What do you do to motivate yourself?
March 4, 2013 2:39 AM   Subscribe

Do you ever wake up in the morning, look at the tasks ahead of you, and ask yourself 'why bother'? If so, how do you answer that question?

I'm basically looking for common sense tips and tricks for motivating yourself and getting yourself to keep working towards your goals when you've forgotten why you should bother doing it in the first place. I'm sure there's plenty of interesting, psychologist-approved methods out there for doing this, but what I'm more interested in right now is what people actually do. Is it something you do with your mind? With your heart? With your body? When you wake up in the morning and ask yourself 'why bother?', how do you answer that question?
posted by MrOlenCanter to Work & Money (28 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
Rewards work for me. I just tell myself "If I can work hard and finish X this morning, then this afternoon I can do enjoyable thing Y." This also works for longer-term goals.

Also, as I've grown older, I've realised that having a stack of unfinished tasks, and the associated cycle of guilt, anxiety and minor self-disgust, are most definitely NOT preferable to just starting work and getting on with things. Things also have a tendency to seem less attainable the more I procrastinate.

Having said that, I don't really understand the "when you've forgotten why you should bother doing it in the first place" part of your question. If you've lost interest in something, and there are no negative consequences in not working towards the goal, then it's maybe just that your initial enthusiasm has given way. In that case, there's no shame in dropping or changing one of your goals. If you've forgotten why you're doing it, it's not really a goal any more.
posted by pipeski at 3:15 AM on March 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

I suspect that you might hear a bit about depression in this thread. I personally feel that way when I'm depressed. You might want to look into depression and treatments for depression with a doctor or therapist.

One thing that helps me with depression is just being very busy. Another thing I do is just make myself shower right away: I just get up and get my body in the shower before I do anything else. I also don't try to set super ambitious goals for the morning. For example, I prefer working out first thing, but when I'm depressed it's just too hard to make myself get out of bed to exercise. So I work out in the evening or at lunch instead.
posted by k8lin at 3:21 AM on March 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

The answer depends on the tasks that you have ahead of you, why do you have this task? Did somebody put this burden on you? What for then did you take this task? Is it your own made task? Is it needed for some future success?

I think that the last question is the most important. If you realize how important this task for your future and what success it will bring to you, you will not need any motivatiion I think. I will just just doing the task and even enjoy as you know what for it is needed.

On the contrary if you made a task which is aimless or if somebody put it on you also without any goals, then no motivation will ever help.

So, my advise is you just need to determine the nature of your tasks and go on only with the ones which have sense for your future, ans smoehow escape the ones that are quite the contrary.
posted by VincentLee at 3:52 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it is personal stuff than I know no one else is going to do it. Work related I like my paycheck. (Gawd, that is depressing.)
posted by govtdrone at 4:13 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

k8lin read this similarly to me. This sounds like me when my depression is getting problematic.

Anyway, rewards work for me too. I make deals with myself. Go to the gym 5 times this week and I get to buy that lipstick I really like. For things I know I need to do that I know are going to suck, I usually make a deal with myself that I am allowed to stop before it is done or just do part of it. That usually is enough to get me started, and then once I'm doing it I always finish it and do the whole thing like I know I should.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:24 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Because who will feed my puppy?
Because who will lead my Girl Scout troop?

My job is unfulfilling, so I have found things outside of it (and outside of myself) that are.
posted by phunniemee at 4:36 AM on March 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Why bother motivating yourself? It seems you still have motivation but it moved one level up.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:42 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not to sound to Mary Poppins-ish, but you could make it a game and time yourself. Or you could pretend to be a zombie and zombie your way into a wake up shower:-)
posted by discopolo at 4:50 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is how I feel when I'm a little depressed - it kicks in particularly bad on cold, dark winter mornings.

The big thing I do is convince myself to get in the shower - sitting in bed, I know I can waste an hour playing with my iPad. If I get in the shower, I've at least structurally started my day - if I decide after the shower that I need some time to myself, I take it, but I only allow myself that decision once I've showered.

I find once I actually get going, things get a lot easier, so it's about getting that first step out of the way. I found things like throwing open the curtains (letting in more light), putting a bluetooth speaker in the washroom (so I can start the day with good music) and having good food around for a nice breakfast go a long way to convincing me to be a productive human. Good luck : )
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 4:55 AM on March 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

What I do is remind myself that life is short, and I don't want to die having accomplished nothing.

And I think about my daughter, and how I want to give her a solid foundation in life.

But mostly it's about the briefness of life. Morbid, I know, but that's what drives me.
posted by musofire at 5:32 AM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

It sounds to me like you just need higher stakes. If you can't see the point in what you're doing, then what you're doing doesn't matter. That's how I've answered that question, I guess. I didn't see the point in what I was doing, so I greatly upped the negative and positive outcomes of succeeding or failing. Now if I don't get up and get cracking, There Are Consequences.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:37 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is my every day, especially when, as it's been said, the depression is kicking in.

