You’re in a slump. If you stayed in this armchair any longer, you might fuse to it. It’s not that you don’t have stuff to do. You have stuff to do coming out the wazoo.
There’s just no sparkle, no oomph — no discernible fizzle coming from your being that propels you to do any of that right now, or an hour from now or, let’s face it, before the sun sets tonight.
And here you are, staring at the ceiling, stuck to that armchair again.
What happened to the person who started this project? The mad keen woman who was chomping at the bit every morning to get this show on the road? To share her ideas with the world, to be a part of something great, to make a difference?
Feeling unmotivated is a decidedly human thing to feel.
It’s easy to feel excited at the beginning of a project, before the novelty has worn off. It’s easy to feel motivated at the end too — all that giddiness of knowing we’re about to present our masterpiece to the world.
Yet the mundane middle is where we spend most of our lives. So you try to muddle through the middle, only to find that doesn’t work.
You need fire. Heck, you’d settle for a teeny tiny spark. Thankfully, there’s a flint within every person. You only need another one— even if it’s a teeny, tiny baby of a flint — to spark your motivation again.
Here are some sure-fire ways to get your motivational bonfire roaring again, every time.
1. Feel your way through it
Your alarm goes off. It’s only 6am. Technically, you have three more hours until your day starts — or at least when you have to plonk yourself in front of a computer.
Yes, you know you’re a better person when you go for a swim first thing in the morning. You’re less grumpy, less scatter-brained and less likely to push the procrastinate button on everything else. But has there ever been a comfier, cosier bed in the history of beds?
Then, just before you hit the snooze button, you think about getting into the pool. You think about the warm water enveloping you. You think about wonderful it feels to stretch your arms out into the seemingly endless expanse of water, to push away from the edge of the pool and to glide through the water like a slippery eel.
It’s a fantastic feeling. It even beats staying in your cosy bed. So you get up, put on your swimsuit, grab your goggles and towels and head out that door.
To our brains, feeling is everything. Forget about thinking your way out of temptation. Your brain is like a junkie looking for the next dopamine hit. It’s gonna go where the feeling is.
So next time you feel unmotivated, think about how achieving your goal makes you feel. Feel it throughout your entire being before tackling your goal. Now see how effortlessly your movements follow.
2. Get your sugar fix
Have you ever hidden puppy medicine in your pooch’s lunch or vegetables in your kids’ chili con carne? Have you ever come out of covert mode and outright promised them chocolate if they behaved at the doctor’s?
Sometimes a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, as Mary Poppins pointed out. And whatever you think of as bribery as a parenting strategy, you have to admit that sometimes it works.
Done correctly, bribes work on everyone. That means you too.
We have this feeling that as adults, we should be perfectly disciplined at all times. But human psychology doesn’t work that way. Just like kids can sometimes be bribed by the promise of their favorite treat, so can we.
So think of yourself as a great big kid.
I’m not suggesting a slow death by chocolate. I want you to reach for your metaphorical sugar hit.
A couple of years ago I had to do painful physiotherapy exercises every single day. Willingly hurting myself was the last thing I wanted to make time for in my schedule. So I’d postpone the exercises for days, weeks, sometimes months, which meant I wasn’t recovering.
Then I came up with a cunning plan. I started bribing myself with stories.
Reading fiction is my absolute favourite thing. So I made a rule that I could only listen to audiobooks while I was doing my exercises. Soon, exercise time became a treat. I started associating it with the joy of getting lost in a great story, which meant that instead of dreading the exercises, I started looking forward to them.
It wasn’t till later that I learned this is a legitimate technique recommended by the scientists who study motivation. We all have the right tools within ourselves, once we start looking.
So what’s your sugar? Books, a movie, Netflix series or getting lost in your favourite music?
Go on — treat yourself. It’s good for you.
3. Follow the white rabbit
Remember that first scene in Alice in Wonderland? Alice is utterly bored, slumped next to her sister on a river bank. The river bores her. Her sister’s book bores her. She can’t even be bothered to expend the energy of getting up and making a daisy chain.
Then a white rabbit speeds by acting most un-rabbitlike, muttering to itself and checking its pocket watch. Alice, finding this most extraordinary, follows it down a rabbit hole and that’s the start of an epic adventure.
As a child, you were no doubt like that — following that whatever made you feel alive and inspired. It might even have led you to your current job, project or side hustle.
You still have that natural curiosity. Don’t let it stay buried under a pile of boring have-to-do’s.
No! Next time something sparks curiosity in you, follow it. Explore it. Learn all about it.
Creativity is made up of a mish-mash of things that uniquely inspire you. Learning about this new, exciting thing will only add something to your work.
So next time you follow the white rabbit, don’t feel guilty. Instead, go off down that rabbit hole and explore every damn thing you can find. Know that you’ll come away feeling inspired and alive, with a new take on how your work could be even better.
4. Channel your inner four year old
Spent any time around a four year old recently? They’re always asking why, why why.
When feeling particularly unmotivated, sometimes the only thing to do is channel your inner toddler and inform yourself why you’re doing something.
Close your eyes. Picture your ‘why’. Maybe you want look up from your work to see waves crashing on the sand rather than your current view — the dirty brick wall of a neighbouring apartment building. Maybe you’re telling your horrible boss you’re leaving to take a round-the-world cruise — and you’re not coming back. Maybe you’re baking mud pies with your toddler instead of leaving for work before the sun’s even up.
Be as personal and specific as you can. See everything — the exact ice blue colour of the waves, the confusion on your boss’s face, the joy on your toddler’s.
Few things are as motivational as a powerful ‘why’. When the going gets tough, remind yourself of your own, personal, unique why. Dwell there for a while. Take in every minute detail. Then come away feeling refreshed, revived and motivated.
Always have a trick up your sleeve
Imagine waking up inspired every morning, ready to jump out of bed and make some magic happen. Imagine feeling a surge of creativity as you sit down to the task at hand. Imagine being daily immersed in that wonderful sense of flow where time stops, you’re effortlessly focused and all that matters is what you’re creating.
You absolutely can feel this motivated again, if you know the tricks to getting there and keep practicing them.
Some days you might want to follow your natural curiosity where it leads you so you can feel inspired and creative again. With some tasks, you’ll want to remind yourself why you’re doing them, with others you’ll want to focus on the wonderful feeling accomplishing them gives you. And sometimes you’ll want to channel your inner parent and know that a sneaky bribe to yourself is the best way forward.
Only you will know which trick will work for which task, but all of these tried and tested tips will make you come away feeling motivated, alive, engaged and ready to tackle your best work yet.
Because you know where you’re going. And you will get there.