Motivation: (noun) the general design or willingness of someone to do something.
It’s a psychological phenomenon that is backed by an incentive plan, so to speak, whether it’s extrinsic like desire for money, success, recognition, praise, or intrinsic relying on your personal internal values and the reward of feeling a sense of accomplishment, or addiction.
Effective motivation is usually a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic. Too much extrinsic and you might be left with a feeling of resentment at being told what to do for not enough reward. Too much intrinsic and you’re likely to tie your self worth to your successes and failures or whether you accomplish your tasks. That particular balance will be unique for each individual.
And addiction, well that word has a negative connotation in itself, but let’s say you have an addiction to going to the gym too often or continually working long hours. This type of motivation relies on external (praise / recognition) and internal (good feelings) rewards, which fade quickly and you’re left with the reinforcers as a driver like guilt, shame, anxiety, or withdrawal. You could see how this would lead to imbalance in your life and impact relationships and emotional well-being.
When I read these definitions by Michael S. Sommermeyer on 15minmentor.com I was particularly struck by the addiction definition. When I think of addiction, I tend to think of drugs, or sugar, or my own addiction to La Croix (naturally essenced sparkling water — those bubbles! I seriously can’t get enough). But I hadn’t really thought of overworking as an addiction. Of course my next thought was, yeah, that sounds like the tech industry — the always on always available, must be doing related side projects after your regular 9-5 stint or you’re not serious about your job mentality. No wonder burnout is so high!
All that said, addiction motivation is not really what I wanted to talk about in the article (but maybe something to explore in the future!). I would like to think positively and that for most of us, addiction is not what motivates us. What I’ve really been thinking about and struggling with lately is motivation in general. A few months ago the world was whammied by a pandemic and I’d venture to guess that most of us not only didn’t see it coming, but we didn’t see the magnitude of the fallout coming either. And that has taken a toll on us physically, mentally, and emotionally, and it’s hard to know where to go or what to do with all those emotions.
Whatever you’re feeling, though, know that you are not alone.
Whatever you’re feeling, though, know that you are not alone.
I’ve worked from home for the last 5 years. It was a welcomed transition as I didn’t do well in the whole open office space layout. So when the work from home / stay at home orders came for my area, I thought, no worries, I’ve got this! I already went through my awkward and painful transition (because I’m not gonna lie, it was a tough transition, but I was also transitioning from agency to contract work as well).
Objectively speaking, nothing really changed in my day-to-day routine. Yes, the little things, like I can’t go to my Barre3 studio anymore, but I am coming back from an injury, so I haven’t been going much anyway, or Janae, Kyle, and I can’t do our weekly Skrift lunches as restaurants were closed. But I’m an introvert with no kids and hermit tendencies, so all-in-all, things were more or less the same for me.
Much to my surprise, though, I did not handle it well. I got extremely restless and couldn’t focus on anything more than 5 minutes in a go — not even things I love, like reading or quilting or cooking (eating is going just fine, however). I got anxious and was constantly scrolling through Twitter trying to find as much information as I could and FaceTimed my mom a lot. And then the pipeline dried up and I laid on the couch and watched Netflix for more days than I want to admit to, and I berated myself for not doing more. I have a list a mile long of all the things I want to do when I have more time and here I was with more time and not doing anything but shaming myself for not doing those things.
I was in a funk and I didn’t know how to pull myself out. I tried to get myself back on track by making a schedule that mimicked a work day, but that immediately failed. So I tried to cajole myself into doing one reasonable, time-boxed thing a day. I think even there I set my sights too high and that didn’t really work either. Ultimately I think it was a trifecta of things that pulled me out of my funk: I discovered my Barre3 studio was livestreaming classes, the sun came out, and I stopped looking at social media. Maybe I’d also had an adequate amount of wallowing and mentally I was just ready to move on. Hard to say for sure.
Now, just because I finally pulled myself out of a funk does not mean I am now magically motivated, because nope, I’m really not. I’m still anxious at times. Still not focusing as well as I think I should be. And I’m exhausted. All. The. Time. But I’m also not at the bottom of my barrel anymore and I’m steadily climbing up as I’m adjusting to a new mentality and a new perspective on my life, the person I want to be, and where my priorities lie right now.
