New year, new self – how to get motivated

In winter, it’s probably most difficult to motivate yourself to act, because according to psychologists, January and February are the worst months for people struggling with depression. Yet, you don’t necessarily need to suffer from it to see your mood and motivation running low. Cold temperatures, lack of sunshine and the overall dullness only add to the feeling of winter blues. So, how to protect yourself against the destructive consequences of the lack of motivation?

Grey reality

Everyone at some point in life realizes that they are gradually losing their motivation and notice their satisfaction with what they do dwindles. Though, this applies especially to people with a very humdrum, repetitive rhythm of the day. On the one hand, getting up in the morning at the same time every day, doing the same job for years and cooking the same dishes makes it possible for you to develop habits that make life seem easier and more orderly. On the other hand, however, your life becomes monotonous, and the subsequent duties you perform are merged into one routine sequence. Facing such a situation, some focus on waiting for a change in the form of holidays, a holiday leave or a weekend party. Regrettably, it may turn out that after a few or a dozen or so such sequences, that solution will cease to be effective. This is because you get stuck in a rut and are overcome by grey monotony.

The human brain tends to render the performance of repetitive tasks automatic. The point is that you don’t think about a given task when performing it. You simply complete it. Once you’ve got stuck in the grey reality, not thinking about the actions performed starts to translate into all spheres of life.

Blurring and blending of individual days into one another is a sign of monotony, which is not bad in itself, as long as it is interrupted from time to time. However, if life turns into one and the same repetitive cycle, which is becoming ever harder to accept, your motivation levels plunge to the ground, which can even lead to depression.

In addition to the schematic and repetitive nature of life, there are of course other factors which contribute to a lack of motivation. These include exhaustion, stress at work or in your personal life, lack of purpose or reward. Some people are additionally very sensitive to weather-related changes and the “grey reality” is really grey for them – they have the blues and their motivation levels drop during the grey autumn and winter months.

Where does the lack of motivation stem from?

There are a number of reasons behind the lack of motivation. The most serious ones are those resulting from the developing depression. Then, apart from motivation-related issues, such a person feels down, has low self-esteem and becomes less active. A person suffering from depression loses their will to live and faces problems with deriving satisfaction from positive events happening in his or her life – thus, the lack of motivation is the result of the illness and its basic component. But, unlike in a healthy person, a depressed individual will usually not be able to improve their motivation without the help of a physician or a therapist. Most advice on how to cope with motivation problems assumes that the subject is healthy.

In a healthy person, lack of motivation may be linked to:

Having no goals set. Setting yourself an objective to be pursued has a positive impact on your motivation levels, provided that it is not too distant or unachievable.

Lack of opportunity to achieve a goal or having no plan enabling you to achieve it. If the goal is too complex or too difficult, you lose motivation really fast.

Fear of change. This is especially true for people who have a lot of commitments and a very well-ordered life, as well as those with low self-esteem. In many cases, achieving a goal will involve sacrifices that not everyone is ready to make.

Being convinced that taking action will inevitably destabilize your life. Today, stability is extremely important – many young people achieve it quite late in life, first going through a stage of unstable jobs and rented housing. A person who has changed jobs and apartments a few times within the past five years (which is becoming more and more commonplace in the case of young adults) believes that one should strive to achieve stability at basically any cost whatsoever. And for this reason, when they notice that stabilization has started to transform into monotony and the loss of motivation, they are afraid of changing anything, because of their – more or less legitimate – fear of losing stability in life.

Stress-inducing factors, exhaustion and having a lot of duties, especially the trivial ones, related to running a household. Additionally, there’s also occupational burnout and something quite opposite to constant monotony – lack of a moment’s rest in the face of constantly changing duties.

Where to find inspiration

When you’re in pursuit of inspiration, the key issue is to identify what’s the biggest obstacle causing lack of motivation.

