What Comes First, Motivation or Action? Part 1

MotivationI see many clients who battle with a lack of motivation. Lack of motivation can range from struggling to keep up with daily chores, to feeling unable to get out of bed in the morning. If you are feeling unmotivated to engage in activities you used to enjoy, this can be concerning to some people.

Feeling as though we are powerless against these feelings can be worrisome, frightening, and depressing. What we need to remember is that if we wait for motivation to hit us, it could take a long time or possibly never happen. It is only when we take action that we feel motivated to continue.

Here are some tools I use with clients to help with motivation!

  1. Focus on one small step at a time.

    • Instead of looking at the big picture, break it down. Focus on putting two feet on the floor. Then standing up, walking to the bathroom, getting into the shower, getting dressed, and walking to the car. Before you know it, you will be on your way to the grocery store. It will not seem sensible to turn around!
  2. Focus on the positive aspects of what you are trying to motivate yourself to do.

    • If you are dreading going grocery shopping, focus on what you always pick up for yourself on the trip to treat yourself. When you have to mow the lawn, focus on how much you love the sunshine and hearing the birds chirp outside. If you have errands to run all day, focus on how enjoyable it is to listen to your favorite music on the ride and feel the wind in your hair when the windows are down. 
  3. Ask yourself, am I:

    • Overwhelming Myself?

      Magnifying a task to a certain degree may convince you that the task is nearly impossible. You may be assuming you have to get everything done at once instead of breaking tasks down into manageable units that you can complete one step at a time. You also might be inadvertently distracting yourself from a certain task by obsessing over the other things you have not gotten done yet. Stop sabotaging yourself!

    • Jumping to Conclusions?

      You may feel as though you do not have the power to take effective action that will result in gratification because you are in the habit of telling yourself that you “can’t” or that you “would…but” Your lack of motivation is empowered by these statements. You must act first before you come to any conclusion. You may be surprised by how easy or pleasurable something might be!

    • Disqualifying the Positive?

      When we are feeling unmotivated, it can be difficult to begin any meaningful activity because it feels difficult or because the reward seems as though it would not be worth the effort. Your lack of satisfaction from the results of your efforts may be due to discrediting them. Avoid falling into the bad habit of telling yourself “It doesn’t count. Anyone could have accomplished this. This is not even that important. It’s expected that I do this basic task.” In saying these things, you are robbing yourself of any sense of fulfillment.

I suggest to my clients that when they are struggling with motivating themselves, they could begin a motivation journal. This way they can read what they want to accomplish, hold themselves accountable and reflect on the positives when they complete a task. Motivation is something that we can gather up quite quickly if we challenge ourselves and are kind to ourselves.

Remember, action comes first, not motivation.


About Shelton Piland: Shelton is a Resident in Clinical Social Work and provides services at our Fredericksburg location. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a B.A. in Sociology. She received her Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University. Throughout her time at VCU she has worked with elementary, middle school, and high school students in the Spotsylvania Public School system. Shelton has also worked with veterans and their families at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center. She is certified in Motivational Interviewing and in Inter-Professional Collaboration. Shelton has experience working with individuals, children, couples, families, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, veterans, and hospice patients. To learn more about Shelton, visit here.

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