5 mental tricks that will help you take action when you don't feel motivated

Picturing the steps you'll make along the way can help.lechatnoir/E+/Getty
  • Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, licensed clinical social worker, mental strength coach, and international bestselling author.
  • If you're struggling to find motivation to finish a work or personal project, Morin says there are several psychological tricks you can use to boost your momentum.
  • Morin recommends using the '10-minute rule' to give yourself a deadline to do something quickly, and developing a regimen of habits to set yourself up for success if you're aspiring to reach a longer term goal.
  • She also explains that picturing yourself achieving the goal may hold you back from staying incentivized — instead, Morin suggests to visualize the small, steady strides that you'll make along the way.

It's tough to get your body to cooperate when you don't feel like doing something. Whether you keep putting off that phone call you know you should make, or you're struggling to force yourself to finish a home improvement project, the lack of motivation can be a serious problem.

Amy Morin.Courtesy of Amy Morin

Fortunately, these psychological tricks can get your mind and body to cooperate so you can get those dreaded tasks done. Advertisement

1. Use the 10-minute rule

When you're trying to talk yourself into doing something you know you should do — like clean the house or tackle your inbox — use the 10-minute rule. Tell yourself you only have to do it for 10 minutes.

Once you get to the 10-minute mark, give yourself permission to quit. There's a good chance you'll decide to keep going after that.

Getting started is usually the hardest part. And once you set things in motion, you'll usually stay in motion too.
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2. Create a list of reasons why

Your emotions can talk you out of doing things you don't want to do. Creating a logical list of reasons why you should do something can help you gain a little extra motivation.

For example, you may want to hit the gym every day after work but find yourself thinking things like, "I'm tired. I should just go home." If this is the case, create a list of reasons why you should exercise. Read over the list before you walk out of the office. Reminding yourself of all the logical reasons why exercise is good for you might convince you to head to the gym.Advertisement

3. Set yourself up for success

If you are trying to establish a regular habit — like going for a jog first thing in the morning — set yourself up for success.

Do whatever you can to make the good habit easier. Leave your sneakers next to the bed, and have your outfit ready to go. Set the timer on the coffee maker. Go to sleep earlier.

The goal is to remove any and all obstacles from your path. This will eliminate all those excuses you try to make about why you can't take action.Advertisement

4. Visualize yourself going through the steps

People often imagine themselves crushing their goals. They think the image of themselves succeeding will motivate them to do well.

But the research is clear — visualizing yourself crossing the finish line or landing that promotion does more harm than good. When you imagine yourself getting a reward, your brain reacts as if you are actually achieving your goal. Therefore, your motivation to put in the hard work to get there declines.

This is why vision boards tend to backfire.Advertisement

So rather than visualize yourself crossing the finish line, imagine yourself running the race. Picture yourself tolerating the distress it takes to succeed, and you'll be more likely to reach your goal.

5. Establish "now" deadlines

Research shows we categorize our tasks as things we either need to work on "now" or "later." When we categorize something as a "later" deadline, we're more likely to put it off. And our brains don't always categorize things in a logical manner.

Let's say you have a report due next Wednesday. And Wednesday falls on the last day of the current month. Your brain is likely to categorize this as a "now" deadline.Advertisement

But let's say Wednesday falls on the first day of the following month. Your brain is much more likely to categorize the deadline as a task you can save for "later" simply because it falls on a new month.

Prevent your brain from encouraging you to procrastinate by creating small objectives that you can start tackling now. Instead of telling yourself that you have a 10-page report due on July 1st, commit to writing one page every day. Or set aside 30 minutes every day to work on a task. Thinking, "My goal is to write three pages by Friday," will turn your task into a "now" deadline. Your brain will be more motivated to tackle it sooner.Advertisement

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