Sample exercise:

Sit down and write down all the important things you’ve done last week. It can be everything you devoted time to: work, household duties, your hobbies. Divide everything you’ve listed according to which activities on the list came the easiest and which things came the hardest to you. It’s crucial to write down things that require even some residual activeness and effort, i.e. do not list for instance drinking beer after work or watching a series that just happened to be broadcast on TV. In the case of a hobby, don’t write down time wasters. But, note  that for different people, different things can be considered time wasters or active entertainment. For instance, playing a computer game, in which certain effort is required to advance to the next level doesn’t count as a time waster, but a game turned on “just because you’ve got nothing else to do” does.

Most people will probably have items related to work or household duties at the bottom of the list. The situation is miserable when it turns out that the rest of them are time wasters – and thus they haven’t been put on the list at all.

A person who has nothing in life but for “duties” and “time wasters” loses motivation in no time. This is because they find motivation to work only in brief moments of respite, for instance in front of a TV – and, for most people, it’s simply not enough. Time wasters are good, as they allow your mind to rest, but the human psyche doesn’t cope well with passive rest as the only reward. In such cases, you should find yourself a relatively active hobby.

In turn, people who are not really motivated at work (work at the very bottom of the list) should seek ways of making it more pleasant. This can be achieved by trying out a new method of organizing your work, befriending your colleagues and using some of your pay check for extra pleasures. An extra hour of sleep before work and some exercise during a break will also help.

Having said that, when it’s really difficult to motivate oneself even to develop a hobby and no internal (thinking about your goal) or external inspiration works, it can be a symptom of a seasonally decreased mood. In this case, instead of looking for inspiration, it’s a good idea to “reset” yourself by going on holidays or even taking a brief break. But, if the lack of motivation even when developing a hobby persists for a longer period of time, this can be a serious warning sign of early depression.

How to motivate yourself and others

Besides the above-mentioned need to set yourself a goal and have time for yourself, motivating yourself also depends on living a healthy lifestyle, which is essential. Before you start motivating yourself by setting goals and rewards, you should bring your body as close as possible to the condition optimal from the motivational perspective. These are major elements you should focus on:

  • sleep hygiene (eight hours a day in the case of a healthy adult);
  • balance between work and rest time;
  • physical activity (an hour of exercise a day);

healthy diet, which includes taking vitamin D (in the UK, vitamin D deficiencies occur in winter months), vitamin PP and vitamin E. Traditional British dishes are quite fat, and this is not conducive to your good psychophysical condition. A fundamental step towards healthy eating is always to reduce meat in favour of increasing vegetable consumption.

Only once you’ve achieved a good balance in matters related to your body, can you move on to psychological motivation-related issues.

In psychology, motivation can be positive and negative. Negative motivation results in long-term deprivation and a decline in your condition. Negative motivation is, for instance, fear of being laid off, or of getting an opinion of a lazy or an unresourceful person. Positive motivation is a goal or a reward. The trick is to move from negative motivation to positive one, that is from the fear of punishment to the desire for being rewarded. In the simplest variation, it’s about defining a specific goal or reward and focusing on it while working on yourself. Example: a person having problems at work should focus on how to figure their way out of them and on the purpose of their work – not on the fear of being sacked.

Motivation as such is a very complex issue. Many people tend to see it as a way of becoming happier in life and increasing own productivity, but the truth is that developing good, positive motivation not so much increases productivity as it lowers stress, as you focus on the reward factor. Motivation itself is not a perfect recipe for success in any area, but rather a method of avoiding the negative consequences of total passivity or negative motivation associated with the punishment mechanism.

For some people the “goal” alone doesn’t work, and the reward must be distributed more often, even after each day of productivity, in order for them to make an association of the “work” and “being active” with a pleasant feeling of being rewarded. In other words, motivation associated with a measurable reward can increase your self-esteem and reduce stress, and only this translates into greater productivity and, possibly, the achievement of a goal.

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