How do I increase my motivation and stop procrastinating?

I’m often asked the question how do I increase my motivation and stop procrastinating? I also want to share with you the irony in it taking me weeks to sit down and actually write this blog post!

There are many theories on motivation - Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Alderfer’s Existence, Relatedness and Growth (ERG) needs, McClelland’s Need for Achievement, Affiliation and Power, to name a few. Fundamentally though, all motivations are internal - they are connected to your heart and emotions, not your head and logical reasonings. In fact, if you are too intellectual about trying to define your motivations you may not fully understand them as you stop listening to your heart and why you really want to achieve something.

So finding your ‘why’ is important to helping with motivation. Making your reason for achieving so important to you, knowing what you will feel, see, hear when you succeed, why you really want this, are great first steps to supporting your motivation. For example, I wanted to run a marathon. I decided that I wanted to be fit enough to run 26.2 miles - this would be the fittest I had ever been; I wanted to know I could push myself and train and achieve this goal. I could visualise myself running around London, with the crowd cheering, I would see me crossing the finish line, I could feel how amazing it would be to push my body further than I ever had before. I know this motivation is different to other people’s that are running a marathon, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I had a strong reason to do this that mattered to me, which meant when the training got tough and I didn’t want to get up at 5am to do the run, or I wanted to go drinking at a weekend but couldn't because I knew I wouldn’t be able to then do the 4 hour training run on the Sunday with a hangover, or I wanted to turn round at 7 miles and go home, rather than continuing, it helped me stay focused on the bigger, longer term motivation, rather than my short term need.

What do you care about? What is important to you? What do you want to achieve in your life and why? I do believe really knowing and understanding this for you, is the first step to sorting your motivation.

But I don’t want to…

Procrastination isn’t about being lazy, it is about how you are feeling about the situation you are facing into. Procrastination may even be your stress reliever! When you procrastinate it is often because part of you is resisting the change you think you want because there is an unresolved conflict or an unconscious benefit you are receiving from your current state (you can read more about that here!) You want to protect yourself. Change is scary and although you don’t want to stay in your current situation, your current situation is what you know. As you go to move into the unknown, stretch outside your comfort zone, stress hormones are released in your brain and to keep you ‘safe’ your brain comes up with lots of other things you could do instead to distract you from the ‘harmful’ activity. You use displacement activities - other things that need doing - to distract you and keep you busy so you don’t face into the stress of the more challenging work that you need to do to achieve your longer term goal or dream. However, this is short term because you still need to do the work and now you may also have feelings of guilt, anxiety or higher stress because you have less time to get the work done in!

This is why you need to really understand your motivation, your why, because otherwise you are relying solely on willpower and willpower alone is very difficult to sustain. Ultimately you are trying to keep control (power) over yourself (will). It is so much easier to revert back to old ingrained habits than to continue on a new path. The immediate pleasure you will get from doing something that goes against your longer term plan (for example eating a cake) may be greater than the distant pain you will feel by not accomplishing your goal (for example losing a stone and being healthier by summer).

If you are procrastinating on a goal it may be because your motivators are out of alignment. Remember, your why is your motivation and this is internal and personal to you. Switch your focus from the ‘what’ - the activity you are deciding to do/not do, to focus on your ‘why’ - what gets you closer to achieving your end goal, to accomplishing your purpose? You can then start to associate more pleasure with the ‘what’ as you are aligning this back to your motivation.

Great in theory, but what about real life?

The first thing to do is to forgive yourself for procrastinating. Then create a starting ritual to get going - maybe agree to set a timer to work on what you are putting off for 5 minutes and see how you are going. Then you can decide if you want to continue for another 5 minutes. This starts to get you out of the cycle of procrastination and helps you to start moving forward. You need to build the habit of forward motion and retrain the current negative habits of being busy with other things.

Sometimes we focus on other items because we get immediate gratification from completing them and a longer term goal or piece of work takes more time and you are less likely to see the benefits in the short term. Anchor the excitement of what will happen when you do complete it, how you will feel. Build in some smaller tangible goals to give you that short term gratification - maybe if you can work on this for X hours you will treat yourself to a cup of tea in your favourite cup or if you reach X milestone, you will go out for a meal - but only give yourself the reward when you achieve the goal you have determined.

Tania Diggory from This is Calmer suggests when you feel yourself starting to procrastinate, to recognise the trigger, and have a mantra to ignore the procrastination trigger and to keep with the activity that will move you towards your goal. This procrastination mantra could be “I believe in myself and my unlimited potential; I now need to step outside my comfort zone” or “I have limitless potential to achieve everything I want to; I will continue along this path”.

All these things are great in theory but it is putting them into practice that makes them work! For you, it might be listening to a song over saying a mantra that keeps you motivated; it might be setting yourself 25 minutes to work on something at the same time every day; it might be finding an accountability buddy or coach that helps keep you focused and on track - there isn’t a right or wrong, it is about finding what works to help get you started - and then keep you going! Take the tools and ideas suggested here and adapt them to fit your unique style. If you need any support with this, please do contact me.