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Need motivation? 7 tips to get you in gear

If you’re searching for some inspiration, Ryerson psychologist Diana Brecher shares expert insights to get you off the couch and back on track
By: Lindsey Craig
February 12, 2021
Exhausted woman is collapsed on couch, face down, holding a notebook in her hand.

If you’re struggling to find the energy to do something, follow the 15-minute rule: Push yourself to begin the task, and usually, after about 15 minutes, you’ll have the motivation to continue, says psychologist Diana Brecher. (iStock)

Are there days when you just can’t seem to find the energy to get off the couch? Or do certain tasks seem to require more energy than they used to?

If so, you’re not alone.

Nearly one year into the pandemic, many of us are struggling to find something we don’t normally have to search for: motivation.

Ryerson psychologist Diana Brecher says it’s not surprising people are losing their drive - for everything from vacuuming the house to working out - since they haven’t had access or exposure to many of the things that bring them joy, such as hanging out with friends, playing sports, going to concerts, travelling, spending time with family (outside their bubble), and more.

If you feel like you’ve lost motivation, the good news is, there are ways to get it back - even as the pandemic continues.

Below, read Brecher’s tips to regain your gusto.

1. Motivation isn’t on Amazon

When it comes to motivation, first, Brecher says it’s important to recognize where it comes from.

“It's not like you can go to the store and buy a box of motivation. It’s not something external to us. Motivation most often comes from within. It comes from commitment,” she said.

So, when we say we’re not motivated enough for a particular activity, we’re simply not in touch with our commitment to that task.

“It’s putting the cart before the horse. We can’t wait for motivation to come to us. We can’t be passive about it. Motivation comes from a decision, a choice, an intention to act a certain way to achieve something or to do something.”

In other words, we need to take that first step for the motivation to come.

“You have to say, ‘I'm committed to doing this,’ and then your motivation comes along. That's the cart. What drives us is really the decision,” Brecher continued.

2. Eye on the prize

One factor that can help motivate us to complete a task is a reward. If you perform a task over and over again without any positive reinforcement, your motivation is bound to suffer.

For example, if throughout the pandemic, every day you’ve been trying to juggle child care while working remotely and have had very little reward, you may feel like you’re running on empty, Brecher said.

“You might need to intentionally bring in an opportunity for refreshment or reward - maybe some time off, or at the end of the day, the chance to do something you really love to do - whether it’s a bubble bath or watching your favourite show on Netflix,” she said, noting that the reward will help generate the motivation needed to tackle the tasks again.

3. Seek inspiration

Another way to kickstart motivation is to seek external sources of inspiration. For instance, Brecher says when she’s feeling down, she’ll watch a TED Talk about gratitude.

“It’s a way to remind myself of all these wonderful things I may not be in touch with,” she said.

The key is to be intentional and proactive in your search.

“It’s asking, ‘What are your inspirations and how can you intentionally tap into those things to feel good?” Brecher said, noting that playing with your kids, walking your dog, talking to a friend, listening to certain music, spending time in nature or reading poetry are other examples.

4. Create a ‘joy kit’

Just as campers have first aid kits, Brecher notes research from Bonnie St. John and Allen P. Haines, who suggest we create a ‘joy kit’ to help reignite our zest for life - or at least, help replenish the tank.

Just as first aid kits have Band-Aids, gauze and other tools to help us heal, so too, can a joy kit.

Whether it’s your favourite music, inspirational quotes, photos of favourite people or places, or even a favourite scent, a joy kit is a compilation of items that will make you feel happy - a go-to, Marie Kondo-approved source of joy.

It can come in the form of a box or a binder or even photos of special items you keep in an album on your phone, so it’s always with you.

Feeling that sense of joy is important, Brecher says, since that’s what gives us the drive to pick ourselves up.

“We can’t hope that these things just come your way. It’s saying, I can do things to make sure that when I'm feeling down, I can bring myself back,” Brecher said.

A middle-aged man lies on the couch with a blank expression, TV remote in hand.

One way to get off the couch and start tackling that to-do list is to proactively seek inspiration. A great way to do that, says psychologist Diana Brecher, is to create a joy kit. (iStock)

5. Take that first step

Once we’ve found the motivation to take on an activity, it could lead to another, said Brecher, referencing the book, the Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. In it, he discusses “the Keystone Habit” - a habit that is created when you change one behaviour.

“It's like a portal into other behaviours that come much easier because of that first habit change,” Brecher said.

Duhigg’s book describes a woman who is overweight, smokes, eats junk food, drinks excessively and is unemployed. While on a trip in Egypt, at the bottom of a pyramid, she realizes there’s no way she can walk up the steps. She goes home and decides she's going to quit smoking - and that becomes her keystone habit.

“When she quit smoking, she was better able to breathe. That gave her the desire to go for a walk - so she begins to exercise. Soon after, she’s motivated to eat better. Eventually, she quits drinking. Then she said, ‘I have energy now, I'm going to look for a job.’ And it's this cascade,” Brecher said.

Examples of keystone habits include committing to a sleep schedule, attending class, organizing your day, preparing meals, exercising regularly or daily meditation.

So, if you’re struggling to get started, remember, one first step could make all the difference.

“Then it’s, ‘What else can I do? It’s empowering,” Brecher said.

6. Rewards: keep ’em coming

Once we find motivation, how do we keep it? It’s all about ensuring we’re continually rewarded, so eventually, it becomes a habit, Brecher says.

For instance, if someone is trying to make running on the treadmill part of their regular routine, but they actually find it boring, they might reward themselves by watching their favourite show as they jog.

“You will then begin to associate the pleasure of watching that show with running, and then that becomes part of creating a habit because you're getting a reward,” she said.

“And when we have a reward, there's a dopamine spike in the brain which says, ‘Give me more,” she added. And then - a habit is born.

7. 15-minute rule

And what if you’re having trouble getting going? Brecher reminds of the 15-minute rule. It contends that you should follow the plan - not your mood. So, if you don’t feel like doing something, you should push yourself to work at it for 15 minutes - and usually, by that point, you’ll have the motivation to continue.

“It’s a very useful rule for exercise, for example, because it takes the body around 15 minutes to warm up and get going. When the 15 minutes is up and you need to decide if you’ll keep going, most often, you’ve got the momentum, it takes on a life of its own and you can roll.”


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