Has the Pandemic Ruined Your Motivation? Here Are 3 Scientifically Proven Ways to Get It Back

If you’re feeling a lack of motivation these days, you’re not alone. The Covid-19 pandemic has sapped the willpower and drive of people across the nation, something psychologists say is a perfectly normal reaction. Fortunately, there are researched-backed ways to jump-start your motivation and get back on track again.

Do you get to the end of the day — or worse, the week — and wonder where the heck the time went and why you don’t have more to show for it?

If this has been happening a lot lately, it’s not just you. The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted work routines and workplace relationships for nearly everyone. Euphoria at the swift development of effective vaccines has turned to frustration over how long it’s taking to get those vaccines to the people who need them. Then there’s the winter weather affecting much of the country. No wonder so many of us (including me) are feeling grumpy and gloomy and unmotivated at work.

But there are several things you can do that are scientifically proven to improve your mood and get you revved up again. CNBC.com’s Cory Stieg has compiled several of them, all backed up by research. You can find the full list here. These are some of the most effective tactics to try.

1. Create rituals that lift you up, not drag you down.

What do you do when you first get out of bed in the morning? When you quit work in the evening? Rituals are like habits, except that you choose them deliberately rather than just fall into them.

For example, before you start your workday, you could either spend 15 minutes on Facebook or 10 minutes writing in your journal, and another five minutes on a short meditation. Ample research has shown that spending time on Facebook can dramatically worsen your mood, or even lead to depression, whereas journal-writing, depending what you write, has a proven potential to make you feel happier. Meditation is even more of a mood-enhancer. Exercising and getting out into nature, even if it’s only a local park, are both proven way to lift your spirits as well. 

The point here is not that you should start each day with journaling and meditation. That combination works for me but something entirely different might work for you. For instance, exercise, which I can’t seem to make myself do in the morning, but works great for me as a late-afternoon break. The point is that you should consider what daily habits you’re building, and choose ones that both appeal to you and will help improve your frame of mind.

2. Reward yourself.

You deserve a reward. Not only that, rewards are a great motivational tool, one which you can use on yourself. Rewards work best, experts say, if they either happen during a task that you want to accomplish or right afterward. So, for example, I have a good friend I enjoy spending time with and she recently suggested meeting for a weekly walk. Now I get the emotional benefit of spending time with someone whose company I enjoy plus the health benefit of walking three miles. 

Or, you can give yourself a small reward for finishing some amount of work. For example, you’ve spent half an hour working intensely on a writing project or you’ve just finished leading a difficult meeting. Now’s the time for a few minutes of R&R, which could be playing your favorite video game, watching a YouTube of your favorite band, or shopping for an item that you really, really want. Whatever it is, it should be something you really enjoy — this is not the time to focus on self-improvement.

3. Make a connection.

The pandemic has been awful in so many ways, but one of them is how much it’s isolated all of us from one another. Humans have a powerful need to gather in groups that’s pretty much hard-wired into us, and so is the need to connect with other humans, especially friends. In fact, research shows that loneliness and isolation can kill you just as quickly as smoking or obesity.

So fight that isolation by reaching out to someone you care about, someone whom you enjoy being with. Call them or schedule a video conversation just to catch up. Meet for an outdoor activity or a socially distanced cup of coffee. Even texting with someone you like can lift your spirits. 

There’s a small audience of Inc.com readers who receive a daily text from me with a self-care or motivational micro-challenge or thought. Often they text me back and we wind up in an ongoing conversation. (Interested in joining? You can learn more here.) One member of this group combines two of the above suggestions: He has a morning ritual that includes sending a text to a loved one. I think that’s brilliant.

You may need to experiment before you find the right combination of ritual, reward, connection, or other mood-boosting activities that will help you get your mojo back. That experimentation is well worth it. The ongoing pandemic and its economic effects are enough to make anyone feel hopeless and unmotivated. But with the right tools, you can fight back. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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