So what are the things I’m doing to try to stay positive and somewhat productive in the hopes that I’ll eventually gain back some motivation:
If I had a dollar for every person who’s ever told me that life is better with exercise, well, I’d have a lot of dollars to invest to make me a lot more dollars and I’d punch them in the face. I have always hated to exercise. Go for a walk with friends, let’s go. Hike up a mountain, let me get my gear. Kayak on the bay, I’ll bring the snacks. Bike ride, who’s going to fix my flat tire (no really, I do have a flat tire that I need fixed). But join a gym or sign up for organized classes or exercise just to exercise, hell no. I don’t know what possessed me to do it a year and a half ago, but I joined a Barre3 studio and it kicks my ass on a regular basis and I love it. They’ve become my local community. Where I go to be accepted for who I am and encouraged to make each workout my own; to listen to my body and what it needs; be present in the moment; and most importantly, take time for me. It has 100% become my self-care. These are some of the most positive and empowering women I’ve met and I guess I just needed to find what worked for me to realize what all those people have been telling me for years — exercise does indeed make life a little better. (Sorry for the face punches.)
2. Get off Social Media
This one is hard, because all y'all are on social media and I don’t want to shut you off. You all are my community as well, but I do want to shut off the noise. I found that I was spending ridiculous amounts of time on social media (mostly Twitter) getting fired up about all sorts of things that I didn’t need to be fired up about. I’m in an echo chamber, and I know that. The most important thing I can do is be responsible for myself (stay home! wear a mask!) and vote in the November elections and get involved in encouraging others to do so as well. That is where my voice/our collective voices will be heard the loudest.
Now, that being said, I do want to stay somewhat informed about what’s going on, so if I do jump on social media or news sites, I timebox myself so I’m not losing hours to inanity and setting my blood pressure off. Some days I do well, some days I do not, but it’s a process.
3. Find a Creative Outlet
I feel like this isn’t necessarily the time to hit your 'whenever I have spare time' list. If you feel motivated enough to do that, by all means, and I envy you. But for me, I feel like this is more of a time to focus on self-care and family. I pulled out all my fabric scraps to see what kind of monstrosity of a quilt I could come up with, while at the same time purging my stash (I really don’t like having ‘stuff’ around the house, but hobbies make that hard). I’ve also been photographing the sunset every night. I got the idea from NatGeo photographer John Stanmeyer who’s been photographing the windows in his house as part of a Covid19-Stay-At-Home diary of sorts. I haven’t done anything with the photos as I haven’t come up with a good post-processing routine yet, and maybe I will never do anything with them, but it’s been a good evening routine that I’ve enjoyed. Plus, it means being still and in the moment and watching the sunset every night.
4. Schedule Regular Zoom Get Togethers
Janae, Kyle and I meet every Tuesday for lunch. We have since we launched Skrift 5 years ago and we did it to make sure we communicated well about the project. We also all work remotely from home and it’s a great excuse to get out and catch up. It took us a couple weeks to switch over to Zoom, but I am so thankful we did. It’s really a highlight of my week to have face-to-face interaction with friends and catch up on all the gossip or in recent cases, the different brands of hard seltzers coming on the market (again, those bubbles!). I’ve also participated in both Candid Contributions hackathons / CodePatch and a random Friday night happy hour with some Umbracians. I didn’t realize how much I needed that until I was there. Social connection is so important for mental and physical health, but I feel like it’s even more so right now. In fact, in one of the books I’m currently reading the author states that 'study after study has shown that the more socially isolated you are, the more likely you are to die early.' (For the Love of Men by Liz Plank). Um, what?! That’s enough to motivate this introvert to seek it out where I can!
5. Write it down
I sometimes fear or avoid things because they seem overwhelming in the abstract. I find that making lists help to alleviate some of that anxiety. Putting it down in ink (post-its are still my favorite medium) helps you to see that maybe things aren’t quite as bad as your mind would have you to believe. Write down how long you think each task might take and maybe you’ll be surprised that you did it faster than you thought. Boom. Done. Also, sometimes I write lists and then throw them away. That also makes me feel better :)
Journaling is much in the same vein. Writing down how you’re feeling or what’s going on around you that’s affecting you can help to clarify your thoughts, help you know yourself better, act as a stress management tool, solve problems more efficiently by engaging your right brain rather than leaving analysing up to your left, and help to resolve differences with others. AND University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells. Bonus! (I found this article on journaling interesting.)
