We’ve all had mornings when we felt like we had to drag ourselves out of bed to go to work. But what do you do when a temporary dip in motivation turns into prolonged feelings of apathy, tiredness, depression, or other contributing factors that make life feel like a struggle? In these moments, you need to know how to motivate yourself toward brighter skies.
Lack of motivation is a growing issue in the U.S. For instance, a poll from Gallup shows that only 36 percent of employees feel engaged with their jobs. While there are many things managers may do to encourage their employees, particularly when it comes to extrinsic motivation (external rewards), intrinsic motivation (internal rewards that come from within) is necessary to increase the likelihood of completing projects. One study found that in addition to seeing projects through, intrinsic motivation also comes with a love for the work itself.
Ready to regain high levels of drive, ambition, and productivity? Start by learning why many people lose motivation and discover the best techniques for self-motivation you can begin trying today.
- Only 36 percent of U.S. employees feel engaged with their jobs.
- Stress, burnout, difficult tasks, health problems, and relationship problems can lead to a lack of motivation.
- Self-motivation is vital when management is unresponsive.
- Tying goals to a larger purpose and vision create meaning.
- Expressing gratitude can lead to more positivity in life.
Why It Can Be Challenging to Find Motivation
A lack of motivation can stem from numerous sources because motivation relies so much on emotion. If you’re in a good mood, chances are, you feel highly motivated to do anything. If you’re feeling like a dark cloud is hanging over you, even the simplest task at hand can feel like a chore. The following are some of the reasons you might have trouble motivating yourself.
If you experience stress at your job, the thought of going to work can be dreadful. According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, nearly 80 percent of workers experienced stress in the past month. This resulted in 26 percent feeling a lack of interest or motivation while at work.
Similar to stress, work burnout can drain your energy and make it difficult to find motivation. According to Deloitte, 77 percent of workers feel burned out. Even if you like your job and the people you work with, you can still experience burnout depending on how much of a workload you have. The same can happen if you don’t take time off to refresh your energy.
Some parts of your job may be much more difficult to accomplish than others. As you worry about doing those tasks, this can lead to a lack of motivation, even if it isn’t what you’re doing right now. There’s always that one issue lurking on the horizon, making it difficult to concentrate when you need to.
Some issues may be unrelated to your work. People may lose motivation when faced with a problem regarding their health. Even something as common as the flu can affect everything you do. Health problems may lead to a lack of sleep and energy, which can have an impact on your job and your personal life. When such issues arise, it can be tough to find motivation even when you need it most.
Social media and streaming services make for huge distractions that are almost always present. Even if these aren’t a problem for you, distractions can break your focus and cause you to spend too much time on unimportant tasks.
Lack of Clarity
Have you ever been working on a project and wondered, “What exactly am I doing?” When you don’t have clarity about what you want to achieve, you can quickly lose your motivation.
Other personal issues can have adverse effects on your motivation levels. If you have a strained relationship with a parent, spouse, or child, you may feel like you need to devote more energy to the problem. With your mind otherwise occupied, your feelings of motivation can quickly be sapped. Motivation is often one of the first things to go if you’re constantly fretting over personal problems.
Lack of Accountability
When you work on your own, if you don’t hold yourself accountable, it can be easy to get sidetracked. Procrastination can also rear its ugly head. If you don’t take charge of your time, you can quickly fall into the trap of wasting it.
Fear of Failure
Negative emotions usually accompany failure, which is why so many people don’t want to do anything risky. Fear of failure can paralyze you, inhibiting your growth and keeping you in a rut. Without any meaningful progress, people can find themselves suffering from a lack of motivation.
7 Ways to Motivate Yourself
Trying to put off the issue of motivation usually means the problem will grow over time. Instead, you need to confront it head-on and practice some effective techniques for regaining your motivation. If you’ve struggled in the past with learning how to get motivated, the following ways may prove useful.
