When it comes to the myth of motivation, we all have those days. You know the ones. The days you want to hit the snooze button, throw the covers over your head and just lay in bed hoping your problems (or at least your to do list) will magically disappear.
And, when you’re an entrepreneur, freelancer, or the business owner, it’s even worse because no one is going to call you up and force you to get to work.
Sure, if you don’t do the work you might not make any money that day. But what do you do when that isn’t enough to kick you out of your funk and make you do what needs to be done? The thing is, some people tell you to wait until a surge of inspiration or motivation comes over you.
The problem is, for some of us, that inspiration and motivation never comes. Are you supposed to wait forever? Nope!
So I went and found a bunch of people who are business owners, freelancers, and even just side-hustling entrepreneurs and asked them a simple question: How do you power through when you have nothing left in the tank and motivation feels miles away?
Experts weigh in on the myth of motivation
Below is a round up of the tips and ideas they gave me. Hopefully, you’ll glean something from what they had to share.
1. Consider how far you’ve come
David Cohen is the CEO of Flower Station in the United Kingdom. He spoke about the myth of motivation, sharing with me that he’s not surprised that business owners eventually feel demotivated and burned out. When he gets those feelings, he looks back at the goals he had before he started his business. Here’s his take:
“Looking back on what my objectives were enables me to recognize my accomplishments and ensures that the work I have done and will continue to do for my company is not in vain. I believe the work we do seriously impacts the lives of many people.
“It helps bring a smile to faces and that's what keeps me going. Apart from that, the joy I find in giving back to the community and collaborating with charities motivates me to do what I do.”
2. Promise yourself an incentive
Charette Vachon is an astrologer, tarot reader, and founder of Clairvoyance.org.
She said, “In situations where I find myself least motivated, I develop short- to medium-term external motivators for myself, especially if they complement incentives provided by our business. I promise myself a small trip or a present if I finish a task.”
3. Remember your people
David Zhang is the CEO of Kate Backdrop. His company sells high-quality, elaborate backdrops for photos and events.
He said, “My biggest tip for powering through when there's no motivation is remembering my people. I'm part of a larger community, and my work matters. That mindset helps me focus on the bigger picture, which motivates me even when there's no internal drive.”
Sometimes remembering we have employees and customers that depend on us is what we really need to power through. Consider how your work can benefit others - not just yourself. Remembering that your work is bigger than you, may be all you need to get back to the grind.
4. Focus on smaller goals
Larry Smith was 23 when he became an entrepreneur and he says that the highs and lows of owning a business can make a person feel that they are invisible to the world. When motivation runs out for him, he feels that drive and dedication have to kick in, and the best way to allow it to happen is to focus on smaller goals.
Nearly 10 years later, he’s still running his concrete flooring business, with more than 10 employees and he compartmentalizes everything he does into smaller goals. By doing this, he can celebrate the smaller wins, and that feeds his fuel to drive him to the next step.
He told me, “When everything seems like it’s becoming overwhelming, it can feel almost too big to fully conceive. That’s when it’s time to think one step at a time. I slow down, take a breath and think not about today, but where I want to be tomorrow.”
5. Reconnect with your core values
Elisa Martinez is an online psychotherapist for anxiety, burnout, and trauma. She shared with me that for many entrepreneurs and business owners, lack of motivation is often a sign that they need to reconnect with their core values.
Here are the steps she recommends to refill your motivation cup:
- Identify the core personal values that you want to live by using a list
- Ask yourself
- How does my business help me live by these values?
- Is there a value I’m ignoring that’s causing my lack of motivation in the first place?”
- What are the long-, medium- and short-term steps I can take to stay connected to these values and move forward in my business?
- Reflect on the answers and you will find it reconnects you to the “why” behind your business.
Elisa said that in most cases, this simple three step process is all you need to reignite your motivation and give you the drive to move forward. She recommends revisiting and re-identifying your core values anytime you feel your motivation waning.
6. Practice the art of Kaizen
Nicky Dutta, CEO of Lorel Diamonds shared that when he is facing the myth of motivation he practices Kaizen.
He said, “Kaizen means ongoing or continuous improvement. It's from two Japanese words, kai, meaning 'change,' and zen, meaning 'good.' Kaizen is a process of continuously
improving yourself through small, incremental actions, done repeatedly until such actions become a habit.”
He explained to me that Kaizen is his secret to powering through even the hardest days. He says having the mindset of wanting to continuously improve, even with small actions, relieves him of the stress related to his responsibilities and tasks.
The kicker is you must simply focus on progress rather than perfection. That’s one of the things that gets people so hung up and causes them to lose their motivation. They are trying too hard to make everything perfect, but when we remember that every step forward is actually improving ourselves, it’s easier to relax and keep going towards our end goals.
Marcos Martinez owns and runs the black gay lifestyle blog, Men Who Brunch. From coordinating events to generating content for brand partnerships, writing blog posts to helping black gay men come out of the closet, he has a lot on his plate.
