How to Get Motivated | Tips for Self-Motivation | Almanac.com

How to Get Motivated | Tips for Self-Motivation

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Lack of motivation can be a pervasive and debilitating problem, but do not despair—there are ways to get yourself motivated! Read on for a few tips on improving self-motivation.

Forever — is composed of Nows —Emily Dickinson

Spring has arrived. The days stretch longer, you’ve (probably) put away the snow shovels, seen the first leaves unfurl, and the first crocus pop up.

But what refuses to pop up? Your self-motivation. Your get-up-and-go.

You have a lot to get up for: a stalled work project, that hour of daily exercise your doctor prescribed, your longstanding writer’s block, the spring housecleaning, quitting smoking.

Maybe you yearn for a quantum change—that bolt from the blue that suddenly enables you to make long-desired changes to your life and make them stick.

But every day, your same old, plodding self arises and finds it impossible to summon the self-motivation.

Whatever you need to do, your inner demons keep finding excuses for avoiding it.

When one of those demons rears its head, instead of saying Just do it! or Just say no!, I suggest proclaiming Just start somewhere, and see where it takes you.

Running during a sunset.

tips for self-motivation: ‘I’ll start with…’

This strategy envisions only starting a dreaded activity, not plotting a timeline of the actions needed to finish.

In her wonderful book, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg offers the best advice I’ve found—not just for writing, but for overcoming almost any sort of internal resistance or social overlay that’s keeping you from getting to your task.

Paraphrasing Goldberg:

  • Set a time. Say 15 minutes. (Get specific.)
  • Pick up your pencil, or put your hands on the keyboard. (Gear up.)
  • Keep your hand(s) moving. Don’t stop. (Just this little bit now.)
  • Don’t cross out (edit yourself).
  • Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar, chronological order (doing it right).
  • Lose control. (Don’t plan, think, or ruminate about it.)
  • If nothing meaningful seems to come, don’t be afraid to write nonsense. Don’t stop until the time has passed.

You get the gist. Make a small, concrete commitment that your mind accepts as reasonable. Once you’re into it, your demons may have quieted down enough that it seems reasonable to keep going.

The housework?
“I’ll start with the upper shelf. Remove those books, brush the dust from those books, and scrub down that shelf. I can get to the rest later.”

That long walk?
Say to yourself, “Let’s go. Three telephone poles,” and head out the door. As likely as not, at least for me, I usually find myself saying, “Okay, three poles. Now to the top of the hill...” and finish my intended distance.

Goldberg talks about “being a great warrior” who cuts through the noise, the self-doubt, and the laziness.

Staying Motivated

A couple of important corollaries: no promises for tomorrow and no self-recrimination when today’s start doesn’t end up with much progress toward the ultimate.  

As a motivational strategy, just starting seems light years away from quantum change. And in the moment, they don’t seem connected.

Yet I’ve experienced several moments of quantum change in my life, and I’ve often wondered if long avoidance of a needed change, the brief moments of clarity about what I need to do, and the repeated starts and failures lurk in the recesses of my mind to the point of confluence, so when I wake up some morning, the big change seems ridiculously easy.

Until then, I’ll try to stay with my Just start strategy.

But what do I do if my starts don’t seem to turn into finishes? Stay tuned.

About The Author

Margaret Boyles

Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles

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