Becoming (and Staying) Motivated
42% of workers between the ages of 18 and 49 who have been telecommuting report having a difficult time finding motivation. This rate increases to 53% for young adults, ages 18-29 (Pew Research, 2020.)
Although this statistic emphasizes those who are working remotely during the pandemic, as students we can relate to the challenge of staying motivated in these unique times. Motivation is an incredibly important issue that everyone can relate to some extent, at various times in their schooling and careers. Finding motivation can be particularly difficult considering so many distractions vying for our attention and the level of mental and physical exhaustion commonly felt among us as students.
Without motivation, we are unlikely to challenge ourselves, experience personal growth, or set and achieve goals. Knowing how you get motivated can increase your productivity, increase your quality of work, and create a higher level of fulfillment as well as decrease stress and procrastination. However, we all know that becoming (and staying) motivated is harder than it seems.
Someday I’ll fit into my favorite jeans. Someday I’ll be debt-free. Someday I’ll graduate. Someday I’ll have my dream job. Someday my resume will be top-notch. Someday. Someday. The word ‘someday’ can bring feelings of excitement, anticipation, and hope. It can also bring frustration, despair, and hopelessness. What would you like to accomplish someday? Just wishing for it to happen is not enough. These goals will not just magically happen. How can you be proactive and stay motivated while accomplishing your goals?
Whose responsibility is it to motivate me? Mine. Not my mom’s or dad's. Not my professor’s. Not my boss’. Mine. It is critical for us to accept that responsibility. While outside sources can help, we should not depend on them entirely. If we rely on others to motivate us, we give away some of our independence and a degree of control that we have over our life circumstances.
We need to believe in ourselves--believe that it’s possible for us to change and that we can create habits and routines to be better motivated and more successful. To what extent are you dependent on others rather than yourself? How can you improve your self-motivation while still accepting support from others?
Possible Reasons for Low Motivation
There are dozens of reasons why we may feel a lack of motivation. Some common causes for feeling low motivation may be that the goals you have set were too lofty, too broad, or not specific enough. In this case, perhaps you could reanalyze your goals and adjust them as necessary. You could also try to break up deadlines into smaller milestones along the way.
Another common reason for experiencing decreased levels of motivation could be that you are feeling overwhelmed. Are you taking care of your individual needs? Do you need to reduce some of your commitments, or start saying “No” to some requests? As students, we often have many responsibilities other than school on our plates, such as volunteer work, job(s), or personal projects. There may also be familial obligations that absorb a portion of our time and energy.
Keep On Keeping On
Try setting milestones along the way to break up a larger deadline into more manageable ones. As a long-distance runner in high school, I noticed that during lengthy races, check-in points are set up along the course. This strategy can apply to larger tasks we accomplish for school too. Create your own deadlines along the way to make the task more manageable and to keep up those positive feelings that motivate us to continue forward.
I like to imagine my end goal and the feeling of accomplishment and pride in my work once I’m finished. You don’t get the full extent of that feeling if you don’t do your best, or if you don’t finish at all. Remind yourself why the goal is important to you and stay committed. As you try (and sometimes fail) you will learn about yourself too and will come to better understand yourself and what keeps you motivated.
Occasionally, I realize that I need what I call a “mental health time out.” To me, this means that for my own sanity and well-being, I take a small amount of time to do something extra special that I enjoy before continuing with my busy life. I plan ahead how much time I’ll allot myself before picking myself up and pushing through. During this time, I also plan an activity that I don’t get to do very often, or I’ll even try a new hobby.
If you need that ‘mental health’ time, allow yourself that time so you can continue stronger than ever when you are ready. But be sure to give yourself a solid deadline and hold yourself accountable to that. This can take a lot of self-discipline, but setting an alarm or creating a secure deadline another way helps you to stay on track. Remember, you need to be able to trust and rely on yourself, not on others.
We may catch ourselves repeatedly procrastinating a certain task or activity (for example, going to the gym). You are more likely to have a harder time re-enlisting that motivation later on when procrastinating becomes a habit. Try starting with something small that you can do at that moment (like put your workout clothes out, and tie up those shoelaces). Whatever the task, pick something to do at the moment rather than putting the whole thing off.
Lack of motivation can also be a symptom of depression or anxiety. If this is a possibility for you, you may consider reaching out to the Counseling Center. There is so much support waiting for you. There are people who genuinely care and want to help you be your best self.
