How To Find Your Motivation When You ‘Just Don’t Want To’

June 13, 2015

We all have days when we just don’t want to.

I’m having one of those days today.

It started with text before 6 a.m. from my son, who was staying the night with a friend. He had a stomach ache and soon started vomiting. I got him home and in bed just in time to wake my daughter up for basketball camp. If you have a teenager, you understand the morning drama involved there.

My daughter and I got out the door just in time to avoid being late, only to get stuck behind a student driver who apparently wanted to make sure to be 10 mph under the speed limit at all times. This got me so frustrated that I missed my turn to the gym and didn’t realize it until I’d already gone two miles too far. Needless to say, she was late, which the coaches frown upon.

As I was driving home, the list of things I need to do today was running through my mind: laundry, blogging, academic writing, meeting prep, a shower, figure out if my dog can get mosquito bites, email responses, phone calls… you know the drill. As I pulled into the garage, I thought only one thing—I just don’t want to.

It wasn’t any particular thing on my list that I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to do any of it. What did I want to do instead? I have no idea. I just recognized that I had a list of things that needed to be done and I didn’t want to do any of it.

It occurred to me then. (Yes, I was sitting in my car in the garage, which I am prone to do.) that I needed to find my motivation. There were no terribly difficult or daunting tasks on my list (except maybe that whole dog/mosquito thing), so I just needed to find my motivation to get it done. Here’s (sorta in order) how I found it:

Do not sleep

My natural instinct when I’m unmotivated is to take a nap. When I have too much to do or don’t want to do the things on my list, I tend to do nothing at all. I love napping and I actually am tired (see above text before 6 a.m. and know that I already was awake for whatever reason), so the pull to just get comfy on the sofa was strong. I denied it. Instead, I walked straight into my home office, sat down and started working.

Force it

I was forcing it when I first sat down in front of my computer. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to deal with emails. Have I mentioned that I didn’t want to? I did it anyway. I forced myself to just sit down and start.

Dump your brain

Ok, I’m going to be really honest here, one of the first things I did when I sat down at my desk was tap out a text message complaining to a friend about my crappy morning and sick child. She responded with all of the “that sucks” responses you would expect from a friend. While this may not be a positive way to cope with a bad start to the day, it made me feel better, and I don’t think she minded at all. I’ll return the favor later. Misery loves company, right?

The second thing I did when I sat down at my desk was grab a piece of paper and make a short list of things I need to do while it was all fresh in my mind. Yes, most of these things already were on my “to do” list, but I like to physically cross things off of a list, so I tend to keep a written short list on my desk. Making a list and focusing on doing one item at a time also helps me fight the overwhelm that sometimes causes a lack of motivation.

These two tasks helped me clear my brain so I could focus on what really needed to be done.

Avoid the Internet

The call of the Internet is strong on a day when I don’t want to. Being online often helps us feel like we’re doing something when we really aren’t. I could be killing time reading sites or dorking around on social media. I could pretend this is work, but just sitting at my desk doesn’t make what I’m doing work.

Focus on your goals

My overwhelming goals really motivate me on days when I just don’t want to. When I realized how little motivation I had today, I started thinking about my goals.

graduation meme

My biggest life goal right now is to finish my dissertation. This is on a tight deadline, so just considering the amount of work I have to do and the time in which I have to do it made me recognize that a nap or just staring at the wall wasn’t an option.

I also want to increase readership on this site and make it an even greater resource for my students. That too pushed me to focus.

(Note: I admit that I had to go to Pinterest to get this meme that popped into my head when considering this point. I also admit, in the name of transparency, that I pinned two other items while I was there. Oh, and my browser crashed, so I read an email on my phone while it was opening again. Technology always fails on days like today. I wants you to procrastinate.)

Warm up

I did some warm up tasks to increase my motivation and focus. Marking a few small items (an email response, for example) off of my list helped me build momentum. I would even argue that writing this post is a warm-up task to my academic writing. Little wins are important on days when motivation is low.

Be realistic

I am probably not going to change the world or even complete every task on my main to do list today. Frankly, I just don’t want to. Do you notice a theme here? But, I’ve identified the things I have to get done, and I will accomplish at least those things. Being realistic about what I’ll accomplish today doesn’t set me up for failure, which could lead to an unmotivated day tomorrow.

Just do it

I’ve already sorta focused on the forcing yourself thing, but right now my motivation really is coming from just being done with my short list. If I finish my day having completed my short list, the day was good. Heck, maybe I could even feel good about taking a nap or staring at the wall.

Know yourself

A lot of the writing on motivation encourages readers to exercise or complete another task while trying to ignite their motivation. I don’t even give myself this option. I know myself way too well for all of that.

Completing other tasks to get motivated results in me doing things besides what actually needs to be done. I use this as a form of procrastination. For example, if I clean my home office while finding my motivation to write, I will end up with a clean office but, at the end of the day, I won’t have written anything.

I also know myself well enough to know what tasks will get done, regardless. For example, I’ll get tired of sitting here in a few minutes and I’ll go start that laundry I need to do. It will give me the opportunity to walk around before I return to my work.

This post should not be considered a medical or mental health view on becoming motivated. A lot of what I do to find my motivation isn’t healthy (griping to my friend) or even suggested (responding to email first). But these methods work for me. At least they are today, which is what really counts right now.

What do you do when you are unmotivated and have things to do? How do you find your motivation?

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