Career, Wellness

How to Stay Motivated When You Feel Like Shutting Down

How to Stay Motivated When You Feel Down

On pulling yourself up by the bootstraps when you really, really don’t feel like it.

One of my favorite articles on PD ever is Amparo’s Why You Should Choose Inspiration Over Motivation. It pointed out how we shouldn’t be always motivating ourselves to do the things we don’t want to do, but actually find what inspires us to take positive action. Overall I really agree with her, but there are still times when I do need motivation, even though my work is in general inspiring and intellectually fulfilling.

Like any job, parts of what I do (say, on-site optimization or technical developments) aren’t particularly fun to me, and often pretty stressful. Other parts that I actually do enjoy can feel harder too, depending on my mood and creativity levels. And then there are days when I just feel down, and yearn to do nothing besides bury my nose in my cat and stay barely breathing. Thankfully, these days are pretty rare; but as long as we’re human, even when we’re doing what we love, inevitably there will be times when we want to give up. The trick is to accept that the feeling of un-motivation /depression is natural, universal (are you human? then yes), cyclical and temporary, and to find a way to break through.

How to Stay Motivated When You Feel Down

Some days, I really need to snuggle with my cat.

Here’s what I’ve figured out about ways to stay motivated when you are just feeling blah and want to shut down.

1. Take a break and do something you want to do at an unusual hour. 

If you have some flexibility, stop sitting in front of the laptop forcing the words to flow, and do something you don’t usually do at that time. Take a sun-drenched walk or take a bath in the middle of the day. Even if you work at a corporate setting, see if you can get away for a lunch hour yoga session. Get your Friday latte on a Wednesday. It refreshes you to be doing something out of the ordinary, even if it’s something small.

2. Erase the deadline.

Sometimes deadlines are motivating and necessary. But other times, it can send your depression and anxiety into an overdrive, which makes it actually harder to accomplish the thing in question. For ex: in the past year, I’ve written 334 newsletters, each with its blurb and matching quote. In the first few months I was absolutely tortured by the idea that the world would end if I couldn’t find the right quote, write a blurb, and send it out by 10 a.m. EST. I’d actually wake up at 5:30 a.m. and start working on it for hours because of this anxiety. (A record was 4 hours. If you can imagine.)

Once I erased that arbitrary deadline I could think more calmly and gain in longevity and consistency. Point is, if you are so drained, close to giving up, and can’t make the deadline, ignore the deadline. Did you need to make this much money this year? Did you need to make x job title by age y and now you feel you can’t go on? Erase all those deadlines. Doing something slowly and finishing is 100% better than not doing it at all. Even if you’re working for someone else, take your sweet time and do it with a more relaxed heart. Newsflash: your slower pace isn’t going to be noticed by anyone except yourself.

3. Just ask yourself to do one thing. 

Say you have a task that is sure to test your limits. Either it’s boring and must be done, or more intellectually challenging, but you are out of energy/creativity/motivation. Then ask yourself to do just one part of it. For instance, it might mean answering just one email; looking at just one job posting; writing just one more paragraph for that story you’re working on; or cleaning just one dish (to give an extreme example :)). It’s so little in the asking that you don’t feel like putting yourself through hell. Stop after you do that one thing, see how you feel. If you want to go on, keep going. If not, really just take a break. But chances are, you’ll want to keep going.

4. Be gentle with yourself. 

I’ll say it again: it’s not a sprint. Your body, mind and spirit are all going to have to band together and come along on a long, drawn-out marathon. If you’re constantly surviving on short little bursts of self-coercion, one of the three (or more) is going to give out on you. You need to gently nurture yourself along the way so you don’t break down on the road or run out of gas.

Don’t compare your motivation level to other people’s–whatever you have is perfectly fine, and everyone fluctuates, anyway. If you need time away, take time away–but do it intentionally, and enjoy it–so much so that you actually get hungry for work again.

5. Keep your eye on the prize. 

Why do you do what you do? Why all the struggles? If you can’t answer this question clearly, sit down with yourself and really find the answer. If you do know what you’re doing this for, then remind yourself once again: vividly visualize your prize, as if you could see, breathe, and feel it. Your present work might not feel like much at this moment, but it’s the best thing you can be doing to get what you want in the next moment.

How do you keep yourself motivated when you’re feeling blah?

Related: Why It’s Okay to Feel Burned out – and 5 Ways to Recover

Why Struggling is Sometimes a Good Thing

My Stress Emergency Kit

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Juhea Kim
Originally from Portland, Oregon, Juhea now lives in NYC with her Oreo cookie cat, Zeus. When she is not writing, she enjoys running in Central Park, yoga, and teaching Barre classes. Follow Juhea on Instagram @peacefuldumpling, Google+ and Pinterest.
  • Your article came at the perfect time for me! I am a freelance editor, writer and queen of odd jobs done to make sure the bills are paid. I receive some disability, and I’m slowly recovering from an invasive, failed, and as I learned several months ago, unnecessary brain surgery. My husband does not work, or do much of anything to be honest, so I constantly feel a panicked urge to take on more work than I can handle to make sure the bills are paid and my daughters have a roof over their heads and good food in their bellies.

    I recently received more work to do for one of my favorite clients. I usually love the work I do for her- it allows me to be more of a creative writer than I am for the majority of my clients, plus I admire her and enjoy helping her business be more successful. I’m suffering from a wretched sinus infection, I’ve been in my pj’s for two days, and I just can’t write. It’s so frustrating! I feel like I should be excited and happy to do creative writing, but instead I stare at a blank Word doc until I end up giving up without a word written. I can write health-related articles with relative ease, but I simply can’t muster up my creative muse. I think she’s drowning in sadness from my marriage going down the drain, along with my health.

    I appreciate your advice immensely! It was exactly what I needed to read, and practice, in order to get through this day, month and season of my career, marriage and motherhood. Thank you!

    • Juhea Kim

      Dear Tracy, I’m so glad my piece brought you a sense of hope. Just something to keep in mind: from the way you naturally drew me in just with your “comment,” I can see that you’re definitely a storyteller. I hope you get comfort from that because ultimately, even when no one is there to acknowledge and affirm your talent for you, you have to just know it yourself, and trust your own creativity. I’m wishing you the best of luck with your health, family, and work. Onward and upward!! xoxo Juhea

      • Juhea,

        Your kind words have given me happy tears, for the first time in a long while.Thank you for your compliment! It is the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my writing (middle school teachers notwithstanding!)
        I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts. Have a lovely week!


        • Juhea Kim

          Aww..I meant it! And *your* comment made my day too. I read it out loud to my boyfriend. Thank you and I hope you have a lovely week too 😀

  • Mark Bauer

    I waited for something, and something died
    So I waited for nothing, and nothing arrived.

    Sorry if this is too crass but I don’t really know of a better way to say it: My life has become. . .well, I am done with people. I am an entrepreneur and this is where people have failed me. You only find the true ethics and morals of a person when your money (in part) floats under their nose. Your article is “cute” and a great way to handle the little things in life. Other things change you, or at least me. They have changed me into someone who will never ever give a dime to anyone for any reason. No charity, no starving kitten fund, zero. It has changed me to not wanting to have any relationship with anyone ever again.
    We have lost our moral compass as elements of humanity. Totally without any redeeming qualities when viewed at a social / cultural level. To that end, I waited time and time again. By waiting I don’t infer sitting around. Waiting means, to hope and wait for the hard work to pay off. Waiting for something that suggests “I won’t steal yours” as a function of people I would like to have in my life.
    That ship has sailed. And I have stopped trying.
    So, I waited for nothing, and nothing arrived.

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