In order to renew our motivation, we first need to want to be motivated. We also need to take responsibility for our own motivation. For me, I have realized the importance of reminding myself why a difficult task is important to me. Reminding myself of why I’m so invested help in bringing back that excitement and energy once more. Set specific goals, and create some kind of action plan to see them through.
The “Delicate Arch” trail in Southern Utah is known for its fairly steep incline up Slickrock. While hiking Delicate Arch with my young son, I encouraged him to focus his attention on the posts set up along intervals during the trial. As we arrived at one post, we’d pause, eat a small fruit snack, and look ahead to the next post. We would then look up the mountainside to see where we would soon be heading. Then, we’d carry on and focus on meeting that next post, and then the next, and so forth. Three miles (and a couple of dozen fruit snacks) later, we arrived at the top and were able to look down at how far we’d come. Even if yours is an abstract goal, you can still visualize your goal to help sharpen the image as a buoy for the challenging days.
It also helps to have self-confidence. Even if you have to pretend to be self-confident at first, genuine confidence will follow. I have personally learned that through my own experiences. Act confident, and others will believe you are confident, and you will believe it too.
Another idea is to develop good habits to lean on. If certain behaviors are instilled as habits, having an established pattern takes away some of the effort involved in constantly needing to motivate yourself. If you are focusing on having a healthier lifestyle and want to drink more water, make it a habit. This will keep your motivations high because you won’t be spending as much time reminding yourself to do it. If you want to avoid turning in assignments late, make it a habit to work a couple of days, or even a week, ahead of your due dates. This will help you avoid procrastination while also ensuring high levels of motivation to see you through. What are some good habits that you have already set that help you to stay motivated? What are some good habits that you can begin now?
Be Kind to Yourself
The way we think of ourselves and what we are capable of impacts both performance and motivation as well as our well-being. Don’t beat yourself up or allow your mind to tear yourself apart. When those negative thoughts arise in your mind, kick them out. You can even try writing the negative thoughts on one side of a piece of paper, then on the opposite side of the paper you can write a logical rebuttal to the harmful message. Convince yourself that the negative message is false and replace it with a positive message instead. I use this technique when I expect too much of myself or feel that I’ve let someone down. Expecting ourselves to be perfect can land us in an unmotivated funk. Instead, we can still feel a sense of pride even if we aren’t perfect.
We are most motivated when our own needs are being met. You cannot give your all when you’re running on empty. The counseling center at Brown University shares some valuable insights to understanding ourselves and how we are at times highly motivated and at other times feel depleted. A therapist there encourages us to ask ourselves, “Does my lack of motivation have to do with a specific task, or activity, or commitment?” You can investigate what activities you ARE motivated to do, in order to better understand why you are NOT motivated to do others.
Taking the First Step
While we can’t accomplish everything today, we can start somewhere to set ourselves up for success. Find something you can do now and commit to doing it! Those who accomplish their goals begin first by getting started. Interesting how it works that way, huh? If we put off our goals, or the tasks that will help us fulfill those goals, we are sabotaging ourselves. We are ultimately taking away one of our greatest resources…time.
There will undoubtedly be times when your motivation decreases or seems non-existent. This is normal and to be expected. Accept that these feelings will happen, and be ready to regain that confidence to continue on your way when they do occur. You can do this by reminding yourself why your goals are important to you, reframing an activity so it is more enjoyable, or choosing to take just a small step or two to maintain your progress.
How will you stay motivated and fulfill your dreams? Before clicking out of this window, write down one way that you can stay motivated and make it a habit!
As always, we are eager to connect with you. Would like to meet and talk about getting motivated? You can sign up for a coaching appointment here (https://www.weber.edu/academicpeercoaching). Or, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. If you’d like a fun way to quiz yourself on how motivated you are, try this 12 question assessment found at Mindtools.com. www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_57.html. After seeing your score (no need to create an account), you can get additional information on your level of motivation and suggestions for improvement. How can you improve? You may take a moment to contemplate the degree to which you believe in yourself. Other aspects you can ponder include your level of self-confidence, the extent you practice positive thinking, your ability to focus, or any fear of failure that could be preventing you from achieving goals.
Bokhari, D. (2020, January 15). 8 things that cause your lack of motivation (and how to fix them).
Brown University. (n.d.). Motivation: Lost or just misplaced? Counseling and Psychological Services.
MindTools. (2020). How self-motivated are you? Taking charge of your goals and achievements.
Parker, K., Horowitz, J. M. & Minkin, R. (2020, December 9). How the coronavirus outbreak has- and hasn’t- changed the way Americans work. Pew Research.
About The Author
Rachel is a senior pursuing her degree in communication here at Weber State University.
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