Motivation - why you need more than motivational quotes to get stuff done

If you're wondering why I chose that photograph for a post on motivation take a closer look at it, maybe enlarge it.  Chances are the first thing you notice is the big sign saying "DANGER KEEP OUT" and the gate to which it is attached, but look a bit more closely and you'll see there's nothing around the gate, nothing at all.  The gate is just standing on its own in the middle of an open field.  All there is nearby is grass and plants and frankly the only danger is slipping when it gets muddy.  

Now I have an embarrassing confession to make, I walked past that sign and that gate literally hundreds of times before I actually looked at it and noticed what I've just pointed out to you.  I think issues with motivation are like that too, you see a big sign in your head which is stopping you from doing something, but when you actually take a proper look at it, it’s nonsense and there's nothing there you need to worry about.

For all that, however, motivation, or lack of it, can be a really powerful force in a person’s life and probably everyone struggles with it at some point, often more than once and I think there are certain times of year when it can be particularly difficult to get motivated, such as now (if you’re reading this when I’m posting it), in the middle of January, when, depending on where you live, it’s either bitter cold or boiling hot, the festive period is over, many of us are still sorting out our finances after it and whatever way you look at it the warmth of spring or coolness of autumn can still feel just out of reach.

So for these times and for those times when you’re struggling to reach a goal or just struggling to find your get up and go, here are a selection of 7 motivational strategies you can use to get past that block.

Set yourself up for success first of all

This post assumes you’ve already done all you can to set yourself up for success, such as by setting your goals appropriately, removing barriers to achieving them and doing whatever you practically can to make it easy for yourself to do what you want to do.  You’re just struggling to get there.  If that sounds like you, here are 7 tips to help.

Strategy 1 - the motivation pack

The title of this post is “why you need more than motivational quotes to get stuff done” but you don’t need a sledgehammer to crack a nut.  Motivational quotes can help, as can anything which makes you feel positive about life in general and yourself in particular, especially if it reminds you of your successes.  If you’re the sort of person who likes real-world vision boards, make one and take a picture of it to keep on your phone for when you’re out and about and need a boost.  Alternatively make a digital board, for example on Pinterest, so you can access it anywhere.  If all you’re needing is a bit of a pick-me-up when you’re feeling low, this may do the trick nicely.

Just to be clear about this, your motivation pack should be about what does motivate you rather than what you think should motivate you.  In other words, avoid what I call the Instagram trap of looking at people who live lifestyles which allows them to achieve goals which are way past what the rest of us can feasibly manage (e.g. fitness professionals and celebrities) and thinking you should be able to meet their standards.  If these people genuinely inspire you, fair enough, but if you’re looking at them thinking they’re role models for real life, forget it and move on.

Strategy 2 - Don't break the chain

According to legend, this system was first thought up by Jerry Seinfeld, in short it goes as follows:
Pick a goal
Set out what times you will work towards that goal
Mark off the days on which you actually work toward that goal
Use those marks as a visual reminder of your progress and as motivation to keep going

It’s an old cliché but a lot of success is just turning up and putting in the hours.  Yes, it can help a lot if you’re naturally talented but if you look at anyone you recognize as talented, I’d be willing to place a substantial bet they worked very hard to make the most of their talent and if I’m really honest I can tell you for a fact I personally have had the sad experience of seeing really talented people just waste their talent through refusing to put in the work.  If you have a goal then make a commitment to keep working towards it.  Putting it bluntly the idea here is to let discipline stand in for motivation.  Done is better than perfect, just do some work towards your goal, even if you think it’s low quality, you can always improve it later or, if it’s a practical skill you’re trying to learn, you can wait for time to do its work and for practice to make perfect, or at least better.

Strategy 3 - Set out some carrots

Let’s be honest, there are times in life when you know full well you can do something, you just don’t want to so you keep putting it off.  If that’s you, allow yourself a reward for sucking it up and doing it.

Strategy 4 - See if you can make the job a game

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun, you find the fun and snap the job’s a game.”
Remember that line from Mary Poppins, right before she sang about how “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”?  See what you can do to turn at least some aspect of a job into a game, or at least make them more fun.  Put on a timer and race yourself, put on some music or an audiobook, get some really nice tools to do it instead of plain ones.

Strategy 5 - Remind yourself why you’re doing this in the first place

There’s a reason why you’re doing this (I hope, if there’s not and you’re just doing it because you think you should, then perhaps you need to think again), so remind yourself of that.  Visualize yourself having achieved your goal and think about how good that will make you feel.  Then get on with making it happen.

Strategy 6 - Break your pattern

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.  This cuts both ways.  If habits are good, stick with them.  If, however, you’re getting nowhere and feeling like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, then it’s time to stop and break the pattern.  Go and do something different.  Don’t just “take a break” in the sense of having a rest from what you’re doing, actively go and do something else so that you clear your mind and get rid of any negative feelings which have built up out of frustration.

Strategy 7 - Do something positive you know you can achieve

Do something that makes you feel good and which you know is comfortably within your abilities.  This could be as simple as having a long shower or writing a gratitude, or doing something to make the world a better place such as getting round to taking some donations to charity or offering someone else some help and support on an internet forum.  Remind yourself what positivity and success feel like.

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