Self-Motivational Tips: How to Keep Working When You’re Just Not Feeling It? Motivating yourself is one of the main things that sets high achievers apart, and it’s hard. How do you keep pushing onward when your heart isn’t in it? In research by Fishbach, she identified some simple tactics: Set goals that are intrinsically rewarding and make them very specific. If a task isn’t satisfying, focus on aspects of it that are or combine it with pleasant activities. Reward yourself in the right way for getting things done. To avoid slumps, break objectives into subgoals; look at how much you’ve accomplished until you’re halfway there; and then count down what you have left to do. And use social influence: Let high performers inspire you, boost your get-up-and-go by giving advice, and keep the people you want to succeed in front of mind.
Motivating yourself is hard. In fact, I often compare it to one of the exploits of the fictional German hero Baron Munchausen: Trying to sustain your drive through a task, a project, or even a career can sometimes feel like pulling yourself out of a swamp by your own hair. We seem to have a natural aversion to the persistent effort that no amount of caffeine or inspirational posters can fix.
But effective self-motivation is one of the main things that distinguishes high-achieving professionals from everyone else. So how can you keep pushing onward, even when you don’t feel like it?
To a certain extent, motivation is personal. What gets you going might not do anything for me. And some individuals do seem to have more stick-to-itiveness than others. These four sets of tactics can help propel you forward.
How to Keep Working When You’re Just Not Feeling It
1. Harness the Influence of Others
Humans are social creatures. We constantly look around to see what others are doing, and their actions influence our own. Even sitting next to a high-performing employee can increase your output. But when it comes to motivation, this dynamic is more complex. When we witness a colleague speeding through a task that leaves us frustrated, we respond in one of two ways: Either we’re inspired and try to copy that behaviour or we lose motivation on the assumption that we could leave the task to our peer. This is not entirely irrational: Humans have thrived as a species through individual specialization and by making the most of their comparative advantages.
The problem is that, especially at work, we can’t always delegate. But we can still use social influence to our advantage. One rule is to never passively watch ambitious, efficient, successful coworkers; there’s too much risk that it will be demotivating. Instead, talk to these peers about what they’re trying to accomplish with their hard work and why they would recommend doing it.
A final way to harness positive social influence is to recognize that the people who will best motivate you to accomplish certain tasks are not necessarily those who do the tasks well. Instead, they’re folks who share a big-picture goal with you: close friends and family or mentors. Thinking of those people and our desire to succeed on their behalf can help provide the powerful intrinsic incentives we need to reach our goals. A woman may find drudgery at work rewarding if she feels she is providing an example for her daughter; a man may find it easier to stick to his fitness routine if it helps him feel more vibrant when he is with his friends.
2. Giving advice may be an even more effective way to overcome motivational deficits.
Another strategy is to change the way you think about the progress you’ve achieved. When we’ve already made headway, the goal seems within reach, and we tend to increase our effort. For example, consumers in loyalty programs tend to spend more when they’re closer to earning a reward. You can take advantage of that tendency by thinking of your starting point as being further back in the past; maybe the project began not the first time you took action but the time it was first proposed.
Another mental trick involves focusing on what you’ve already done up to the midpoint of a task and then turning your attention to what you have left to do. My research has found that this shift in perspective can increase motivation.
3. Focus on the elements of the work that you do find enjoyable.
In an ideal world we would all seek out work roles and environments that we enjoy and thus keep our engagement high. Unfortunately, people often fail to do this. For example, my research shows that when asked whether positive relationships with colleagues and managers are critical in their current position, most people say yes. But they don’t remember that office was key morale to past jobs nor do they predict it will be important for them in the future. So simply remembering to consider intrinsic motivation when choosing jobs and taking on projects can go a long way toward helping sustain success.
In cases where that’s impractical—we don’t all find jobs and get assignments we love—the trick is to focus on the elements of the work that you do find enjoyable. Think expansively about how accomplishing the task might be satisfying—by, for example, giving you a chance to showcase your skills in front of your company’s leaders, build important internal relationships, or create value for customers. Finally, try to offset drudgery with activities that you find rewarding—for instance, listen to music while tackling that big backlog of e-mail in your inbox, or do boring chores with friends, family, or your favourite colleagues.
4. Design Goals, Not Chores
Ample research has documented the importance of goal setting. Studies have shown, for example, that when salespeople have targets, they close more deals, and that when individuals make daily exercise commitments, they’re more likely to increase their fitness levels. Abstract ambitions such as “doing your best” are usually much less effective than something concrete, such as bringing in 10 new customers a month or walking 10,000 steps a day. As a first general rule, then, any objectives you set for yourself or agree to should be specific.
Goals should also, whenever possible, trigger intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivation. An activity is intrinsically motivated when it’s seen as its own end; it’s extrinsically motivating when it’s seen as serving a separate, ulterior purpose—earning you a reward or allowing you to avoid punishment. Research shows that intrinsic motives predict achievement and success better than extrinsic ones do.
Conclusively, Self-motivation is one of the hardest skills to learn, but it’s critical to your success.