He said, “When I don't feel any motivation I meditate. For me, meditation involves tapping into the subconscious and rearranging thought patterns. By meditating I'm able to place myself in a more positive space. Lack of motivation is associated with negative emotions, but by meditating, I've been able to feel happy and become more motivated.”
8. Be mindful of how you plan your to-do list
For some entrepreneurs and business owners, the key to getting through the day is putting the hardest things on the top of their to-do list each day. Such is the case for Seb Hall of Cloud Employee.
As the founder and CEO, Seb said everyday is filled with a lot of things that need to be taken care of, so he sets aside 15 to 20 minutes at the end of each day to create the next day’s to-do list with the most taxing things at the top.
He said, “By doing this, I can get the most important and difficult things done while I still have the mental and physical energy to do so.”
It’s a lot like the “Eat the Frog” mentality. You do that first and then the rest of the day is easier to handle. And, if you have to eat two frogs as the old saying goes, eat the bigger one first!
9. Use co-working sessions
Lauren Rad is a freelance knitting pattern designer who also blogs about knitting at A Bee in the Bonnet. The trouble is, a lot of her work is self-directed and done at her own pace. She admits this can be extra tricky when the motivation dries up. The tip she shared with me might be my favorite on this list.
To help refuel her motivation she said, “I use online co-working sessions with friends or via Focusmate as a tool to jumpstart myself when I'm struggling with motivation. Having another person there and working alongside me helps me feel more energized and also helps me hold myself accountable. A 50-minute session at the start of the day is often enough to help me snowball into working more for several hours afterward.”
Nick Allen who runs the blog SportsLingo agrees with Lauren’s idea. He said, “Your network and the people you surround yourself with is key. I’ve been able to routinely overcome this challenge by keeping a rock-solid network around me. This alignment of support has also helped me remain productive and keep me motivated throughout my long-term efforts to chase success.”
10. Take time away from technology
Serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Concerty Dr. Willy Portier, said that when motivation eludes him, he backs away from technology.
He said, “I take the time to get away from things and try not to focus my eyes on anything. I just look around and let my mind take a rest without being bogged down by work or any device that will drain me further.”
Another important element of the tech break, he says, is to find a comfortable place to be.
“Sometimes it’s in a lounge chair in my office or maybe it’s just walking around in order to get my legs moving. Whatever feels right, and will allow me to take a load off.”
The last and perhaps most important element of this time out is to take as long as you need, within reason.
He said, “You’d be surprised how effective a few minutes away from work can be if you don’t have a [self-imposed] deadline and can actually de-stress. Most times, I get away from things and am completely recharged in 5 minutes or so.”
He admits that sometimes it can take 10 or 15 minutes, or even longer, but that taking the break is better than wasting your time trying to do something even when you don’t feel like it. In his experience, that simple break without his phone in his hand or the computer screen staring back at him can often lead to a much more productive work day.
Additional ways to power through the myth of motivation
To close this article out, let’s end with many of the tips and ideas that came up over and over again as I spoke with dozens of business owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs about the myth of motivation.
Stop “overwhelm” in its tracks to keep the momentum going
The key is to break down your large tasks into easier to digest ones so they won’t feel so difficult to accomplish.
Batch your tasks to avoid Groundhog Day
One of the big reasons people lack motivation is they do the same things day in, day out, but if you batch your tasks you won’t have the same day two days in a row. For example, all task delegation on Monday, all sales calls on Tuesday, all podcast interviews on Wednesday, and so on.
Set a timer and promise yourself you’ll work until it goes off
The hardest part about dealing with the myth of motivation is starting a task. Some people use the Pomodoro technique when setting a timer using a tool like the Pomodoro Tracker.
They do 25 minutes of focused work followed by a five-minute break and repeat it a few times before taking a longer break. This can help you get more done in less time because your focus is more intense than it would be without the timer.
By setting a timer you “gamify” the work. You either get into a mindset of trying to beat the clock or you forget about the timer entirely and keep working after it goes off.
Think about the end goal rather than right now
Sometimes getting into the mindset of how good it will feel to have something done is all we need to do the work.
For example, think about how nice it will be to launch your new product line or publish the book. Hold onto the feeling of the project being completed and let that good feeling flood your senses so you can at least get back to it with a smile on your face.
Do something else
Many of the people I spoke to said if you really can’t muster up the motivation to get to work, you might just need to take a break and do something else entirely.
- Take a pottery class
- Go for a walk
- Watch a movie
- Listen to a podcast
- Take a nap
- Visit a friend or call a family member
Let your to-do list go completely and recharge your batteries so you can come back refreshed.
Simply taking the break may give you a dose of inspiration that gets you excited about getting back to work.
Closing thoughts on the myth of motivation
As a content creator myself, I know motivation can’t be spun up at will. I wish it could. Still, I hope something in this post was helpful to you. If not, I hope you’ll take the time to consider for yourself what will work for you so you can get back to creating and doing the magical things that only you can do!