What Motivates You?
What motivates you at work? Please don’t say “nothing.” Even the worst occupations require self-motivation to maintain employment. Though, sometimes, we find ourselves asking, do we really need this job?
If a job is overtly detrimental to your mental or physical health, then, by all means, seek other options. However, if your profession creates manageable forms of stress and angst, convert these roadblocks into a means of living your life. The fact is, we all need an income to live, and we all need goals to increase self-worth.
BUT, working for the sole purpose of a paycheck will only get you so far. Some of us will find ourselves stuck in destructive patterns and struggling to stay motivated, working just enough to ensure that our paychecks keep coming. Often, there is a honeymoon phase to a job or career; in the beginning, we over-perform to show our worth and make our way through the probationary period. When we become more comfortable with our job security, we start to cut corners.
What keeps people working at maximum productivity year over year? Some people genuinely love their jobs; they believe that they are doing what they were destined to do, so it never feels like work. Raise your hand if this percentage of people genuinely annoys the heck out of you. A larger percentage of people enjoy or even love aspects of their job, but not the entirety of it. It is the portions of the job that we don’t like that make it hard to stay motivated. Sometimes, even the aspects of the job that we once enjoyed have become uninspiring, making work motivation more difficult. What do we do when finding motivation becomes harder?
The first option is to get out when you have no motivation to work any longer, leave your job or career and start over. However, many of us don’t have to luxury to just cut and run, nor would it even solve the problem. We have to tackle the problem from the inside, step by step until it is corrected.
A worldwide poll administered by Gallup states that out of one billion full-time employees, only 15% of the population is engaged at work. All things considered, that number is scarily low.
How can we be part of that 15% that remain self motivated?
Pinpoint the Problem
If you are going through low motivation at work, pinpoint why you feel uninspired, unmotivated, and down.
Part of completing daunting tasks is to motivate yourself by establishing rewards – a bright light at the end of a tunnel. However, additional and sometimes uncontrollable forces can make this harder to do. Say, for example, that we are in a global pandemic. In the yesteryears before 2020, a grueling quarter at work could be rewarded with a beach vacation. A grueling week of work could be rewarded by a night out or fun weekend activities. For those more cautious now or following state mandates, the options for fun social activities have been seriously limited, especially during the winter. Add to that a large portion of the workforce now working from home, and you are confronted with a highly repetitious lifestyle; think Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day. With no immediate end in sight, some of us will have days where we ask ourselves, what’s the point? You may be asking yourself how to find motivation to continue. This is normal. But, there is a point, and precise ways for how to get motivated, how to be motivated, and how to stay motivated at work.
How do you pinpoint the problem of little to no motivation to do anything? I am a huge proponent of journaling when looking for how to motivate yourself. Don’t be afraid to start writing out absolute nonsense first. Eventually, your chicken scratches will form thoughts as to what is bothering you. Stresses and un-fulfillment, whether professionally, personally, or both, coupled with a lack of clear-cut strategies for how to escape or correct these obstacles and get motivated once again, can cause you to shut down. Burnout is a real issue. If you think motivations at work can be improved by taking a mental health day, go for it. If your issues with self-motivation are ongoing, real changes must be made.
1. Talk to a Professional
Do you think you would benefit from talking to someone? Friends and family are good places to start, but often, we can edit ourselves even among those closest to us. A licensed therapist or mental health professional can add extra insight to the problems you are facing, but this creates its own set of roadblocks.
- A therapist is an additional expense.
- Finding the right therapist can be challenging.
- In some cultures, households, and work environments, there can still be a negative stigma surrounding therapy.
Push past these. First, some of the expense of therapy can be offset by your insurance; some jobs have better mental health programs than others, so do your research. Affordable therapy does exist, but does it come at the cost of quality? Not always. Do your research. Think of therapy like dating; you may not always find the perfect match on the first try. Lastly, you can either keep your treatment private or be open about it; it’s your choice. Know that mental health is just as important as physical health; you would not feel embarrassed to go to the doctor or work with a personal trainer at the gym, so do not feel self-conscious working with a professional to maintain a healthy mind.
2. Set Goals, Motivators, and Rewards
Break it up.
A large professional task can seem overwhelming, especially if that task is:
- Not exciting
- You have outside distractions
A good way to tackle large professional tasks while staying self-motivated is breaking them up, setting attainable goals, and initiating a reward system. One reward to keep in mind is the completion of the task itself and how it will positively affect other areas of your life.
- You will not have that task hanging over your head any longer.
- Your team and superiors will look positively on the completion of this task and, if they don’t, you should.
- Customers or clients will hold you in higher regard.