Like today! I'm overwhelmed by some major things I have to do (like painting a wall and figuring out how to mail a cat to Vancouver) and I am quickly surpassing my capability for responsibility.

So, I am going to put my big girl panties on (literally - I need to get out of my pajamas) and make another coffee (a nice one in my favourite cup) and I am going to make a good old-fashioned list on paper that is more like an action plan than a to-do list, and it is going to feel so good to check things off with a dramatic flourishing of my sharpie.

But why bother? Because doing things well makes me the person I want to be, even when nobody around is there to see it.

Because of momentum. Just getting moving (and off the internets) is the hardest part for me, and once I'm doing things, the "high" I get from being useful and accomplishing things will carry me for a while. Then, when it gets tough, realizing that groomed trails are easier to follow than breaking trails is helpful - either look for them instead of always choosing the hard way, or create a system so that next time it's easier. Then, the satisfaction of seeing results is a great motivator. I'll use Unf*ck Your Habitat's 20/10 method, and I often take before/after pictures just for myself.

But, if some of your "why bother" things are obstacles you've set for yourself and the "why bother" is actually your good sense kicking in, learning to let them go can help. While I also get a buzz from volunteering, and do so a lot, the momentary anxiety I felt this morning about not making myself available for three hours of lice checking at school was nothing compared to what it would do to my day if I said yes. Again, writing a list comprising everything it takes to accomplish a goal can help you to see if you're making goals for yourself because they're really meaningful, or because you're in the habit of working towards something rather than making the most of where you are right now.
posted by peagood at 5:48 AM on March 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

Cardio exercise is what does it for me. Just a little bit, and everything seems more meaningful and worth doing.
posted by jbickers at 5:54 AM on March 4, 2013

I read Feeling Good by David Burns, and he points out in it that motivation usually happens after you get started with a task, not the other way around, which I have found to be spot on. So I remind myself of this in those moments when I'm unmotivated.

Also, I love podcasts, and I've found that listening to them while I do monotonous tasks like cleaning makes them a lot more bearable.
posted by alphanerd at 6:14 AM on March 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

I do it by making everything as close to habit as possible. I don't give myself the option of not doing the things I need to do...I get up at the same time every morning, go to work at the same time, plow through my tasks as need be. I find the less I think about motivation, the more I get done.
posted by xingcat at 6:28 AM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

When there is something I don't especially want to do, I can usually do it as a gift to Future Judith. "Think how nice it will be for Future Judith to wake up to a clean kitchen!" It's silly, but it works pretty well. My favorite is restocking the "I'm sorry you have a cold" supply box each time after I'm sick so Future Miserable Sniffly Judith can stay in bed instead of running out to the drug store.
posted by judith at 6:57 AM on March 4, 2013 [28 favorites]

Do you ever wake up in the morning, look at the tasks ahead of you, and ask yourself 'why bother'? If so, how do you answer that question?

I think, some days, it's okay not to answer that question.
Some days I, grumble grumble, wake up, get dressed (grumble), get to work (grumble grumble), work (more grumble) and so grumblingly on until the day is over.
A few days like that and I need to force myself to be more chirpy and whatnot - I wear bright colours, exercise, force myself to socialise and even talk to people - but sometimes I need to cut myself some slack and not bother even asking myself what the point is.
posted by mkdirusername at 7:38 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't read it myself, but I've heard good things about the book called Drive that may be helpful for you.
posted by Dansaman at 8:12 AM on March 4, 2013

Because if I don't do it now, it will still be there to do later. And all I've done is accumulate guilt.

It took me about 20 years to get to this place, though.
posted by gaspode at 8:24 AM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for all the answers. I'm really happy that I asked this question, because I've gotten something out of every last response so far. The ones that I've marked as 'best answer', however, are the ones that mention the strategy that I've decided to try first: Just making a habit of taking a shower first thing after waking up. There's something about being clean and nicely groomed that just makes me feel ready to get things done, so if there's any time to start thinking about the day ahead it's then. The more abstract advice is very useful though, and I have a feeling I'll be thinking a lot about what you all said--after I'm done taking my shower.
posted by MrOlenCanter at 8:59 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Or you could pretend to be a zombie and zombie your way into a wake up shower:-)

Yes, I have a feeling there will be plenty of zombie-shower roleplay in my future.
posted by MrOlenCanter at 9:02 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't forget the magic soap. I find that the peppermint and the citrus are cheerful scents on sluggish mornings.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:05 AM on March 4, 2013

I'm not being flippant here but having a kid has erased this option from my life. Now I just have no choice but to get out of bed.