6. Call It
This sounds negative, but it isn’t meant to be. Listen to yourself and know your limits. Sitting in front of a computer when you know you’re not going to be productive does not help you in the long run. It causes more anxiety, more negative feelings, and takes a hit on your self worth, if you’re anything like me, because you sit there and berate yourself for not doing better. Don’t confuse this with procrastination though. A fine line, but a very different mentality. But if you need to take a mental health day or prioritize your kid, do it. I find that I generally come back stronger the next day.
And while you're calling it
7. Distract Distract Distract
Podcasts I've been marathoning
I am a podcast junkie and I’ve had to seek out some new ones lately because a lot of my regulars are all COVID-19 all the time or the hot mess that is the US right now. That’s not a distraction; that’s an anxiety attack! Recently I’ve found I like investigative journalism that tells a story over the season instead of one-offs. This also includes quite a bit of true crime, which I’ve never thought I’ve cared for, but turns out I get sucked in to these stories and can’t stop listening! I guess it also helps place things in perspective and helps me realize at a subconscious level that my life sucks way less than all the people profiled in these shows.
I even asked my niece (11) and nephew (13) what they like to listen to and find there’s some great stuff out there for kids that I also find relaxing, not annoying, and light-hearted to listen to at the end of the day when I need to let my mind unwind. (Middle row)
How do I have time to listen to all of these especially without a commute, you ask? I put them on when I’m getting up and going in the morning, when I’m brushing my teeth etc at night, when I’m cooking dinner or while doing chores. Pretty much whenever I can. Nothing distracts you more from the mundaneness of scrubbing your bathroom or mopping your floors than a podcast. Headphones in and go.
*There's also a companion mini series to Root of Evil called I Am the Night. I could only find streaming info for the US (Hulu) and Australia (Stan), but if you find it in your country, it's worth a watch if you like crime / drama / mystery types of shows. Creepy AF!
What I've been reading
I finally got back into reading, for which I’ll thank my book club for as I 'had' to get a book read. I’m a huge user of the library but since it’s closed, I had to get creative and decided to pull all the unread or started but never finished books from my shelves to see my options. I usually read fiction as a way to escape, but seem to be on a nonfiction kick lately. Go figure. Some of the ones I’ve been enjoying from my stack are:
- A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
- Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
- For the Love of Men by Liz Plank
- What Unites Us by Dan Rather
- The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Background music I'm enjoying
I like a wide variety of music and find that it all has its place at different times/moods. I’m not quite energetic enough to revive the kitchen dance parties quite yet, so I’m all about the easy listening right now. The two in heavy rotation recently are:
I also super love the Deep Focus playlist curated by Spotify as well. Good for lounging in the bath, and evening on the couch reading or taking 5 minutes to just be still and breathe.
8. Most importantly, be compassionate to your current and future self
I find this a hard thing to wrap my brain around, so much so that I’ve started putting post-it notes around my house as a reminder. It’s ok if you’re not top of your game right now. There are many more distractions and stressors out there that we don't 'normally' have to deal with it’s going to take us all time to navigate all the extras that have been added to our plates, whether it’s kids at home that you’re now responsible for educating, extra financial burdens on top of ones you may have already had, or caring for elderly parents in a safe way. That’s a lot to take on on top of paid work, unpaid house work, and still trying to have some kind of fun or relaxation time. Becoming ok with dropping some balls every now and again or saying ‘no, I can’t do that' is an exercise in itself that takes time to adjust to. Think of this as your dormant season; what you’re doing right now to get by is enough. We’re an adaptable species. If our lives are forevermore changed because of this, then we’ll eventually adjust, find our new equilibrium and find ourselves reengaging. Motivation might be gone for now, but it’s not gone forever. Just like kitchen dance parties.
Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, breath out for 5 seconds. We've got this. ❤️