You may find that higher levels of motivation come at the very beginning of your task and towards the end, but what do you do about the dreaded middle? Break the task up. Say you have 100 pushups to complete; counting these pushups one by one could be excruciating, so you divide it into parts. After 25 pushups, you have a quarter done. Short rest. After 50 pushups, you are halfway there. Short rest. Once you hit 51 pushups, you are more than halfway to completing your goal. Now switch it up, start counting down your pushups, not up; it will help mentally. Once you are down to 25 pushups, you have 75% of the task complete. After a short rest, you continue counting down to zero. The same could be said for sending emails or any other professional task. If you have two days to send 300 emails, do 75 the first half of your first day and reward yourself with a nice lunch, take a walk with a loved one, or have a quick picnic in the park. The next half of the day, you can complete 75 more emails. The following day, start counting down while using the same format. If you have three days to complete 300 emails, perhaps, the second day, you can choose a more enjoyable task and then switch back to completing those emails on the last day. Alternatively, you can choose to plug through and look forward to a more enjoyable task upon your completion. Sometimes, it’s better to get the worst tasks out of the way first and look forward to something better.
Make sure you choose rewards that will not set you back. Eating a whole peach pie after completing 100 pushups may not be the best idea. Instead, why not spend an hour doing a relaxing activity you enjoy, like lounging by the pool? The same can be applied to professional tasks, too. Slacking off for two days after completing two days of emails will not help, but rewarding yourself with a 20-minute TED Talk on a topic you find beneficial to your professional and personal growth can have its advantages.
Some researchers suggest using uncertain rewards for how to increase motivation. Uncertain rewards can actually incentivize people to work harder. If you are a supervisor, set up goals for your employees through various task stages and create a few potential rewards for when each goal is met to motivate at work. An employee could win a $50 Amazon gift card, a pizza party, or a full day of PTO – the uncertainty of the reward will ensure that each member of your team works equally diligently to attain the grand prize. While some employers create friendly competition among employees when motivating at work (i.e., the employee who makes the most sales will get the grand prize), this can sometimes have a negative effect, especially if the same employee wins every time. Remember, prizes can also be selected or given at random.
3. Give & Take
It’s often easier to advise on how to become motivated than to heed our own words. We want to offer valuable advice to others, and when we do this consistently, it builds our self-worth. Take it one step further, listen to the advice you provide to others, and then incorporate it into your routines. Look for ways to spread good advice. For example, provide useful advice to friends, family, coworkers, and customers; start a blog or join a forum for a topic you are interested in and bring valuable wisdom to this topic. If you have trouble taking your own advice, jot down some good tips that you would give to others facing similar problems as your own. Challenge yourself to listen to at least one of your tips over the next few days, then a week, then a month. Start to incorporate more of those tips as you feel comfortable, and see if they help. Don’t label these tips as ineffective too early. Experts say that it can take up to 254 days to form a new habit, but as little as 18 days, with an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become reflex. This is according to a study by the European Journal of Psychology, which debunks the inaccurate translation of Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s findings published in his 1960 book Psycho-Cybernetics. Conversely, it can take the same amount of time to break a bad habit.
While giving good advice, remember to take good advice from others, too; life coaches, inspirational talks / motivational speakers, self-help books, successful YouTubers, friends, family, and professional and personal role models. Not all advice is good advice; it’s important to get second, third, and fourth opinions; use your own smarts to weed out the good from the bad.
4. Change It Up
Alternate un-inspiring tasks with inspiring tasks when trying to motivate yourself. Try different methods of working. Change up your daily routines. Think of life as a Triathlon. Just as you grow tired of swimming, start cycling. Just as you grow tired of cycling, start running. When you start swimming again, you should feel more refreshed.
Many of us thrive off routine, but when you find that the exact opposite is happening, switch it up. Sometimes, I am guilty of working in front of the television when performing tedious tasks. Two full days using mindless TV shows as background noise can start to negatively affect how I feel about myself, while a sporadic day working from the couch can be a nice break. When I feel the negative impacts of this way of working, and it takes more to motivate me, I head to the home office and add a meditative element like music to clear my mind. If I can switch over to another project for a least a day, I do so. If I am closer to completing a dreaded project, I will plug through, knowing that the end is near.
If you are working from home, there are only so many rooms you can work in; the same goes for the office. Get outside, if only for an hour. Don’t use winter as an excuse; that’s why they invented coats; there is something very peaceful about trudging through the snow.
Explore. Professionally, I will take a day here and there to explore new ways of doing my job effectively. There is an inspiring story of how someone changed things up to create something entirely new for their clients and colleagues in every profession. Use these stories to inspire your own creative thinking and invent different ways of doing things at your workplace to maintain business motivation.
If a routine is becoming too repetitive in your personal life, you should also change it up. Plan a date night at home if you can’t go out. Learn something new. Try a different activity. While exercise is a positive activity, even that can become redundant and tiresome; switch up your running route, try a new form of exercise, work out with someone else even if it’s just your dog.
5. Mental Health Days, Vacations, & Working from a Different Location
When you find yourself asking, “Why do I have no motivation?” or “Why can’t I get motivated?”, take a mental health day, but don’t do it to complete chores or run tedious errands; do something you enjoy for the full time you would be working.
