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Staying Motivated in the New Year

Maintaining motivation and solidifying habits can be a massive challenge when operating in a limited environment (for work, sport, or any other performance domain). It is common to get caught in cycles of repetitive behavior that become redundant. During the COVID-19 lockdown in particular, people are finding themselves having to work(out) from home, and the nature of repeating activities within confined surroundings can get boring. So how do we keep in shape and sustain work productivity during lockdown? How do we spice things up and stay interested? Here are some tips for maintaining motivation, adopting new habits, and sticking to them.

1. Identify Your “Why” – We all have reasons why we do things. Jobs, chores, and activities all have an underlying meaning to them, whether it is to satisfy our basic physical and psychological needs, or to achieve even greater goals. Getting in touch with those reasons is vital to maintaining motivation. Jobs are more than a paycheck. We perform them in order to have an essential role in society, to feel valued and connected, and to exercise our skillsets. Of course, we don’t always have full control over our activities, and understanding what we can and can’t control is essential. Adopting an internal locus of control means recognizing and taking responsibility for the things we have control over, including our reaction to what we can’t control. Therefore, we can choose to engage in our activities intentionally and give them meaning. This may also include doing things you don’t feel like doing in the moment. Practicing mindful presence can help bring clarity when the meaning of an activity isn’t immediately clear.

Activity: Choose one area of your life that you think could benefit from a bump in motivation. Spend 2 minutes listing ALL the reasons you can think of that you choose to engage in that activity. Now order those reasons, from most important to least important. At the top of the list you will have the items from which you can derive your “why.”

2. Create Goals – Explicitly writing down your goals makes it clear what you want to achieve. Make sure the goals are appropriate for your specific situation, your role, and the timeline. Adjust them as needed to fit any limitations that occur (staying at home). Divide longer term goals into short term objectives so you can identify what needs to be done in the immediate future to give urgency to creating new habits. Making checklists and proof of accomplishment of smaller tasks can build your sense of achievement. Ensure that you find ways of tracking your progress, create regular reminders, and post those reminders in easy-to-see places (post-it notes were invented for this).

Activity: Set 5 simple goals for yourself. Try making at least one in each major category of your life (work, school, health, family, etc.). Use the SMART Goals acronym to start setting goals if you’ve never done so explicitly before.

3. Spot Your Strengths – Understanding the areas in which you thrive is important to completing things you don’t like so much. It is a natural tendency to gravitate toward activities which we are good at because success is enjoyable. Engaging in these activities make us feel good about ourselves and give us an opportunity to display our competence (both to ourselves and others). They help to build confidence and self-worth. Use these activities as building blocks and sandwich less enjoyable activities in the middle. This way you can use the momentum of the “good” activity to carry into the more challenging one and finish off with a reward of doing a more enjoyable task.

Activity: Close your eyes and recall a recent successful performance in the domain of your choice. Spend 2 minutes considering every aspect of that performance, and why it was successful. What did it look, feel, hear, smell, taste like? Now recall a task that you find yourself to be less motivated in. Bring the same feeling of success you had before into this activity. Imagine every detail of performing this new task with the same richness of experience and savor every moment of it. Next time you actually perform the task, activate the same sensual pleasure and enjoyment in giving the task your best effort.

4. Stay Connected – Find ways to maintain contact with a social sphere that is supportive and conducive to your goals. When focusing on long-term targets it can be easy to lose sight of fundamental support systems. Through any great journey there are challenges, and it is always helpful to have people in your corner, whether that’s people who can advise you and support your ideas, or who can help you take your mind of things in order to rest, relax, and enjoy the process.

Activity: Reach out to one important friend or family member this week. Commit to cultivating a relationship with them that you feel comfortable calling or reaching out just to say hi and catch up. It can be a short phone call or even a long coffee or evening spent together, where you focus on nothing but enjoying their company. Do it again next week, and if you feel inclined you can try reaching out to a different person, an old friend, a relative, or even a stranger. Building strong social ties requires effort, and here you’re practicing this skill.

5. Reinvent Routines – Routines are a great way to organize thoughts and behaviors so they become automatic. Repetition is key for routines, though they can also become tedious over time. Reorganizing those routines and adding in new habits gives novelty and flavor, which is key to capturing interest. You may need some practice to nail down new routines, but once you get through the first few days you can get back into autopilot so that you can move through your checklist of activities efficiently. Stacking activities strategically (like sandwiching strengths/weaknesses) can be a useful technique.

Activity: Create a new 10-minute morning routine to execute first thing in the morning after waking up. Complete the routine before looking at your phone. It can include some movement, such as stretching or mobility, and/or some mindfulness meditation practice. One of the biggest barriers people report for picking up a new habit is time, so that’s why we want to start with just 10 minutes. Depending on your existing schedule, it may require you to wake up 10 minutes earlier, which really isn’t a big difference. Commit to this by setting a new alarm if needed. Stick to this routine for at least a week, and if you want to alter it slightly after that, you can try adding in new pieces slowly.

Suggested multimedia pairings…

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