Sustain Your Motivation
Practical tips to stay motivated at challenging times
Motivation comes and goes. It is a manifestation of millions of neuro-chemicals flooding like a gigantic cocktail in our body. It resembles a vast ocean at the nanoscale - not easy to touch, see, hear, or smell.
In other words, with our current human capability, it may look impossible to understand the details of this vast ocean showing itself as emotions in our lives. However, there are viable approaches, such as using our cognitive skills in terms of pattern recognition for taming the metaphorical monsters within us.
Seeing the patterns with the power of our cortex is a proven technique to make sense of complex and complicated phenomena. I discussed the use of cortex versus limbic system - particularly in amygdala context - when proposing a practical solution for anxiety. Even though anxiety relates to motivation, it is out of scope in this story.
In this story, rather than discussing the scholarly details of emotions, feelings, and thoughts for maintaining motivation, I want to share my personal experience of how I sustain my motivation in challenging times like the ones we are experiencing as a lock-down situation now.
I studied human and artificial cognitive systems. I know that the theories could hardly add any value to the public unless they are shared as personal experiences. Therefore, my aim is to present a pragmatic approach to those suffering from lack of motivation during this severe lock-down period by sharing my unique experience which can apply to others.
We all have a different mix of neuro-cocktails in our bloodstream affected by diet, sleep, exercise, and stress; however the cognitive patterns are similar. The mental techniques can be used by anyone regardless and can help instantly.
Like anyone else, I experience a lack of motivation, especially related to my writing goals. I find myself confident, creative, productive, focused and determined at most times, however I have no superhuman capabilities to have infinite motivation. I must use certain techniques to sustain my motivation and achieve my goals.
Like many of us, it was much easier for me to stay motivated before lock-down. The psychological effects of lock-down, especially the severe one that I experience in my city, made an adverse effect on my motivation.
As usual, I talked to mentors and trusted advisors in my social circles, requesting help. Those trusted advisors provided useful perspectives that I customized for my needs.
The points I introduce in this story were known to me. Nothing new was introduced however they helped me re-frame the constructs. However, hearing the repeating constructs from trusted others and re-framing them in a specific context helped me achieve my desired goals.
For easy digest, I categorize my learning points and daily practice to sustain my motivation under six headings.
1 - Awareness of priorities and values
To be the boss of our lives, we need to set our priorities and stick to our values. Following the priorities and values of others is nothing but a failure in life.
The first and most straightforward approach is to articulate and understand our priorities and values.
For example, my priorities are my well-being, the happiness of my family, the success of my business, and contribution to world peace. I set these priorities and support them using my values.
We all have different values in life. My values are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual satisfaction. There are no right or wrong values. It is up to individuals to set their values and assign relevant priorities.
2 - Timing is everything and opportune times matter
Our neuro-cocktail in the bloodstream keeps fluctuating. We face constant ups and downs. Emotions come and go. They influence our mental state. Our emotional and mental states determine our motivation.
Thoughts, feelings, and emotions are perceived as intermingled even though they are different physiological and psychological constructs. The sequence happens in milliseconds therefore we perceive them as a single entity.
Thoughts, emotions, and feelings create moods. Unless we understand our moods at a specific time, we feel confused and anxious.
Timing for each activity is a mindfulness game. Setting different opportune times for creative work and tedious work matters.
Once we recognize our moods and become aware of our priorities, we can arrange our work aiming at productivity.
I set opportune times for creative and tedious work based on my mood.
I mix and match activities based on my emotional and mental state.
These approaches bring us the next important and relevant point.
3 - Orchestrating activities
To maintain our motivation, we need to orchestrate our activities.
Orchestration requires a set of skills and cognitive abilities, such as active planning and task switching. Using our priorities, values, and timing, we can orchestrate the planned activities.
For example, setting the priority for family activities, I developed a specific time based on my mood and carry out my planned duties in this allocated time-frame accordingly. When I focus on my business, I take necessary measures to prevent interruptions.
A proven orchestration method is completing tasks iteratively in small chunks. We cannot create the whole symphony in one go. We create it piece by piece with the flow.
4 - Taking a short break every hour to rejuvenate
During this pandemic, the best approach I learned is taking deliberate breaks every hour by creating an alarm per hour.
We all have different hobbies and pleasure activities. What you can do during the break is entirely up to you. The purpose is to re-energize.
For example, I take a ten-minute break, jump on my trampoline for five minutes and deliberately increase my heart rate to 150 bpm (beats per minute). Blood flow increases energy and energy is essential for motivation.
Another pleasure activity is listening or watching a piece of uplifting dance music. The effect of music can balance neurotransmitters that play a critical role for motivation.
5 - Watching habits and building new habits
We all have good and bad habits. Some of them can even be characterized as obsessions. I wouldn't judge people's habits, as one's good habit can be described as another person's bad habit.
My point is being aware of our habits. Habits are strong neural links in our brains. Therefore, the brain always chooses the most vital link to achieve a task.
Creating habits to support my priorities and values is one of the approaches I use for staying motivated and being productive.
Besides, creating and building useful habits are also important. The key to habit-building is introducing them in small chunks.
6 - Repeating habits using a mental infinity sign
Once we have productive habits, we need to observe them constantly. The dose of neuro-cocktail in our bloodstream determines the emerging order of our habits.
Based on the low emotional state and the moods, some unproductive habits may emerge. The technique, visualizing the infinity sign, is something I use regularly. Here is the infinity sign that I draw and keep on my wall as a reminder. It is laminated and stuck on the wall that I face while working.
The UP section of the sign represents the good moods when I am productive. The DOWN section represents a low mood especially when I feel unproductive. Moods fluctuate and do not stay constant in healthy human beings. If a bad mood stays permanent, it can be seen as a sign of depression.
From my observations, the infinity sign can be an excellent representation of our moods. When I notice this mental picture in my mood- in the UP section, I say "Now, I am in a good mood and able to perform creative tasks". When I notice my mood in the DOWN section, I say "Now I experience a low mood. It is time to vitalize myself and refill my depleted energy."
This technique helps me to maintain my motivation and produce outcomes based on my priorities and values.
Using these six approaches, I managed to maintain my motivation and to produce results despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.
As takeaways, I want to summarize these six points for you.
1 - Set your priorities and values; don't act based on the priorities and values of other people. You are the boss of your life.
2 - Find opportune times for various activities.
3 - Orchestrate your activities, leveraging your cognitive abilities such as active planning and task switching piece by piece.
4 - Take regular breaks every hour to gain energy for motivation.
5 - Be mindful of your habits and create new small habits to keep you motivated and productive.
6 - Use a mental model of infinity sign to understand the ups and downs in your mood and act accordingly.
I hope these simple yet effective techniques can help you stay motivated and produce the outcomes you desire in these challenging times.
Thank you for reading my perspective.
Disclaimer: A version of this story was published on another platform. Link: https://medium.com/illumination-curated/how-i-sustained-my-motivation-ccd0615bfb46
Reference: Simple & Powerful Life-Transforming Bio-Hacks https://books2read.com/u/4j1QWo
About the author
I'm a writer and published author with four decades of content development experience in business, technology, leadership, and health. I work as a postdoctoral researcher and consultant. My background is at https://digitalmehmet.com.