We all have things we want to do but just can’t seem to get ourselves to do them. Maybe it’s working out consistently, tackling a house project, starting a new hobby or side business, or anything else. This post will help us better understand motivation and the steps we need to take to finally uncover how to get motivated.
I am a morning person. Always have been, and hope that I always will be. When I start my day early, alone, and in the quiet, I thrive. I spend time in prayer, get a jump start on my day, and get in the right mindset to have a great day.
But while I was in grad school I got out of the habit of waking up early. My assignments were always due at midnight. I’d stay up late getting my homework done and let myself sleep in the next morning. I learned what all the night dwellers already know, sleeping in feels amazing! Now that I’ve been done with my Master’s degree for four months I’m trying to get myself back into the habit of consistently waking up early and it is hard.
O motivation, motivation, wherefore are thou motivation
This morning I laid in bed thinking through all of the things I wanted to wake up and get started on. I was really excited about a couple of these things. I wanted to work on them before I had to wake up my family and go to work. But I kept laying in bed thinking about doing the things instead of actually getting up and doing them.
Have you ever had an experience like that? You really want to do something, you’re excited about doing it, but you just can’t seem to get yourself around to get started. We sleep in, procrastinate, watch one more show, or distract ourselves with all the other things on our to do list except for the one thing we really want or need to do. We are looking for that magical answer that will help us get motivated.
What is motivation?
Motivation is typically defined as the desire or willingness to do something. Unfortunately, that definition falls a little short of what we usually mean when we think of motivation. I really desired to get up this morning. I was willing to get up this morning. But it still took me 45 minutes to actually lift up my body out of my bed. The desire and willingness was there, but the motivation to actually get me up was a lot harder to find.
If motivation is simply wanting and being eager to do something, I have motivation in spades. I want to do all kinds of things. I’d even say I’m willing to do them, just maybe not right this minute. Not when I’m laying in my cozy warm bed, or reading a good book, or watching a good show.
What we really mean by motivation
You see, the “motivation” we’re looking for is the push over the “desire ledge” into action. We want to not just want to do something but to actually find something that will propel us to get to work.
That usually happens when the pain of not doing the thing becomes greater than the pain of actually doing it. Even though I’ve fallen off the wagon of being a morning person I’m still able to get myself out of bed every morning by 6:45 am because this is the time I need to start waking up my kids so they won’t be late for school. It doesn’t matter how cozy warm my bed is, or how few hours of sleep I got last night, I know I have to get the kids to school on time. The pain of not getting out of bed by 6:45 am, and therefore making everyone late in the morning, is greater than the pain of getting out of bed.
So the question we need to ask is how to we get ourselves over the mental divide of wanting to do something to actually taking action? How do increase our desire strong enough to actually do the thing we want to do?
Ways to Increase Motivation
The most important rule to remember when it comes to motivation is that action proceeds motivation. Once you start doing the thing you want to do it is usually not hard to keep doing it. Action begets motivation. Most of the time, you won’t feel motivated until you begin. With that in mind here are some specific strategies we can use to help us begin more often.
Choose a small action.
I have been running every day for nearly six years now. I don’t feel like running every day, but I do it anyway, no matter how I feel. The “rule” I follow when it comes to my daily running is that I run at least one mile a day (this qualifies for an official Streak Runners International run streak). A mile a day takes me about 10-12 minutes. It’s just a loop around my neighborhood. Many days I run for more than a mile, but my commitment begins with just a mile a day.
Often we set big goals for ourselves that feel really intimidating. I used to wake up at 4:00 am with no problem, but the idea of doing that now sounds awful. Instead, I am working to gradually get there by starting small. I set my alarm for 6:00 am, then 5:30 am, and so on.
Writers will often set goals to write a certain amount of words per day. Experienced writers might write thousands of words per day, but beginners would be better served by starting with goal of a couple hundred.
When you’re thinking about the thing you want to do, consider if there is a way to break it down into something smaller that won’t feel so intimidating. Once you start, you can always keep going, but your initial commitment should be to an action that is small enough that the pain of doing it is far less than the pain of not doing it.
Sometimes we never take action toward our goals simply because we haven’t decided when to actually get to work. If you’ve been wanting to exercise consistently, start a new side business, or tackle that house project when will you start? When will you actually do the work?
You may have seen the memes on social media during the pandemic that talk about how we always say that when we find time where we have nowhere to go and nothing to do then we’ll get started on that thing we’ve been putting off. Except, many people had nowhere to go and nothing to do for months on end and still never started on their projects. My husband’s handyman business has been thriving because of this phenomenon. People thought they didn’t have time, but what they really lacked was a desire to actually do the work.
Assuming that you actually do want to do the work to achieve your goals, your next step is to get it on your schedule. Quit waiting for time to magically appear. Pick a time and then when the time comes, do the work.
Make a Routine.
I got tired of my personal email inbox always getting backed up. I mostly receive garbage marketing emails from companies so it doesn’t take long to clear it out, I just never took the time to do it. I’d glance at my inbox for important things and let the rest sit and back up. I have just enough of an obsessive personality to hate having an unclean email box so this created a constant sources of low-level anxiety for me. Until one day I decided to add email to my normal morning routine.
Now, when I wake up, I read my Bible and pray, read a chapter in a non-fiction book, and then clear up my personal email. When I go through my emails each day this usually takes me about three minutes or less. If there is something that needs more in depth attention and a reply, I put it on my schedule for later. But all the quick and easy garbage emails that clog it up? Those are cleaned up quickly and easily every single day.
If there is something you want to get motivated to do on a consistent basis, see if you can tie it into an already existing routine. It may take a little while to build the habit, but even after just a few days, the benefit of seeing your progress will be enough to keep you going in the right direction.
Fight again decision fatigue.
The main benefit of the routine is that it takes out all the decisions. This is the same for my run streak. I don’t have to decide if I’ll run each day, just when. I’ve then made it a part of my normal daily routine which answers when. After that, I just have to move my feet. We make something like 35,000 decisions per day. Decision fatigue is a real thing. So make all the decisions ahead of time and just get to work.
Today’s Action Step to Get Motivated
Pick one thing that you’ve been wanting to do and struggling to get motivated to do lately. Think through the above suggestions – make it small, schedule it, and create a routine. Which one of these ideas can you apply to your situation to help you push through the mental barrier to actually start taking action?
This morning, as silly as it sounds, the thing I used to actually get me out of bed was the bathroom. I made my commitment really small. “I’m just going to get up and go to the bathroom.” Once I got myself out of bed and found my cozy warm bathrobe I also found the motivation I needed to stay up and get to work.
This month we will be talking about how to get yourself to do what you want to do on each episode of the podcast. Listen to the beginning of this miniseries in episode 18.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield – a great book that talks all about overcoming the challenges of our own internal enemy to do what we’re called to do.