On the other hand, once I'm sitting behind my desk I might face a similar dilemma and then, depending on my mood and the stuff that is pending, I alternate between
1 - just do that thing you have to do right now and then see how you feel (remarkably, the doing of the thing usually makes me feel f*cking fantastic and I steamroll the rest of the day) and
2 - if you just do 45 minutes of random tasks that need doing but require no brain power, then you can have a reward.

Good luck!
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 9:06 AM on March 4, 2013

One short addendum to this list of good advice:

It is worthwhile to establish a daily routine on the days when you are working, or at least as near to one as you can in your current situation. Just to wake up at the same time each morning can encourage quick thought: given the right amount of sleep, you'll tend to feel better and less muddled in the early hours. Whenever I've gone through depression—which this does sound like, as others have noted—working myself into a regular schedule has always been key to making sure I stay on track with whatever else I am doing to help myself out of it, and with whatever work I need to do to move my life in the direction I genuinely want it to go (despite my carelessness and malaise in the interim).

As far as working toward long-term goals: making progress on those at about the same time each day/week/etc. can help tremendously in their continued pursuit. After a while of having had a solid routine—one that can bend but only when needed—your mind will often kick into "goal x mode" just as you're sitting down to take care of goal x. This is advice often given to young writers and artists: set aside a certain time of the day to work on your craft. It's amazing how much more you can get done when your internal clock nudges your creativity awake without your having to dig for it.

And do make sure to have some time, or days if you can afford them, to yourself—the "reward" that others mentioned above. Trust that the time you have off following a good run of forward progress will be all the better for the work you put in beforehand. Like anything, this is not a fact you can know more than nominally until you've actually done it. And depression can wipe that from memory: you just have to work to get it back.
posted by mcoo at 9:06 AM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Some stuff I do because it's a routine. I've got little get-up routines in the morning and go-to-bed routines at night. These include things I hate doing (brushing my teeth, don't know why I hate it) as well as things I LOVE doing (coffee!) and they are interleaved so I don't do one without the other anymore.

Other stuff I do because I remember that even though I can't access the feeling of "Oh yeah I want to do this" I can access the memory of feeling good after doing it (exercise, dishes). Some of the stuff I do because I know, and can usually remember, that however I'm feeling about the rest of the world I really like myself and there are things to do because they are nice things to do for myself (cooking healthy meals, seeing other people, moisturizing my skin, getting clothes that fit) and wouldn't you like to do something nice for someone you liked?

Some stuff I do just because I know I should do it AND it takes so little time to do it that I want to get the thing done because thinking about not doing it takes longer than doing it. So basically anything that takes less that five minutes just gets done then and there. I'm in the US and this time of year I lean on this stuff more heavily than I do when the days are longer and the sun is warmer.
posted by jessamyn at 9:10 AM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

As well as my standard answer*, I have now posted a sign by my desk, lifted from the world of bodybuilding:

Suffer the Pain of Discipline


Suffer the Pain of Regret


* Action Precedes Motivation

Choose something. Do it. Just do it, observe that you are upset or frustrated or unfulfilled, and keep on doing it. Note your distaste, and frustration, but keep on doing it. Note you don't want to finish or watch the tv or be distracted, but keep on doing it. Note that it doesnt reach your scaly heights of perfection, but keep on doing it. Don't wait till you're in the mood. The mood will come after hours or days or months or years. But it will come. Till then, just do it.

posted by lalochezia at 2:31 PM on March 4, 2013 [15 favorites]

I find that gamifying routines that support my goals really helps me, both in terms of motivation per se, and also in identifying and eliminating demotivating obstacles and hassles. For example, I want to be at work before 0900 for a number of reasons, but even though I wake up at 0630 and have a very short commute, I was drifting in later and later. I started giving myself points for not hitting snooze, for being in the shower by a certain time, etc., all the way to arriving at the office at or before (bonus points) 0900. But then I realized where the choke points were, eg picking a work outfit, so I now have points for doing things at night. I give myself treats at different levels from a rewards list, eg three days of on-time arrivals equals a latte, a week a paperback, two weeks a piece of clothing.
posted by rpfields at 3:54 PM on March 4, 2013

I pretty much feel like this all the time, and I know I'm pretty severely depressed, but just stupidly haven't done anything about it because I let the barriers to action get in the way.

That aside, I do the things that I need to do simply because I know that if I don't, no one else will do them. It's not the most positive thing, but it's the simple truth. If, for example, I don't make the lesson plan for the classes, no one else will, and then I'll be the one yelled at because its not done. If I don't make the copies needed for class, no one else will. If I don't do the grocery shopping, no one else will. And so on.

Other than that, Hillel the Elder gets me through most things:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?
posted by Ghidorah at 5:41 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

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