What is motivation, and how do you find it?
5/20/2021 by Hannah Mulholland, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W., and John Mack, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W.
Motivation is defined as the force to keep going even when things are tough. Finding motivation during a global pandemic can feel a lot like trying to find a cool glass of ice water in the middle of a desert.
A lack of motivation and energy is understandable to adults juggling households, careers, children, and distance learning — all while feeling more isolated and alone due to the ongoing pandemic. Children and teens facing distance learning, loss of extracurricular activities and social isolation are especially susceptible to decreased motivation.
No one can pretend these are normal times, and you cannot have the same expectations of yourself or your children during a pandemic.
There are strategies to improve motivation.
- Get creative.
Your brain craves new experiences, which seem far and few between. Boredom and disinterest make it harder to be motivated. Try performing tasks in a new way. Have a dance party while cleaning. Make the school and workday a competition.
- Create a routine that works for you.
Set aside the same time each day to do the tasks you dislike, such as doing homework or reviewing emails. Follow these tasks with more rewarding, enjoyable tasks. Use lists to keep yourself on track toward your goals. Break down tasks to smaller, achievable pieces.
- Set goals.
As a family or individually, motivation can come from an end goal and hopefully a pot of gold at the end. Identify potential obstacles and how you will overcome these.
- Set yourself up to succeed.
Think about your environment and consider whether it is motivating. Is your office or desk area a productive space? Do you need more natural light? Are there certain sites or apps you need to block on your computer while at work or school?
- Be realistic.
Start with small achievable changes and build on them. It is a great goal to start running 5 miles a day, but lacing up your running shoes and walking around the block is an easier and healthier place to start.
- Partner up.
Find someone to be your motivation partner. What tasks will you be accountable for to them? Set aside time to check in or virtually complete tasks together.
- Determine what's important.
Find out what fills you up and do more of it. Complete this values assessment to identify what's important to you.
- Practice acceptance.
Some days you will not feel inspired or motivated. Acting as if everything should be easy will only make things worse. Acknowledge that this is hard for yourself and others.
Here are some specific strategies for kids:
- Reward often and excessively. Internal rewards often don't kick in until adulthood. Teach kids that effort leads to satisfying results. Reward effort — not outcome.
- Encourage kids to do homework or virtual learning in new environments around your home.
- Find a homework buddy, even if kids are working on different homework.
- Agree on realistic expectations for kids' performance, behavior and productivity.
The secret to building motivation is no secret at all. The truth is that building motivation is about progress — not perfection. Try new things, especially when feeling exhausted or unmotivated. Create a support network. Celebrate every accomplishment, and do not be too hard on yourself or your children when you feel unmotivated.
Everyone is in this together. Remember the wise words of Confucius, "It doesn't matter how slow you go, as long as you don't stop."
Hannah Mulholland, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W., is a pediatric Integrated Behavioral Health and social work supervisor. She works with children and their families to develop skills to manage emotional and behavioral struggles.
John Mack, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W., is an adult Integrated Behavioral Health social worker based in the Baldwin Building. He has eight years of experience working with people experiencing mental health challenges.