“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius
First thing on a Monday morning is always the worst. When the whole week stretches before you like a bleak, unending wasteland, and the weekend already feels like it never happened. Or is it right after lunch on a Wednesday, when the sandwich you just ate and the fact you’re somehow only half way through the week are weighing heavily on you?
You’re sluggish, your energy levels have plummeted, and a thick fog has settled in your mind.
You know exactly what you need to do, but for some reason your whole being is resisting. Your brain can’t concentrate, your body can’t find the strength, and your spirit is feeling too run down to muster any kind of enthusiasm.
You still need to make it through the day (and the week), but your motivation is gone.
What do you do?
Everyone suffers from this malady on occasion. It becomes an issue, however, when procrastination is a chronic phenomenon, and it isn’t just the odd day, or the odd time here and there.
It’s all day. Every day.
When chronic procrastination digs in its claws, your intentions are never transformed into actions. There are those who always fall prey to these times of inactivity. Who succumb without much of a fight, bowing to the inevitable. Perhaps they feel there’s no point in resisting – it won’t do any good. Or perhaps they’re well aware that it’s only temporary, and if they just ride it out it will eventually pass. In the interim, they’re content to get nothing done.
And it’s hardly their fault; it’s just the way they’re feeling.
Then there are those who are aware that it’s a temporary feeling that will pass. But, rather than accepting nothing will get done while it lasts, they drum up that elusive motivation, summon a little extra energy, and find it within themselves to create just a little more enthusiasm.
They power through, and in so doing, ensure the feeling lasts for as brief a time as possible, and their work and lives are impacted as little as possible.
But how exactly do you find that seemingly impossible enthusiasm when your energy levels are at an all time low? How do you become one of the people powering through and pulling themselves out of that pit of procrastination?
There’s actually a growing body of research demonstrating that what separates the chronic procrastinators and acceptors from the get-up-and-go-anyway people isn’t actually a character trait. It’s not built into your makeup. Nor is it unchangeable. In fact, contrary to popular opinion, the ability to motivate yourself, even in the depths of procrastination, is a habit.
And habits aren’t fixed. They’re flexible. They can be learned.
Here’s how to motivate yourself and break that procrastination cycle in six simple steps…
Step 1: Close Open Loops…
One of the problems with procrastination is that we put off the things we’re looking forward to doing least. Generally speaking, these tasks take two forms: things we’ve been struggling to finish, that just seem to be dragging on forever, and things we know full well are going to be unpleasant, tedious, or difficult, so we’re delaying them as much as possible.
The problem with putting these tasks off is that they grow while you’re ignoring them.
What begins as a simple thing, which could easily get done if you focused for a few minutes (or even a few hours), gets increasingly daunting the longer you put it off. You lose perspective on it, and start to believe it’s going to take a lot longer than it will, and that it’s a lot more difficult than it will truly be. The more it grows, the more you dread it, and the longer you put it off.
The best thing to do is to get these niggling tasks out of the way as quickly as possible.
Finish off anything that’s been left open.
The human brain detests incomplete things.
Knowing there are tasks you have started but didn’t finish – particularly if there are quite a few of them – will consistently worry you until you can box them all off and call them finished.
Leaving something incomplete creates an ‘open loop’ in your mind. Rather than being neatly organised and managed, there’s something missing and you’re constantly worrying about that lack of completeness.
This is a phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect, and it actually causes us to become less productive. We’re less able to perform when we have open loops preying on our minds.
Close the loop, and you’ll immediately feel calmer, more in control, and less anxious.
Step 2: Get Ahead Of The Procrastination…
If we’re really honest about it, we all know the jobs that are going to make us procrastinate, long before the procrastination actually sets in. It’s that feeling of resistance whenever you think about doing something, or realise that something you really don’t want to do simply must get done.
As soon as you get that feeling, don’t wait. Take immediate action and precommit to dealing with it as swiftly and decisively as possible.
One of the best ways of doing this is to use the ‘if-then’ planning method.
Researchers have discovered that an ‘if-then’ approach was most successful across 94 studies, greatly increasing the success rate of projects to an astonishing level. The if-then approach hinges on specificity. Rather than writing down that you need to do something, be specific – commit to spending an hour working on it, or to completing the task entirely.
Instead of hoping you’ll be able to fit it in, figure out how long you will need and block the time out in your calendar.
Step 3: Find Your Greatest Inspiration…
Once you’ve checked off the niggling, annoying tasks that need finishing, and committed to the ones you’re really dreading doing, it’s helpful to take a breath for five minutes.
Reconnect with your purpose, the reason you’re doing these things to begin with. Perhaps it’s simply a case of it being a requirement of your job, but why is your job important to you? What inspires you?