While it’s harder to plan safe vacations in 2021, it’s not impossible; be cautious, follow CDC guidelines, drive instead of flying, bring your own towels and bedding, disinfect everything, minimize hotel stays and get to your destination, choose a remote area instead of a crowded resort, hike instead of shop, etc.
Lastly, if you can’t take enough time off work for a full vacation, see if you can work remotely; book a cabin in the woods and set up your laptop on the porch for a change of scenery – you are almost guaranteed to feel calmer and more refreshed.
6. Reduce Isolation
Isolation can be a big problem these days. Be active at maintaining relationships, professionally and personally, even if you can’t do so in person. Reach out to friendly coworkers throughout the day just to say hello, initiate group projects even remotely, call an old friend, send a family member a card, video chat with a loved one, take on a pen pal, touch base with loyal customers, write a letter to someone; drive by someone’s house with a care package.
There are many ways to keep relationships active, but don’t let it overwhelm you; make sure you are receiving joy from this activity as much as you are giving it.
When in doubt, talk to a professional about your feelings of loneliness or isolation.
7. Try Loss Aversion
Instead of rewarding yourself for each task that you complete, you can also create penalties for incomplete tasks; some people work better that way. A penalty could be as simple as, if I delay working on this project, I will have to work extra hours on it next week. Some applications, like the app stickkK (invented by Yale alum, including Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler), make it so that you have to pay a monetary penalty if you don’t meet your goals. Other applications, like Beeminder, follow in this same vein.
8. Look at the Big Picture
Finding motivation can be tough sometimes. A set of tasks may seem pointless when you don’t look ahead. Looking at each task individually without thinking about the bigger picture can fail to show what you will yield from these tasks.
Some examples include, “Why make my bed when I will just sleep in it again tonight?” A crisp, clean room allows you to wake up and go to sleep refreshed. Cleanliness improves creativity. A made bed is cozier and more inviting. Waking up and making your bed allows you to fully complete a simple task that will help to improve your overall self-worth. Your partner appreciates a made bed, and that makes them happier, too.
“Why get dressed for work if I am working from home?” Okay, an occasional day spent working in your pajamas is fine, but how do you feel after doing it for a week straight? Shaving, showering, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, and other cleanliness and beauty regiments are all an integral part of self-worth and self-motivation.
I have been guilty of this question from time to time lately when I have no motivation to do anything, “What’s the point of making money if I can’t even enjoy it?” Of course, there are obvious answers to these questions, like the basic needs of food, water, and shelter, but a portion of our wages should be used to improve our state of mind. Before COVID-19, there were concerts, vacations, the theater, sporting events, but now many of the fun activities that required additional income have been put on hold. So what did we do? Many of us switched to home improvement projects. Once those were complete, we reverted to paying off debt, shopping for basic necessities, along with Amazon binging and other empty monetary pursuits. What gives me perspective when I need motivation is to imagine a life without my profession. Even the daunting tasks would be missed. Without a professional purpose as part of our lives, our self-worth would diminish. The respect of others would waver. It would directly affect our relationships with family and friends, and we couldn’t afford our basic necessities. And those activities that we miss so much, eventually they’ll return, in one form or another; by maintaining a good work ethic and staying motivated, we solidify our return to those fun activities without added stress.
“What’s the point of working harder? No one notices when I do, and no one notices if I cut corners; it’s all about the same.” First, your own self-worth. If that isn’t enough, people do notice. Slack off for a day, and you may be okay. Slack off for a week; perhaps you’ll still be fine. Slack off for a month, repercussions are bound to follow, and some of them may be irreversible.
A set of tasks can be looked at the same way professionally and personally; one isolated task may seem pointless, but completing each task in that set will yield better overall results.
9. Getting Motivated
One of the hardest parts of completing an uninspiring task can be getting started – just get to work! Say you are writing a paper; initially, you are staring at a blank page. Write one sentence first. Your first sentence could be terrible – it might not even make sense. Try for a second sentence. Write your third sentence. As the sentences start to string together, they will begin to make more sense. Soon you will start to build paragraphs. Don’t edit. Focus on getting your ideas out, then go back and edit later. The more sentences you create, the easier it becomes; the same premise can be applied to most tasks when you are looking for how to be more motivated.
10. Getting Motivated and Staying Motivated
What things in your life do you appreciate most? The most precious things in your life take continued effort to maintain, don’t they? These things may not always yield constant joy, but they do produce an overall reward. Think about this when tackling your professional tasks, even the most uninspiring ones. While completing one task may not create a sense of joy, accomplishing a series of tasks over time will eventually yield a great reward or rewards. When you falter and can’t seem to figure out how to get motivation, remind yourself of this, perform even the most mundane tasks to the best of your abilities when working for yourself or others. In the end, the rewards will be larger, and even the smallest triumphs will have more meaning.
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