At first, it was a fight for survival that kept me going. That was soon replaced with a desire for justice. Then, some excitement for new possibilities provided a slight trickle of motivation to keep going.
Eventually, all of that ran out. The well of inspiration to keep slogging through the debris of divorce dried up, leaving me tired. No, scratch that. Leaving me exhausted and defeated, unable to summon the energy to keep going and unwilling to see past the frustration about being forced to start over.
The task felt too big to accomplish and my bones felt too weary for the burden. Thankfully, my stubbornness was greater than my lack of motivation and I soon incorporated these five strategies to keep me moving forward on the days where I just wanted to hide under the covers.
1 – Implement Structure and Rules
We are all creatures of habit and when left to our devices, we tend to slide towards the path of least resistance, AKA the sofa and the mindless use of technology. We easily feel both too busy because we’re doing something and feel too tired because we’re not doing enough. Interestingly, we even begin to resist those activities that bring us joy or a sense of accomplishment because the barrier to begin simply feels too high.
One of the first strategies to implement when you’re feeling unmotivated is to build some structure into your days and weeks. Start by drafting a list of those things that you want – or need – to incorporate on a regular basis. Then, decide how often you want to implement them and think about how you can place these on a digital or physical calendar. Finally, set reminders to nag you to get it done and that you’ll feel better once you put in the effort.
For me, I like to have some flexibility within my structure. So when I needed to do this, I spent some time crafting a spreadsheet divided into several sections: exercise (actually three sections here: cardio, strength, flexibility), mindfulness, social, divorce-related business and play. Within each section, I created a goal for a minimum number of times per week I wanted to participate and I brainstormed a list of ways that I could meet that need (this way it was difficult to come up with an excuse that none of the ideas would work). I printed out a new sheet every Sunday and marked my progress throughout the week.
2 – Stage Rewards
If everything in your life right now feels like a slog, it’s no wonder you’re feeling unmotivated. It’s easy to put your life on hold when you’re in a period of transition, especially if the adjustment was unwanted. Yet waiting to live also becomes a habit.
Buy those concert tickets. Say “Yes!” to that invitation. Take that walk around the neighborhood on a beautiful day, even if you have to force the first step. Go somewhere where you’re not known and pretend for just a few hours that your world hasn’t unraveled.
Sometimes, we feel guilty for smiling when the world tells us we should be crying. And even more often, we fear that we have forgotten how to smile, that the tears have permanently weighed down the corners of our mouths. You haven’t forgotten. You’re just out of practice. So give it a try. It will feel awkward at first, foreign and forced. The body remembers how to laugh. Allow it to share that gift with you.
3 – Surround Yourself With the Right People
Motivating people is a tricky thing. Push too softly and their inertia resists the efforts; push too hard and shut-down ensues. Find and surround yourself with people who will kick you when you need it, yet who will do it kindly enough that you’ll listen.
Seek those that have your interests at heart instead of pushing their own agenda into your lap. Sometimes, they may say something that you don’t like hearing. They may challenge your assumptions, try to shift your perspectives. If they are coming from a place of love and concern, consider their advice.
If you do not have anyone that you trust is both looking out for you and will be firm with you, it may be time to look into hiring a professional that can help motivate you. This can be a counselor, a coach or even someone specific to a particular area of your life.
4 – Pair “Have To’s” With “Want To’s”
I have used this trick in so many areas of my life. I splurged on fancy shampoo that I would only allow myself to use after a workout in the gym shower. I save my favorite podcasts for my early morning walks with the pup. Whenever I feel grumbly and unmotivated about grading, I relocate the activity to a cozy coffeeshop or a blanket spread out in a park.
Find those tasks that you procrastinate with the most and brainstorm what sugar you can sprinkle on them to make them a little more palatable. I managed to make it through the gargantuan feat of completing the paperwork for Innocent Spouse Relief with a lot of heavy metal, scheduled pool breaks and a few pints of vanilla ice cream with fresh peaches from the farmer’s market. It still wasn’t easy, but those additions helped me get through it.
5 – Celebrate Successes No Matter How Small
It’s easy to be motivated when you can see the finish line. It’s rather more difficult when you don’t know where the finish line is (and on many days, you even doubt its very existence). Yet even when you don’t know where or when you’ll reach the end of the aftereffects of divorce, you can mark the progress you’re making along the way.
You only cried three times this week and four is your usual? Awesome! You stopped yourself from sending an angry text to your ex? Kudos on reining in your frustrations! You got out of bed today? You beast!
Aim to celebrate some little accomplishment each day. It serves as an incentive to do some little thing each and every day that moves you just a little closer to where you want to be. And once you start acknowledging the results, it’s easier to find the motivation to keep going.