Inspiration is a difficult thing to pin down, partly because it’s so different for every individual. The things that you, personally, find inspirational – that have the power to push you forward and drive your actions – are likely very personal.
They also may not be motivations you’ve ever consciously considered. Have you ever actually stopped to think how and why you ended up doing what you do? Or how much of what you’re doing now is geared towards shifting you in a different direction, towards a brighter future?
Having a clear vision of your ‘why’ and the goals you have in mind – not just for meeting your immediate needs and wants, but also your future – can really help you paint a very clear picture of what you’re striving for.
Once you have that, you have a clear purpose, and research has consistently demonstrated that people are happier and more productive in their work when they are crystal clear on their purpose. If you’re already doing something you love, you’ll likely have a wealth of inspiration to draw on. But even if you’re unhappy in your current position, excelling in your role (whatever it may be), learning new skills, and finding new opportunities is how you can change that.
So take some time to get truly inspired. Picture the life you want, the things you want to do, the way you want to feel, and draw a direct line between what you’re doing right now, and the achievement of those goals.
Step 4: Be A Chameleon…
You’ve heard the expression imitation is the highest form of flattery? Well it applies to work as much as it applies to life. While your colleagues may not take kindly to you copying their work, or taking credit for their ideas, there is one very well-documented phenomenon in the workplace that can really help you focus – and your co-workers won’t mind you doing it at all!
The chameleon effect demonstrates that humans are hard-wired to emulate the behaviours of the people near them. This can include mannerisms, postures, and both verbal and facial expressions.
When you’re struggling to concentrate, find an empty desk next to someone who’s really knocking it out of the park. They’re focused, they’re productive, they’re thriving.
And you’re about to copy them.
There’s an unconscious human impulse to fit ourselves to those around us. When you’re stuck in a mental rut, putting yourself in close proximity to someone who’s in the opposite headspace can really break you out of it.
Step 5: Put An End To Brain Fog And Indecision With Exercise…
There are a lot of powerful reasons to spend fifteen minutes a day or more exercising. Not only does regular exercise benefit your physical health, it’s an incredibly powerful way of keeping your brain healthy. A fifteen minute walk is an easy way to clear your head, give you time and space to reflect on your motivation and the bigger picture you’re working towards, while clearing out some of the mental detritus that piles up throughout the course of the day.
Exercise will release some much-needed mental bandwidth.
More than that, exercise floods your brain with endorphins that have a positive chemical effect on your brain, boosting your mood and focus.
We don’t often consider the ramifications of mental fatigue but it’s just as real – and just as debilitating – as physical tiredness. It happens when the brain is simply too tired to focus. The part of your brain capable of blocking out distractions is so exhausted that it’s no longer functioning properly.
Studies have shown that simply taking a quick walk and (if possible) reconnecting with nature, helps to restore your brain’s natural ability to block those distractions, as it gives your mind permission to wander as your feet do the same.
Step 6: Always Follow Through…
Believe it or not, making sure you’re the type of person who always follows through is actually one of the most powerful motivation hacks going, although it often feels like the most difficult to achieve.
The problem with losing motivation is that things don’t get done.
We start, but don’t finish.
We avoid doing things as long as possible, because we’ve lost that ineffable quality that drives us to get things done.
Consciously building a mental image of yourself as a person who always follows through is incredibly powerful when it comes to creating and maintaining motivation. The actions you take shape your identity, which means that you can achieve a surprisingly large impact through relatively small actions.
Start with small things you do in your personal life that are easy to follow through on – keep plans when you make them, do the grocery shopping on the day you decided it needed doing, fix that broken door handle. Build a bit of a mental catalogue of all the things you’ve thought needed doing, planned to do, and then successfully completed.
Then start building a work catalogue that demonstrates the same thing.
There is research that shows incorporating something into your identity is a very powerful form of motivation as we are driven to ensure our actions are always consistent with that identity.
Vegetarians, for example, have no trouble resisting the urge to eat meat because being vegetarian is a part of their identity. They may miss a good chicken burger or a nice pepperoni pizza, but once vegetarianism is part of their core identity they’re very unlikely to ever succumb, because doing so would be in conflict with their sense of self.
Your success or failure greatly hinges on execution. Until you are confident in your ability to follow through and execute your commitments, you’re going to struggle to stay motivated, simply through the belief that you’re not good at getting things done!
If you’re looking for further ways to stay motivated, incorporating the regular use of the Zen Buddy app into your daily routine is a great way to do it. You’ll find motivational sessions and mind-clearing meditations, as well as plenty of other content to ensure your contentment and success. Signup below to be first in line to receive a free trial of our brand new app when it’s released later this year…