This week on the blog I'm musing about motivation. Join me after the cut to think about how to motivate yourself when you feel like your mojo is missing.
I don't want to write this blog post. It's Thursday night, I'm freezing cold (this isn't because my heating's broken or anything; I'm usually freezing cold!) and I'm pretty tired after a long day at work. But I post a blog every Friday, so write a blog post I must.
I'm not always motivated to write. It can feel like a chore, even if I'm writing about something that I'm interested in, and I'm often plagued with doubts about my choice of wording or turn of phrase. In the same vein, there are many other things that I'm not always motivated to do. I like chocolate, and I'm not always motivated to choose something "healthier" instead. I don't mind running, and yet getting out of the door is always the hardest part of the run. In fact, having asked lots of people about what inspires them over the years, it seems that even people who love what they're doing find it difficult to do it all the time. Sometimes, motivation just isn't there.
I think that motivation is a word that's often used in society with no real concept of its meaning. Motivation in its truest sense is desire, prompted by either wanting something to happen (like having a finished blog post) or wanting something not to happen (like a reader contacting you to find out where your blog post is!) - where there's a will, people often find a way. When patients talk to me about motivation it's often more complicated - pain can sap you of energy and willingness to do things, and depression can make life much more difficult than it already is. That's not to say that you can't do anything about those things, but it does make motivation more elusive and difficult to find.
If you're struggling with motivation - for anything, not just the things I listed above - then here are some things to bear in mind:
Motivation is largely habit - this is true of most things. I'm writing a blog post on Thursday night because I publish a blog post on Friday morning. You do Park Run on a Saturday because you've done it for the last year. Obviously at some point these things were new and you had to get into the habit of it, but that's true for everything - even brushing your teeth. Many people find that they do the "usual" things on autopilot, and it can be quite hard to change routine. But you need less motivation if you have habit, as it will carry you along with it even on days when you don't want to go swimming (but you go swimming with Sally on Sundays, so you're going anyway).
Check that it's not a symptom of something else - is your loss of motivation accompanied by feelings of guilt or worthlessness, a general low mood and difficulty eating or sleeping? Are you so tired that you can't get out of bed? Do you want to do things, but don't know what or how to start? Some of these things can be symptoms of issues such as depression, seasonal affective disorder, anaemia or vitamin deficiencies. Before you start beating yourself up or calling yourself weak for not being able to stick to a task, maybe check whether something physical might be stopping you.
For that matter, stop beating yourself up or calling yourself weak, and stop giving yourself excuses for not doing things. A big part of motivation is what we say to ourselves when we succeed, and what we say to ourselves when we fail. If you always tell yourself that you'll start the gym on Monday, then Monday rolls around and you convince yourself that you're too tired, you're likely to then have some thoughts about yourself and how "hopeless" you are, that you "never stick to anything." This creates a vicious cycle that means you'll never get to the gym! Instead, try to catch those thoughts as they come up and give yourself a (gentle, kind, compassionate) counter-argument - "I'm too tired" becomes "I know I'm tired now, but going to the gym won't harm me and I might feel better afterwards." "I'm so useless" becomes "I didn't get it right today, but tomorrow is a new day."
Remember that you won't always be motivated - I'm still not motivated to write this blog post and I'm almost all the way through it! But remember that it is possible to do things even if you don't feel like it. It's a very common thought process that you should feel super enthusiastic about everything all the time, and that there's something wrong with you if you don't. That's rubbish. You won't always want to get out of bed and brush your teeth. It's cold, it's raining, you don't want to go cycling. But you need to remember that there was a reason you wanted to do this in the first place, and that reason doesn't change just because the weather or your mood did.
Write a list of the reasons you want to do something differently, or want to keep doing something you started. Sounds so simple, works so well. You're even allowed to write down the reasons you don't want to do it, for balance - hopefully the positives outweigh the negatives. If they don't, then maybe it's worth asking yourself if it's something you have to do, or if there's something else that your time would be better off going towards.
Expect to fail. There's a cycle in psychology called the Stages of Change cycle, which takes you through all the stages involved in changing a habit or doing something differently - from pre-contemplation ("I have no problem, I'm not changing") all the way through to maintenance ("I'm doing it and I can keep doing it"). Relapse is built in to the cycle - it's expected, not abnormal. It takes a smoker a few tries to quit. It might take you a few tries to start writing a regular blog post. The important thing is...
Don't give up. So you decided that today was better spent sitting on the sofa watching the Good Place, rather than running round a park? No worries - try again tomorrow. You won't always be motivated and you won't always manage to have habit carry you through it - but you can always start again. That's the joy of being human.
It's the end of the post, and maybe I'm feeling a bit more inspired - and now I know that I can write a 1,000+ word blog post even when I don't feel too motivated. That's knowledge that will serve me well next Thursday night! Do you have any tips for motivating yourself when you don't feel motivated? Let me know in the comments!
Dr Sarah Blackshaw: Clinical Psychologist, blogger, tea drinker, interested in dinosaurs and shiny objects