5 Tools to Get Your Motivation Mojo Back

woman with both arms raised

Ah, if only motivation came in a bottle, and you could crack open the cap and chug it down like a sports drink. Suddenly, you’d be motivated to rocket through tasks that previously seemed daunting or tedious, like entering 194 students’ midterm grades into the system or trying out a new program for teaching chording.

If you’re having a hard time feeling motivated, you’re not alone. The pandemic brought with it disorientation, disruption and anxiety, robbing us of motivation. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 42% of workers age 18 to 40 say their motivation to do work has been more difficult to summon, compared with only 20% of workers age 50 and older. Especially hard hit was 18- to 29-year-olds, with 53% of them saying it’s been hard to find motivation.

There are a lot of reasons for this, such as isolation and even stress-related reduced cognition — don’t worry, it’s temporary — but on the bright side, experts tell us there are strategies to get your motor running again, to feel more energized, and yes, motivated.


Tool 1: Radical Rest 

You may have heard the term "revenge bedtime procrastination," where people stay up late doing things that have little value (like mindlessly scrolling through social media) instead of sleeping. They do this because they want to regain a sense of control over their time.

American culture places so much value on productivity that many of us feel guilty for relaxing — truly relaxing — so we skirt the issue. Reclaim your right to true R&R on your off time, and you’ll be more productive during work time. (Rest can also be a social justice issue; read more about The Nap Ministry.)

Instead of unhealthy “revenge” time, purposefully block off time to do … nothing. What nothing means to you personally may vary. It could be puttering in the yard,  listening to music, organizing your record collection by color or reading a great new book in bed. What you do is not important; the goal is doing something you want to do with your time.


dark chocolate unsplashTool 2: Nibble on Some Chocolate

Eating dark chocolate boosts creativity and cognitive function, reports research presented at the 2018 annual Experimental Biology convention. A 2021 research published in the International Journal of Exercise Science found that supplementing with dark chocolate helped athletes increase their resting energy expenditure — that is, it boosted their metabolism.

There’s no recommended daily allowance (RDA) for chocolate, but most experts suggest an ounce or two a day of dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher) will give the positive effects without too many additional calories.


Tool 3: Serialize

The term “serialize” comes from the work of Oliver Burkeman, who wrote the book “Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals,” He claims that you’ll complete more projects and feel less anxiety overall if you start something, work on it and complete it before moving on.

To be clear, projects may need to be broken down into small steps. That’s because our motivation can droop under the weight of self-doubt. “If you don’t think you can get a particular task done, you’re unlikely to muster the energy to work on it,” psychologist Art Markman told Harvard Business Review. Markman suggests turning an abstract “to do” into specific, achievable steps.

For example, “Plan lessons for February” is too big. On the other hand, “Find six songs that represent the music of the Civil Rights Movement to use in Feb. 1 lesson” is in the realm of doable. Blocking off time for a specific task — “11 to 11:30 a.m., prepare Civil Rights song list” — is even better.

Burkeman is also a fan of having a “done list” in addition to a “to-do” list, which gives a sense of accomplishment. While that extra step won’t be for everyone, the point is that finishing something — anything — gives us a boost and motivates us to do the next thing.


Guitar livingroomTool 4: Use Choice Architecture

You might not need quite as much motivation as you think. James Clear, the author of “Atomic Habits,” writes about not relying on willpower to get moving, but instead using the power of habit; that is, setting up your life so you do things without even having to think about doing them.

Choice architecture is designing the environment with a lot of cues that trigger positive change. For example, Clear writes, “If you want to practice guitar more frequently, place your guitar stand in the middle of the living room.” By altering the home and workspaces, we flow naturally toward better choices.


Tool 5: Create Opportunities to Discover Meaning

“Why am I here?” many of us wonder at 2 a.m. Viktor Frankl famously wrote about this topic in his 1946 book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” But, Frankl warned, finding meaning is a side effect of pursuing other goals, not a goal unto itself. He wrote, “Don't aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”

Want things “to ensue”? Try activities that make you feel connected with something bigger than yourself. You’ve already chosen a career as a music educator — a fantastic choice! Other areas could include volunteer work, spending time in a natural setting that evokes awe and caring for animals.

Because when we have a life purpose — and just a bit of dark chocolate — propelling us forward, motivation comes naturally.

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