Motivation in the physical distancing era

Struggling with motivation

Motivation is what drives us to make things happen – but staying motivated isn’t always easy. Things are different right now and you might be feeling a little lost without your usual routine. Here are some tips on how to become (and stay!) motivated, and suggestions for what to do if you just can’t get into gear.

Positive and negative motivation

Motivation can help get you up in the morning, and keep you working through a task, determined to succeed when things get tough. But motivation can be both positive and negative:

  • Positive motivations focus on the positive things that will happen when you take action. For example: ‘Finishing this assignment means I’m only a step away from being qualified.'
  • Negative motivations focus on the negative consequences you may face if you don’t take action. For example: ‘If I don’t finish this assignment in the next few hours, I’ll fail my course.'

Negative and positive motivations can both be effective in different circumstances. However, it’s much easier to do something because you actually want to, rather than because you want to avoid a particular outcome if you don’t do it. If you don’t have a positive plan of action, using negative motivation can make you feel helpless and may even reduce your motivation.

How to become (and stay) motivated

Let your goals guide you: When you set a goal, you decide to act in a way that will help you achieve what you want. Goals give you a direction to focus on – one that’s measurable and has an endpoint. Some things to keep in mind with your goals are:

  • Choose goals that interest you. Working towards something that you genuinely want to do or achieve, rather than what other people want for you, is more likely to get you motivated.
  • Find things that interest you within goals that don’t. Sometimes other people set goals or tasks for us that we don’t find interesting or want to do. So, try and find something within that task that does motivate you.
  • Make your goal public. If you tell someone – or write down – your goal, you hold yourself accountable.
  • Plot your progress. seeing evidence that you’re making progress towards your goal can give you a boost! Draw or create a visual representation of how you’re coming closer to achieving the goal you’ve set yourself.
  • Break up your goal. Breaking up a task in your mind into achievable chunks helps build confidence. You might want to start with easier tasks and work your way up to bigger challenges.
  • Use rewards. Promise yourself some sort of reward each time you complete a step/task.
  • You don’t have to do it alone. Other people’s encouragement to keep going can be a big boost to your motivation, particularly when you’re doing it tough. Join a group, find a teacher or someone you can share the experience with.

Dress the part: Research shows the links between what we wear and productivity. So, while it’s comfortable to wear your pyjamas or athleisure, it may make you less likely to feel motivated to work or study. Often comfortable clothing is associated with low-key activities – so put your good outfit on! 

Fight the urge to constantly check your feed: The need to check into social media to see if you have a message, or if your post has been liked or shared is a strong drive. Fight it. It can certainly be a coping mechanism and the more often you do it, the more rewarding it becomes, and the harder a habit it is to break. Go the other direction and set times you will not check social media. Those likes and shares will be there for you later. Plus, some time away from COVID-19 news can do a world of good! 

Tap into your empathy: Stress, even when it’s not obvious, can wear a person down. We can be irritable and react in ways we normally would not, and so can those around us. Coworkers, friends, and family may all snap or be irritable. It is easy to take it personally, but take a minute to step back and think about why. Perhaps their emotional outburst is due to their anxiety, or their environment, and NOT because of you or an because they’ve got a grumpy personality. 

Develop a routine and boundaries: One of the most common suggestions to coping with working/studying online and physical distancing is to create a schedule. Having a routine is a great idea but don’t just stop at work – schedule play, schedule time to socialise and schedule time to do nothing. When it comes to work, set a specific time to stop. This can be a specific time or it can be a project goal. It is difficult to stop when you’re in the flow of work and so working until a milestone is great but having a firm full stop is better for mental health.

Don’t sweat the small stuff: Perspective is really important. The stress of having your life, routine and goals disrupted can feel overwhelming. Those days where nothing seems to be going right can feel like the end of the world. Take a minute to stop and practice some self-care or reframe the situation – what have you learnt or what are you grateful for today?

If you're finding it really hard

If you’ve tried but failed to get motivated, then it might help to talk it through your process with someone you trust. It can be hard to achieve things on your own, so having a positive support network may help when you’ve taken on a big challenge.

You could also try reaching out to a counsellor or make an appointment with one of our YACs, who can help you to work out which motivating strategies will work best for you.

Things are different right now – but know that you are not alone. Do your best to stay active, stay connected, and recharge those batteries whenever you might be feeling a bit drained. We are all in this together!