1. Choose Your Goals Carefully
One common tactic many successful people use is to make goals they want to achieve. While that is doubtlessly an excellent strategy, simply writing down a bunch of goals isn’t enough. You have to be deliberate with your goal selection, which means tying your goals to a greater purpose.
If you’re at work and create a goal to email a dozen contacts by the end of the week, write down why it’s so important to do that. What overall vision does that goal work toward? How does it help you grow as a person? It might seem trivial at first, but coupling a goal with the reason behind the goal can give you extra motivation to reach it. You’re not just performing a task—you’re taking a necessary step toward something bigger.
- You’re not just trying to lose weight—you’re improving your health so you can take that walking tour of Rome you always wanted to do.
- You’re not just reading a new book every month—you’re expanding your mind and becoming a more intellectual individual.
This all ties closely with creating a vision for your life. Once you know what that vision is, you can set goals for it. With the goals and vision in mind, you’ll have the motivation to do whatever it takes.
Tie your goals to a larger purpose and vision. This will help to create meaning for what you do.
2. Show Gratitude
Experts from Harvard University say that expressing gratitude boosts your health. Research has shown that displaying gratitude can lead to more positivity in your life. One study discovered that focusing on what you’re grateful for led to a better mood and more motivation to complete tasks.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to count your blessings when things seem to be going wrong. If stress overwhelms you or you find yourself in the middle of a health challenge, gratitude might be the last thing on your mind. However, as the research has shown, gratitude does wonders for your mental health. It has a way of picking you up when you’re at your lowest point.
Scientists have found that the important thing is to practice gratitude regularly. Take the time each day to identify what you are grateful for. Discuss what has gone right in your life. You’ll find that a grateful heart can give you the motivation to do almost anything.
Showing gratitude regularly can improve your mood and increase your motivation.
3. Set Manageable Steps
Some of the goals you set for yourself might seem daunting, but you may tackle them with enthusiasm initially. Your progress at the start might be noticeable and impressive. Then comes the lull—a point midway through where the beginning enthusiasm has waned, and you find yourself struggling to keep going. If this happens to you often, it’s time to break up your goal even further into more manageable steps. These steps might include what you need to do in the next week, day, or even the next hour.
- Instead of aiming to sign up 30 new clients by the end of the quarter, focus on getting three by the end of the week.
- Don’t look at the number of books you need to read by the end of the year. Break it down by trying to read 10 to 15 pages every day.
Breaking things down into more manageable steps can give you a sense of accomplishment while you make clear progress.
4. Give Yourself Simple Rewards
Motivation can come from earning rewards. When reaching your goals, you’ll likely need to reward yourself. Of course, the reward for achieving a large goal should be significant to tell yourself you did a great job. That reward on its own can be a good motivator.
Waiting until the end to receive the reward can also drain your motivation and make it challenging to stay excited. With this in mind, give yourself smaller rewards along the way. Take the more manageable steps from the previous point and tie rewards to them. These rewards shouldn’t be anything elaborate, expensive, or time-consuming. The simpler they are, the better.
Here are some examples of simple rewards you can give yourself:
- Listen to one of your favorite songs.
- Take a short nap.
- Treat yourself to a tasty snack (preferably a healthy one).
- Give yourself a five-minute break.
- Watch a short video.
- Message a friend or loved one.
- Take a brief walk outdoors.
- Make plans for a vacation.
- Practice meditation and positive thinking.
5. Get Rid of Distractions
Your motivation can come to a screeching halt if you allow distractions to affect you. One moment, you’re moving closer to your goal, and the next moment, you realize you’ve spent the past two hours going down a YouTube rabbit hole. Distractions are all around us, from social media to coworkers and friends. While these aren’t bad things, they can hinder your progress when you need to focus.
Rich Fernandez, the CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, teaches that the first step to overcoming distractions is to identify what causes them in the first place. “Pause, take stock, be aware that you’re being triggered,” he advises. “Then switch the spotlight of your attention.”
