Do you ever have days when you can’t seem to get yourself moving? Days when your energy and motivation are shorter than your to-list? Days that you look back on and wonder if you accomplished anything? I am normally highly self-motivated, but I experience maddening stretches when my motivation doesn’t live up to my expectations. I recently struggled to motivate myself to be productive through two days in a row, which got me thinking about how to lift myself out of a motivational slump.
Self motivation is extremely important. One big difference between leaders and followers is that followers need leaders to motivate them. Leaders can’t depend on others to motivate them.
Here are some ideas for getting out of a motivational slump:
1. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise has a long list of benefits, many of which directly contribute to increased motivation. For example, exercise causes our bodies to release endorphins, which triggers positive feelings. Counterintuitively, exercise actually increases energy levels. High energy combined with positive feelings is a nice recipe for motivation.
I find a noticeable difference in motivation between days I exercise in the morning and days I don’t.
I wrote a post relating my experience of stopping running for a year and then starting again. After a few years of running led to widespread improvements to my life, I listened to “experts” who said that “chronic cardio” (i.e. frequent running) is bad for you. I became convinced that I would be better off with less frequent, more intense weight training.
During the year I stopped running I gained weight and noticed a significant drop in energy and motivation. In the few months since I resumed running 3-4 times per week (while still weight training twice a week), I have lost weight and regained my energy and motivation.
Exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous every time. The subdivision I live in surrounds a large man-made lake with a network of asphalt trails. A brisk walk around this lakes feels almost as good as a run.
2. Structure your schedule
I find the strength of my motivation to be correlated with how effectively I plan my time. I struggle on days that are wide open without a clear plan. On these days I spend more time reacting to email and checking social media than proactively tackling my to-do list.
I like to plan my next day on the night before. I review my to-do list, identify my top priorities, and decide the order in which I will tackle them. In this way I avoid wasting precious morning brainpower trying to figure out what I’m going to do that day.
It helps to tackle the most difficult or least enjoyable tasks first. I struggle with motivation when I have dreaded tasks hanging over my head throughout the day. It’s better to knock them out first when I have the most energy and willpower, and then I can spend the rest of the day on more enjoyable tasks.
Whenever possible I prefer to block out certain days or periods of time for related tasks. Rapid task switching is unavoidable at times when running startups, but it is draining and unproductive, especially when those tasks use different parts of the brain. It’s difficult to solve a customer problem on the phone and then go into a strategic planning meeting and then build a financial model.
For example, I try to schedule conference calls for Tuesday, focus on technical tasks Wednesday, have on-site meetings on Thursday, and tie up loose ends on Friday.
Everyone has a different situation, but you can experiment with structuring your schedule for maximum motivation.
3. Set short-term milestones
I struggle to motivate myself when the tasks I work on today don’t get me noticeably closer to an end result.
I learned this through an experience I had while going to university. I took a PhD prep track within my masters degree because I was considering an academic career. During one summer I worked part time researching for a professor and part time programming for a startup software company.
I found myself struggling to motivate myself to work on the long-term research project while looking forward to tackling the short-term projects at the fast-paced software company. After that summer I abandoned the academic path and for the last several years have worked with startups.
Looking back, I don’t think an academic path was necessarily the problem (although I’m happy with the direction I chose). Rather, I should have broken down the long-term project into short-term milestones.
Milestones should be set so that the work on any given day will bring you noticeably closer to it.
4. Make a change
So far I have focused on how to motivate yourself in your current circumstances. However, sometimes extended lack of motivation is an indicator that it’s time for a change. Sometimes the path we set out on is not the best one to continue on.
Before making a change, we should carefully consider our motives. We should consider whether or not the previous steps will get us back on track. The grass usually isn’t really greener on the other side, and any worthwhile pursuit will have periods of boredom and difficulty and seemingly impossible obstacles.
Self-motivation is an essential trait for leaders. But even the best leaders face periods of time where they struggle to motivate themselves. However, what makes them leaders is the ability to pull themselves out of motivational slumps.
Question: How do you motivate yourself?