Can you relate to that inner battle, where a bit of you knows what you "should" or "could" or "would" be doing... if it wasn't for the fact that the rest of your brain is fully in denial and refusing to buckle down?
Maybe there’s a pile of paperwork on your desk begging for your attention, but you just can’t bring yourself to touch it? I get this too. Just because I’m a therapist doesn’t mean I don’t have the same physical and mental struggles as any other human!
So, why do we lose motivation in the first place?
Well, there are several reasons for why we may lose motivation, one of which may be issues to do with health, so it is always a good idea to talk with your GP if you have less energy than is usual for you.
But what we are going to be talking about in this article is stress. Yep – that dreaded “S” word that seems to plague most of our lives, most of the time. When we are dealing with stress, whether that’s in our personal life or at work, we might cope brilliantly for a while, but eventually we can become overwhelmed. This overload of stress can trigger a host of chemical changes in the body, one of which leads to loss in energy and motivation.
There are a number of ways I help my clients to address the physical changes that result from stress, to gradually and naturally improve motivation over time. But what if your report is due to be handed in tomorrow or the in-laws are due to visit your messy house and you need a motivation boost now?
Here are some of the things I do to motivate me, that you might like to try to get you up and moving again.
1. I set myself a specific goal and imagine how it would feel to achieve it.
Maybe it’s because I’m a hypnotherapist, but I am a big advocate for using imagination. You may have noticed, but when we procrastinate, our minds often refuse to even think about the huge mountain of tasks ahead. That’s because the emotional part of the brain doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality, so when we think about a dreaded task, we react as though we are already there, facing the mountain of doom, which of course we don’t want to do!
“Imagining doing the task IS the first step to doing a task”
But we can use this aspect of the brain to our advantage.
Picture now one specific task that you need to do today – get it really clear and vivid in your mind. Imagine you are taking the first step to do that task – whether that’s switching on the computer, or getting the mop and bucket, whatever the first thing is. Now imagine that you’ve done everything you needed to do and you have finished the task. How does that feel to achieve the goal – knowing it’s done? While imagining starting and completing the task, you’ve activated other parts of your brain responsible for movement, problem solving and raising energy in order to complete the task. Well done – you’ve already started!
2. I make the first step small and “doable.”
The less motivated I feel, the kinder I am to myself, allowing some of my steps to be really tiny, so tiny they almost don’t exist… except, when I complete these tiny tasks, they feel so small that they almost always lead to me feeling like doing the next tiny task. Before I know it, I’ve completed 10 tiny tasks and all because “I felt like doing more.” That’s the beauty of small steps – they feel easy and achievable, so motivate you to do more.
“Break it down into bitesize chunks”
That’s because when we imagine the huge enormity of tackling a big goal, we freak out and tip our brains into survival mode. In this mode, our minds and bodies are geared towards fight or flight – and not completing the paperwork that’s been sat there for 4 weeks, or getting the floors cleaned.
In this state we are much more prone to running away (aka refusing to think about it) or hiding on the couch under a blanket, waiting for the “danger” to pass. Small, easy steps bypass this brain response.
3. I set myself rewards for achieving steps.
Getting a reward for doing something that feels “doable” certainly improves the likelihood that we’ll do it, but we do need to be a bit careful here. Ask yourself – is the reward compatible with my values? What I mean is, could this reward lead you further away from achieving other goals in your life? For example, if someone who would ideally like to lose some weight, chooses to eat chocolate after completing every step of writing a report – they could actually be left feeling worse rather than better.
“Healthy rewards for difficult steps”
Whether we are aware of it or not – doing things that we know are not in our best interests produces stress – so although the report might get done today, tomorrow’s motivation may be lower.
Choosing rewards that are fun, interesting or good for you can bypass this issue. The more difficult the step – the bigger the reward. I like to use rewards that relax me such as watching a movie or pampering myself with a beauty treatment.
4. I go for a walk in nature.
Taking a walk is a very powerful thing to do for our bodies and our minds. We know movement is good for our bodies, but did you know that simply walking (particularly in nature) can actually suppress the flight or fight response? You can maximise the mental benefits of walking by using mindfulness. As you walk, you can start by noticing the feeling of pressure on each foot as it connects with the ground. Notice the colours you can see, or the sounds around you, like birds or even traffic nearby.
“Mindful walking can give you a complete break from stress”
See if you can focus your awareness to what is around you right now, rather than on what is in your thoughts. Thoughts always tend to pop up of course – thinking is what brains are designed to do! But during your walk, see if you can notice your thought and then move your attention back to whatever is around you.
5. Celebrate achieving your goal!
When you are done, it’s quite natural to feel a sense of relief and then immediately move on with your life and forget all about your achievement. But when we do this, we are missing a trick! When we really think about what we have achieved and focus on that feeling of satisfaction, we are sending a message to the brain – we like achieving things! As the brain learns what we value, it associates feeling joy and satisfaction with doing things we don’t enjoy, so it will become naturally easier and easier to approach similar tasks in the future. So really focus your attention on what you have done today. What did it take to overcome all the odds to achieve success? Make it personal – how does it feel to be that person who can persist until the work is complete? How totally brilliant are you for getting the job done?
"By pairing the idea of joy and satisfaction with doing things you don't enjoy, your future brain will be more motivated when it encounters this task or something similar again"
So, what tiny steps will you take this week? Mine was to start a blog… and now I am going to celebrate by watching an episode of Mad Men…
If you would like further help with regaining your energy and motivation, or with anything else that is troubling you, get in contact with me today to book your free initial consultation, where we can talk more about how your brain may be holding you back from achieving your goals and how hypnotherapy can help.