Identifying the distraction doesn’t mean completely ignoring it, but it does mean knowing how it affects you. “You don’t have to stifle it or suppress it,” Fernandez says. “Make note of it, acknowledge it, and put it in a mental parking lot to think about later, when you can discuss it with someone else, or when you’re not at work and have lots to do.” With distractions out of the way, your motivation will increase.
You don’t have to ignore distractions; plan to return to them after you finish the task at hand.
6. Give Advice and Guidance
This next point might seem counterintuitive. After all, if you’re reading this, you’re trying to find advice on ways to stay motivated. How does giving advice to others help with that effort? It turns out that research has shown if you’re the one providing the guidance, you feel more motivated to work on your own goals.
This point comes from Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago. According to Dr. Fishbach, you increase confidence in yourself by giving advice. “In a recent study, I found that people struggling to achieve a goal like finding a job assumed that they needed tips from experts to succeed,” she explains. “In fact, they were better served by offering their wisdom to other job seekers, because when they did so, they laid out concrete plans they could follow themselves, which have been shown to increase drive and achievement.”
If you find yourself lacking motivation, look for opportunities to teach others. Find ways to motivate them. You may not consider yourself an inspiring leader, but you may be surprised to discover how things fall into place when you serve others. In this way, practicing servant leadership can boost your motivation.
Teaching and advising others can inspire you to organize your own life and make effective plans.
7. Eat the Frog
Motivation can wane when you know you have a difficult task coming up. That’s when procrastination sets in, and people avoid getting started for as long as possible. One strategy to combat this reaction is to eat the frog, a Mark Twain phrase further popularized by author Brian Tracy in Eat That Frog! When you “eat the frog,” you do the most challenging thing first before doing anything else. As Tracy writes, “The hardest part of any important task is getting started on it in the first place. Once you actually begin work on a valuable task, you seem to be naturally motivated to continue.”
Getting the most difficult task out of the way first is an excellent method for motivating yourself to continue. Think about how freeing it feels to have the worst part off your plate. The remaining tasks will seem easy and perhaps even a joy to tackle. Eating the frog is like starting a journey in the middle of a rainstorm, only for the clouds to clear and the sun to come out the rest of the way.
Tackle the hardest task first so you can free up more of your time and energy.
Achieving Self-Motivation to Maximize Flow
Self-motivation is all about cultivating positive thoughts about one’s abilities. As you do this, you facilitate a flow state with whatever you’re doing. Essentially, a flow state means becoming fully immersed in what you are focusing on. You then experience feelings of contentment and enjoyment. Once you’ve achieved that flow state, you also feel greater resilience, productivity, and fulfillment.
Here are some helpful tips for entering a flow state:
- Set up a routine that you follow every day.
- Note what times you are most productive.
- Establish an environment that helps you focus.
- Concentrate on only one task at a time.
- Keep a positive attitude.
If you need a little extra help with motivation, specifically at work, check out the following article:
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- Gallup, I. (2021). U.S. Employee Engagement Data Hold Steady in First Half of 2021. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/352949/employee-engagement-holds-steady-first-half-2021.aspx
- Russ, S. (2011). Emotion/Affect. Encyclopedia Of Creativity, 449-455. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-375038-9.00089-3
- Burnout and stress are everywhere. (2023). https://www.apa.org/monitor/2022/01/special-burnout-stress
- Workplace Burnout Survey | Deloitte US. (2023). https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/burnout-survey.html
- University, H. (2023). Gratitude. https://www.harvard.edu/in-focus/gratitude/
- Courtney E. Ackerman, M. (2017). Benefits of Gratitude: 28+ Surprising Research Findings. https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-gratitude-research-questions/
- What to Do When You’re Feeling Distracted at Work. (2017). https://hbr.org/2017/12/what-to-do-when-youre-feeling-distracted-at-work
- How to Keep Working When You’re Just Not Feeling It. (2018). https://hbr.org/2018/11/how-to-keep-working-when-youre-just-not-feeling-it
- What Is a Flow State and What Are Its Benefits?. (2023). https://www.headspace.com/articles/flow-state