What’s your secret to getting over a motivation stall?
This is something I’ve been asking my colleagues recently, especially as the enthusiasm of 2021’s “fresh start” energy wears off and your resilience to change fades to the background. It’s easy to fall back into old, unproductive habits or find yourself stuck in a procrastination loop. The roadblock could be that first task on your day’s to-do list, a big project you can’t seem to start, or a long list of sales calls that you’re dreading. Whatever it is, finding the motivation to take that first step is key, and different strategies work for different people.
Start Easy or Start Hard: What to Do When Neither Approach Makes Sense
When it comes to getting over a motivation stall, there are two main schools of thought. One recommends making that first task of your day as small and easy as possible. There’s less resistance to a bite-sized task and it will be easier for you to get started, building forward momentum. The other school of thought says to make the first task your most challenging, so as you move forward your day gets easier and easier. Either of these approaches may be a great option for you, but I’ve realized over the years that neither quite cut it for me.
Starting with something easy can mean I’ll lose steam later in the day when I’m experiencing lower energy levels. Starting with something hard can be rewarding if I complete the task, but if it feels too complex, I can end up “procrastinating” with busy work and never take the first step. So how do I get out of this Catch-22? These are the motivation secrets that work for me:
Cultivate self-awareness around habits and routines. Change always starts with awareness. I’ve learned to identify the behaviors I fall back on when I’m unmotivated or tempted to procrastinate. The more awareness I bring to these behaviors, the easier it is to catch myself and redirect my energy towards something constructive and productive. For example, I have a tendency to fall down the “rabbit hole”– magnifying small misses into larger issues. The better I get at identifying my “rabbit hole” warning signs, like negative self-talk, the easier it is for me to course correct and motivate myself towards positive action.
Find your motivation magic. Reading about and listening to thought leaders are my “motivation love language.” Hearing others share their success stories helps me think about problems differently and inspires me to tackle challenges head-on. Visualization helps too. On my desk at home, I keep photos of my favorite summer vacation destination. I imagine enjoying a glass of wine at Laguna Beach while the sun sets– definitely not my current reality of winter in Denver! These photos keep me on track. That tough client call or big project I’m avoiding? It could be the one thing standing between me and my beach vacation, so I’d better get it done.
Block time for focus work during your peak performance period. When I’m overwhelmed, it’s easy to let distractions take over. My thinking goes something like this: “I’ll get started after I reply to this email…” “Did I place our grocery order? I really should check on that…” “This call could be important, so I really have to take it…” These may all be necessary tasks, but they aren’t my most important. In the moment, I feel better being busy and doing something, but at the end of the day I’m left with the knowledge that I didn’t make enough progress on the one thing that really mattered.
Since I’m most energized in the morning, that’s when I block time for challenging projects. I also plan on a midday break, like eating lunch outside or taking a brisk walk through my neighborhood. I’m an early riser and like to get right to work. I’m less likely to let distractions take over and, knowing I have a midday break coming, I’m extra motivated to finish my most important tasks so I can enjoy this break.
Just take one step. When a project feels too big to begin, I follow the one step rule. All I need to do is take one step forward on the project––make one phone call, draft one page in my report––and once that’s done, I can take a short break. More often than not, my momentum gets rolling and I don’t even need that break as a reward. And when I do take it, I can fully relax and release any anxiety I carried with me about procrastinating.
What’s your go-to strategy for overcoming a motivation hump? How are you removing barriers to success this year?