One of the most common issues that I hear from my clients is that they would like to become more motivated and productive, and to procrastinate less. Moreover, experiencing issues like depression and anxiety can certainly make the problem worse. One of the main symptoms of depression is that you can feel like your energy has been sucked out of you, and it can make you want to avoid even the activities that you typically enjoy. While this article does not intend to tackle complex mental health issues, it will provide guidelines that generally work well to increase motivation.
Become Aware of Your Thoughts
It may seem obvious to state, but there really is a deep connection between your thoughts, emotions, and your behaviors. One of the first steps you can take is to simply become aware of the thoughts that cycle through your mind when you feel unmotivated. By becoming aware of your thoughts you can then consciously choose the direction of your focus instead of unconsciously worrying, being self-critical, or engaging in other forms of negative thinking.
Try this: Next time that you find yourself procrastinating, check in with yourself and see what thoughts are going through your mind. This can include words, images, memories, and imagined scenarios. Ask yourself: what kind of impact might these thoughts have on me? Is it helping me in any way to focus on these thoughts? What’s a helpful alternative that I can choose to focus on?
Target Your Objective
It’s also helpful to identify very specifically what it is that you need to accomplish right at this moment. I’m not talking about big goals here; I’m asking what bite-sized chunk of work do you need to engage in RIGHT NOW. Usually having too many objectives to accomplish at once, or having an unclear idea of what exactly you need to do, can lead to procrastination. Try to choose just one thing that you will do right now, leave everything else for later, and choose to not focus your attention on those other tasks for the time being.
Try a Little Game
Let’s say that you’ve identified what your target objective is for the time being. As an example let’s say that your objective is to wash your dirty dishes. Realistically, you may have close to zero desire to actually engage in this task! I’m going to put a statement out there, and I’d like you to play along with me for just a moment: Let’s pretend that you actually do desire to clean the dishes. I know this may not be actually true, but just go along with me! What COULD make that statement true (that you desire to clean the dishes)? What’s enjoyable about doing it? How can you make it enjoyable?
Consider anything that could possibly support the statement that you desire to clean the dishes. Now, I don’t know that this will make you actually desire to clean the dishes, but you’ll be more likely to do it if you focus on the positive aspects of doing it. In contrast, procrastinating on an activity is typically accompanied by thoughts of how unpleasant, unnecessary, or undoable the activity is. So you are simply switching your focus to a more helpful line of thinking.
Take a Break
One thing that is certainly not conducive to productivity is beating yourself up! Interestingly, we can fall into the trap of believing that being hard on ourselves will motivate us to action. It’s as if we think the pain that we’re inflicting on ourselves mentally will get us in motion. Typically this actually has the opposite effect and it leads to discouragement.
Try this instead: Sit quietly for about 3-5 minutes and simply focus on your breathing. No need to breathe in any specific way; just notice and maintain your attention on your natural breathe. It’s completely normal if your mind wanders, so don’t beat yourself up over it. Simply return your attention to your natural breathing. Notice if perhaps you feel a little lighter and centered after you’ve finished the exercise.
An additional note, there is no substitute for professional psychotherapy to deal with distressing emotional difficulties, such as depression and anxiety. Nonetheless, these strategies can prove to be very helpful in treating common issues with lack of motivation and excessive procrastination.