How to Tackle Low Motivation in COVID-19
This article discusses how we all hit 'walls' in our motivation as we juggle responsibilities in isolation, and how to manage yourself in order to fuel small, meaningful actions that contribute to longer term goals.
What is the Low Motivation Wall?
So it's week who-knows-what of lockdown, and somehow it seems to always be Thursday. The weeks seem to pass more quickly as days blend. Where you were eager to bake, and spring clean and begin new projects at the start, with no definitive end in sight it's all suddenly seeming a little bit... well, endless. The work tasks keep piling up, and you're getting things done. But it's a drag. The reality of the longer term impacts of COVID-19 are beginning to sink in, and you're realising there is no "old normal" to return to. All the uncertainty of the future is draining your energy. At a certain point, every one of us will hit this 'low motivation wall.'
I hear you. We are all hitting little bumps in the road here and there, and doing our best. And we will all have days where our energy takes a nose dive, and we desperately need to charge our batteries somehow.
How to Tackle The Wall
Here is a weekly tool to help you tackle the low motivation wall. Start right now as you read the article. Get a pen and paper and get going (even if you don't feel like it).
1. View motivation as an emotion, not a state of being.
First off, recognise that motivation is an emotion, not a state of being. I hear people speak about motivation in black and white terms: that you either are or are not motivated. As if it can be a longterm state of being. Humour me for a moment and think of motivation as an emotion. Emotions in general last 90 seconds (unless fuelled by our thoughts to last longer). So likely you gobbled up the Michael Jordan documentary "The Last Dance" on Netflix and felt pumped to get out there and work on your goals. You decided you were going to get up earlier the next day, you were going to get in the best shape of your life over the next month. You set your alarm to get up earlier. You fell asleep feeling focused, determined and a little bit proud of yourself. And then the next morning, in a murky blur you hear your alarm and feel nothing but tired. You hit the snooze button because suddenly the motivation isn't there in that moment. Your thoughts were no longer fired towards motivation. They were focused on the short term reward of the comfort of your bed. Therefore, relying on feeling motivated is not a sustainable strategy to reach your goal. Consistent actions are, though. But first, you need to know what your goal is.
2. Clarify your goal for each week
Try not to think too far ahead at the moment, think week-to-week instead. If you have a more longterm goal, break it down into a weekly goal that is SMARTS. SMARTS is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound and I am going to add in at the end Scary. What I mean by that is an action that is scary, but in a good way. The type of scary that brings up nervous excitement. For most people, this means putting themselves out there, showing up in front of other human beings that bring you further to your goal. For example, if your goal is to get a promotion in work, your 'safe' weekly goal might be to research ways to get promotions, to read a book on strategies. Those safe actions help, but they only take you so far because they keep you hidden. Your 'good-scary' goal could be to speak up three times in your weekly team Zoom meeting. This means preparing for the meeting with key points, and expressing your opinions in a way that shows others you are ready for the next step up. It's scary, but in an exhilarating kind of way, and it builds the skills you need in order to show up differently. It's also easy to measure, review and learn from.
3. Break that goal down into bite sized chunks
Great, you have your weekly goal, now find a way to do one small thing each day that contributes to it. This small thing takes less than half an hour, and it can be done five days a week. Using the example above - you have your good-scary goal, and your team meeting is every Friday. You might decide for 20 minutes each morning you review a project you are working on and formulate informed opinions about how it could be improved - then you practice speaking those views aloud for 5 minutes in front of a mirror to get used to seeing yourself say them, as you will be seeing yourself on Zoom at the Friday meeting. It sounds new, and fun, and helps you move towards your goals, and it's a little bit strange and different to how you usually operate.
4. Bank your success
Every time you complete a 'bite sized' step towards your weekly goal - write it down. Make sure it is something you feel proud of. Keep a notebook or an Excel sheet handy where you put in at least 3 entries a day. By keeping track of smaller wins along the way, you will remind yourself there is a goal you are working towards, and you are making progress as you go. Using the example above, you might enter times you expressed your opinion, or offered a new way to do something, or took over a more managerial task, or began a conversation about a project, or simply that you showed up that day and did your job well. On days where you don't feel like doing much, you can look back over this 'bank' of micro successes and it can give you that hit of the 90 seconds of motivation you need to get started on your daily bite sized goal, i.e. get into action and out of thought and emotion. This builds confidence and helps you realise you are capable of doing a lot, and you just need to apply a little bit of effort towards it each day in order to see and feel progress.
5. Tweak and Repeat
At the end of each week, look back over the week, acknowledge your success, and your mini successes along the way. Then tweak the goal for the week ahead. Keep it interesting, exciting, and bring a sense of novelty into it. Decide how you will be kept accountable and then set your goal and bite sized goals for the week ahead. That way when you come to your desk on Monday, you will know exactly what to do and won't need to dig deep for motivation at a time when you may or may not feel it.
Be Kind to Yourself
Get to know yourself as you move through this process. I've found COVID has offered us a closer reflection of who we are, how we operate, how we respond to fear, and how we handle the unknown. I've chosen a work-based example in this exercise, but maybe your goal is to get 20 minutes to yourself away from the kids every day. Maybe it's to change careers. Maybe it's to find a new job, or help a loved one who is unwell without burning out. We're in a constantly changing reality, and many people are spinning plates right now. Above all else, be kind. To yourself, and to everyone you come into virtual contact with. We all need more kindness and connection in our lives and it is something we are all capable of doing. When you hit a wall of motivation, know you are human. You are not failing, or behind. You are just a human being. In summary - do your best, give your best, and above all else, be kind.
Wishing you well and sending you kindness this week.