Life is hard. We all have a thousands things we are meant to be doing at any one time and rarely is there enough time in the day to do it all. This leaves us often feeling over taxed and unable to achieve everything we want to achieve – and things then tend to slide. This all comes down to one evening or one morning when something needs to be done but you just can not muster the strength to do it. The alarm goes off so you turn over and switch off, or you decide to have a quick ‘lie down’ before getting started on your chores which quickly becomes a full night’s sleep that you really did not have time for. You wake up the next day feeling like a failure, and with the list of things to do mounting further. Worse, the fact that you probably procrastinated first, or did not get changed for bed, means that you are no more awake or energetic than you would have been and so no more able to cope with the ever increasing load of things that you need to do. It is a depressing vicious cycle and in order to break it we need to learn to be able to go against what we want to do, and do what we know we should do in order to get things done and make some kind of concrete progress. So how do you motivate yourself to not watch the entire box set of 24 and instead to a workout and fill out that tax return?
One technique is to compromise and promise that you will do just a bit of whatever it is you want to finish. For example, if it is a workout you are putting off, tell yourself that you will do just five minutes of training before bed. Make just one set of bicep curls for example. If you need to tidy then tell yourself you will tidy just one corner of the room. The reason this works so well is that it will make a good dent in your workload – a bit of bicep exercise is better than nothing and will still prevent your muscles from decaying, and with one corner of the room tidy you will spend less time doing it tomorrow (and be more motivated by seeing less of an overwhelming task). The even better thing about this method however is that it often leads to the person in question managing to summon the energy to complete the whole task – starting is the hardest part and once you have begun you often finish. So say you will do at least a quarter of your job and see where it takes you.
Another is to focus on the long run. Often we roll over and go back to sleep because we think that way we’ll feel more awake and healthier later on. Similarly we might decide to benefit from enjoying a good book now while we are in the mood, forgetting that the work is there for a bit. The problem is, with a task hanging over you like that, you will never enjoy the peace and quiet as much as you should do. With the list of things to do you are still going to be distracted and are not going to enjoy your spare time in the same way. For example then, if you go to sleep now you will probably not sleep as well as you will be thinking about the work that you need to be doing. Likewise you are going to feel antsy whilst watching that episode of 24. If you focus instead on how good you will feel having finished and how much spare time you will have after this can be very motivating. Similarly you can make a system where you give yourself rewards to stay motivated – for example saying that once you have completed 1,000 words of your essay you will let yourself go and make a cup of tea or watch an episode of your favourite sit com. This gives you something concrete to aim for and also helps you to classically condition yourself to learn that hard work is a good thing. One thing that might work for some people, but certainly not everyone, is to use your own bodily functions to get yourself to work. For example if you badly need to toilet you tell yourself you can not go until you have completed 1,000 words. This might sound like strange advice, but you would be surprised how quickly you write when your bladder is on the line.
You can also rely on the help of others to get things done. This might mean literally – by asking for help or delegating tasks when you just do not have the energy; or relying on their emotional support. For example you might ask your partner not to talk to you until you have finished your task. Or simply tell them you need to do it so that they can egg you on and offer you support. If you really need to focus it can often be a good idea to inform those around you anyway so that they do not interrupt you with phone calls or jobs or invitations to things that you would rather be doing.
Finally you can obviously motivate yourself with music or films etc. For example if you really like a certain song, or get inspired by a certain film, then you can put this on in the background to help you get psyched. For example if you need to find motivation to do a workout, then watching one of the Rocky films where Stallone works out and continues his training against insurmountable odds, might well be what you need to get your heart rate up and your mental condition right. This is called ‘priming’ whereby you induce the emotion you need for that particular activity. Similarly a film or music on in the background can be a great way to make a dull task more interesting. For example if you need to tidy your room then you can watch a sitcom at the same time. Similarly you can also multitask and get more than one chore out of the way at the same time which makes it psychologically more satisfying and also a better use of time. This works well if you have a hands free kit and you need to make some phone calls – book a restaurant or call that old friend back while you drive to the bank and then you will have twice as much time when you get home to relax.
There are other ways you can prime your mood too and these mostly involve talking yourself round to an idea. The obvious form of this that we all know is to use mantras, positive self talk etc, but anything can work. For example you can use your imagination and imagine that you are in the middle of a battle field and that the work needs to be done on time to save the world (helped with a bit of dramatic background music). If you need to do a workout, why not imagine that the weights or punching bag are your boss? Similarly anger is a great motivator, so if you can make yourself angry then use this (though this won’t work quite as well for writing an essay). Finally, you can see the situation as a challenge and as a test of your resolve. Consider it a matter of pride that you finish your task and think about how disappointed you’ll be if you don’t. This way you can build the kind of steaks you need to motivate yourself and get yourself more pumped up and worked up for the event.