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How to Get Motivated

For some strange reason, identifying what we need to do is a lot easier than doing it. We all have those long lists of things that we should be doing – we know that they are good for us, we feel better when we do them, yet oftentimes we still find it difficult to get motivated to do these tasks or activities. I’m going to throw out a few tips that might help you get over this hurdle. I’ll keep these short and to the point. I don’t want another hurdle to be trying to wade thru this article!


Identify one thing that you know that you need to be doing (or doing more of). Write down all the benefits of why you should do this thing on an index card (or a sticky note and put it on your computer monitor). Ensure that the benefits of doing this activity are easy to review…or maybe even can’t be avoided. Review these benefits so that they become tangible. This strategy might provide the impetus to get over the inertia to achieve your goal.


Write down your goal with objectives that can be measured. So, something like “I’m going to lose weight,” “Eat healthier,” or “Get in better shape” just don’t make the cut. Instead, create goals such as “Lose 20 pounds within 6 months from now,” or “Go running for at least 30 minutes, 3x per week.” You will have greater accountability with clear objectives…and less room to fudge.

To illustrate the power of this strategy, think of the difference in telling a friend that you should go out for coffee “sometime” versus setting up a get together at Quackenbush’s this coming Saturday at noon. You are much more likely to follow through on a specific commitment than a nebulous one. So, turn a vague goal into a specific one with measurable objectives. This can help you to become more motivated to follow thru.

Now, you are probably nodding your head that this makes sense and you’ve probably heard this recommendation before. Did you ever really try it though? Before you dismiss it, give it a whirl. There’s a reason that people keep recommending this strategy…it works!


What has helped you to get things accomplished in the past? No matter what our problems are, they don’t occur 100% of the time. If you think to yourself, “I never have any motivation to do anything,” I’ll bet you find that you do have motivation sometimes…maybe much of the time.

Global, self-defeating statements such as “I’m never motivated” just aren’t true. A person who was never motivated wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning, wouldn’t ever dress, eat, sleep, shower, take a bathroom break, take their hand off of a hot stove…you get the picture. So, it’s fair to say that we are motivated to greater and lesser degrees for things all of our lives.

Whatever your challenge is – to clean house more, work out, be nicer to people, and so on, think back to those times that you did make headway on them. What were you doing differently then? Those times in the past when you were successful, even if they only occurred every once in a while, can hold the keys to helping you find both the motivation and the strategies to deal with your present challenges.


As adults, we tend to buy things we desire when we want to or can afford them. Find something that is of particular interest to you…a hobby or an indulgence. Identify a particularly onerous task and assign a reward value to it that is tied to your hobby/indulgence. For instance, if you like music and have difficulty paying your bills on time, reward yourself with buying a CD when you do. For a more immediate payoff, download some iTunes songs. Or, if you like golf, you could finally buy that new driver that you’ve had your eye on if you do something like…clean that garage that you’ve had on your “To Do” list for ages. If you like video or computer games, reward yourself with an hour of gaming time if you do that undesirable task. Another person might choose to reward themselves with a manicure or a massage.
If you really want to be bold, “tether” an activity that you already like…maybe something you take for granted…to completing the challenging task. For example, no glass of wine at night UNTIL you’ve cleaned the kitchen. You can have that morning cup of coffee but only AFTER you have walked the dogs. So, you can choose to not walk the dogs…but then you don’t get your coffee. Rewarding yourself for completing arduous tasks and tethering can help light a fire so that you can use to conquer some of those…”resistant”


A lot of times the problem of motivation is really a problem of inertia – a body’s resistance to a change in motion. In the cases in which we are not motivated, we might not be moving much at all with regard to a particular challenge. The idea here is just to get started on that pesky task – and the motivation to do that task will likely follow.

Let’s take working out as an example. We’ve all been there – you know you should work out, but it just seems like such a chore. But if you think back to all of the times you’ve exercised, you’d likely find that 99% of the time that you feel fairly good once you start working out (hey, look at me, I’m doing it!) and after you’ve worked out (I’ve done my body good!). In such situations, if you can just get started, you’ll likely feel very good…indeed even motivated…to exercise.

To overcome this inertia, just tell yourself that you will take on the challenging task for 5 minutes. You can even set a timer. Heck, we can almost hold our breath for 5 minutes. Once you get started, you will likely find it is fairly easy to go past the 5 minute mark. Here’s the kicker though – you have a free “get out of jail” card here. If you decide to stop after 5 minutes, you are free to do so with no guilt allowed. Either way, you win since 5 minutes is better than nothing. Anything over that is gravy.

Mike Brooks, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Director, ApaCenter

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