your chances for success go way up & so does your motivation. 

Do what you need to do to stop being distracted by people, tasks, or electronics.

Devise strategies to help you start and complete tasks without any distractions or interruptions.

Your best and most productive work is usually done when you’re in the zone.

Ask yourself how to create the perfect environment for you to do your best work and keep at it until you’re done. 

That unexpected text from your spouse in the middle of a workout, the old friend we bump into at the coffee shop while we’re trying to get work done, etc causes a context switch & then it takes ample time to get back into the zone. 

Your attention & time is scarce, protect it.

In addition, it’s not just external distractions that can derail our motivation and sidetrack us on our goals. 

Sometimes the most powerful and destructive distractions are internal like: 

Worry about how the big meeting will go tomorrow distracts us from our work today; daydreaming about how great it will be to look fit distracts us from going on that run; replaying a frustrating conversation from the day before in our heads makes it hard to be present in our actual conversations. 

Once you find yourself in that spiral of distracting thoughts, be aware of it and distance yourself from that thought.

When you feel you are calm, shift your attention back to the task at hand. 

Regular meditation really helps in managing your internal distractions. 

I have a blog on it too, you can check it out if you are interested in giving meditation a shot. 

4. Get started with the least friction

This strategy is very simple yet so powerful.

The premise of the idea is to have a good pre-game routine that starts by being so easy that you can’t say no to it. 

You shouldn’t need the motivation to start your pre-game routine.

For example, if you are a writer then let’s say your least friction task to get started with your writing could be getting a glass of water.

Or your weightlifting routine starts by putting on your lifting shoes.

Ideally, these tasks should be so easy, that you can’t say no to them.

They help you in reducing the friction of the big task and builds momentum. 

All you need to do is to incorporate them into your daily routine. 

How to stay motivated?

5. Reward yourself

Learn what it takes to get yourself to complete dreaded tasks and set up a system of rewards for completion. 

Some tasks or even stretches of a career are entirely onerous—in which case it can be helpful to create external motivators for yourself over the short- to medium-term, especially if they complement incentives offered by your organization. 

You might promise yourself a vacation for finishing a project or buy yourself a gift for losing weight. 

But be careful to avoid perverse incentives.

For example – one mistake is to reward yourself for the number of completed tasks or for speed when you actually care about the quality of performance. 

An accountant who treats herself for finishing her auditing projects quickly might leave herself open to mistakes, while a salesperson focused on maximizing sales rather than repeat business should probably expect some unhappy customers. 

Another common trap is to choose incentives that undermine the goal you’ve reached.

If a dieter’s prize for losing weight is to eat pizza and cake, he’s likely to undo some of his hard work and reestablish bad habits.

Similarly, the reward for excelling at work one week is to allow yourself to slack off the next, you could diminish the positive impression you’ve made.

So be mindful about choosing your rewards, but don’t hold yourself back from cherishing them thoroughly. 

6. Make it fun

If you seriously want to stay motivated, find a way to make it fun.

Because sometimes, even the most determined & motivated people get overwhelmed & so will you. 

If you do it correctly then fun & leisure stops becoming an enemy & instead start acting as a great motivator.

This could be as simple as a trip to the spa for all your hard work. Or a favorite music playlist that gets you focused or energized to do work.

Discover what clicks for you and apply it in your own setting. 

A basic thumb rule to consider is that whatever rewards & fun activities that help you keep going in your desired direction are the ones you should be doing. 

7. Measure your progress

Everyone needs to see how they are keeping up with their goals if they want to stay motivated. 

If you see that you are on track or even excelling every time you check your progress, you will be motivated and happy that you are getting there.

If you see that you are lagging on your goals, it may be the kickstart you need to help get you back on track. 

When people are working toward a goal, they typically have a burst of motivation early and then slump in the middle, where they are most likely to stall out. 

If you chunk your goal into smaller subgoals—say, weekly instead of quarterly sales targets—there’s less time to succumb to the feeling of not making progress. 

8. Don’t be too hard on yourself: Gentle self-talk

If your goals are good ones, you probably have more motivation than you realize. 

The trouble is, you may be wasting huge chunks of it.

And one of the biggest culprits behind wasted motivation is our own self-talk.

Self-talk refers to our habits of talking to ourselves, both what we say to ourselves in our own head and how we say it. 

Our brain is a constant sense-making machine, & the way it makes sense of reality is by making stories & telling that to ourselves.

If we get more granular than all that is left is language, tonality & words.

They act as the foundation of how you feel moment to moment. 

So if your habitual, automatic self-talk tends to be negative, harsh, and judgmental, it’s going to produce a lot of difficult emotions like guilt, anxiety, frustration, and sadness, all of which sap you of your natural motivation to reach your goals. 

This means that one of the best, if counterintuitive, ways to stay motivated is to stop robbing yourself of motivation with overly negative self-talk.

And instead, create a new habit of gentle self-talk. 

Here are some examples: 

Suppose you hopped off the treadmill 5 minutes early because you were just too tired to keep going… 

Harsh Self-Talk examples:

I’m so weak you couldn’t even finish the last 5 minutes. You’ll never get in shape for that 5K. 

Gentle Self-Talk: 

I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t make it all the way to the end, but the fact that I’m so tired means I must be really giving my muscles a good workout. 

Just inculcating this gentle self-talk habit can be a game-changer for you.

This is because it is really up to us how we want to perceive a situation that eventually guides our behavior. 

If you become best friends with your inner voice then you will see a spike not only in your motivation levels but also in your overall well-being.

Though there is some nuance here, which is that you have to identify those situations where you are just being laid back, fooling yourself and disguising it as gentle self-talk. 

That’s where measuring your progress strategy will come in handy.

It will become fairly easy for you to identify if you are making excuses in the name of gentle self-talk because your progress data will reflect your past behavior. 

How to stay motivated?

Conclusion:

In positive psychology, flow is defined as a mental state in which someone is fully immersed, with energized focus and enjoyment, in an activity.

Though more often we feel like struggling to move forward in pursuit of our goals. 

In those situations, it can help to tap the power of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

So set your rewards carefully, turn your focus on, have clear goals & systems in place, make it fun, keep measuring your progress & don’t beat yourself up as remember it is a journey. 

At last, self-motivation is indeed one of the hardest skills to learn, but it’s critical to your success.

I hope you master it for the upside via the strategies that I have shared with you. 

Comment: Which technique will you use to stay motivated? Did any of the techniques stand out as especially useful for you?

I would love to hear your stories & feedback, so do comment below and let me know your thoughts! 

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