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“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.” — Benjamin Franklin
I recently received a thank you email from a reader and course student named Hope.
She said our work helped motivate her through an arduous recovery process following a serious car accident last year.
Although her entire story was both heartbreaking and inspiring, this one line made me pause and think:
“The happiest moment of my life is still that split-second a year ago when, as I laid crushed under a 2000 pound car, I realized my husband and 9-year-old boy were out of the vehicle and absolutely OK.”
Dire moments like this force us to acknowledge what’s truly important to us.
In Hope’s case, it was her husband and son.
And in the remainder of her email she talks about how her family spends significantly more time together now, sharing daily stories, telling little jokes, and appreciating each other’s company.
“The accident made us realize how much time we had been wasting every day on things that weren’t important, which prevented us from spending quality time with each other,” she said.
It’s hard to think about a story like Hope’s and not ask yourself: What do I need to stop wasting time on?
Here are some things to consider that I’ve been examining in my own life:
- Distractions that keep you from special moments with special people. – Pay attention to the little things, because when you really miss someone you miss the little things the most, like just laughing together. Go for long walks. Indulge in great conversations. Count your mutual blessings. Let go for a little while and just BE together.
- Compulsive busyness. – Schedule time every day to not be busy. Have dedicated downtime – clear points in the day to reflect, rest, and recharge. Don’t fool yourself; you’re not so busy that you can’t afford a few minutes of sanity.
- Negative thinking about your current situation. – Life is like a mirror; we get the best results when we smile. So talk about your blessings more than you talk about your problems. Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re failing. Every great success requires some type of worthy struggle to get there.
- The needless drama around you. – Be wise enough to walk away from the nonsense around you. Focus on the positives, and soon the negatives will be harder to see.
- The desire for everything you don’t have. – No, you won’t always get exactly what you want, but remember this: There are lots of people who will never have what you have right now. The things you take for granted, someone else is praying for. Happiness never comes to those who don’t appreciate what they already have.
- Comparing yourself to everyone else. – Social comparison is the thief of happiness. You could spend a lifetime worrying about what others have, but it wouldn’t get you anything.
- Thinking about who you were or what you had in the past. – You’re not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or a week ago. You’re always growing. Experiences don’t stop. That’s life.
- Worrying about the mistakes you’ve made. – It’s OK if you mess up; that’s how you get wiser. Give yourself a break. Don’t give up. Great things take time, and you’re getting there. Let your mistakes be your motivation, not your excuses. Decide right now that negative experiences from your past won’t predict your future.
- Worrying about what everyone thinks and says about you. – Don’t take things too personally, even if it seems personal. Rarely do people do things because of you; they do things because of them. You honestly can’t change how people treat you or what they say about you. All you can do is change how you react and who you choose to be around.
- Self-deception. – Your life will improve only when you take small chances. And the first and most difficult chance you can take is to be honest with yourself.
- A life path that doesn’t feel right. – Life is to be enjoyed, not endured. When you truly believe in what you’re doing, it shows, and it pays. Success in life is for those who are excited about where they are going. It’s about walking comfortably in your own shoes, in the direction of YOUR dreams.
- Everyone else’s definition of success and happiness. – You simply can’t base your idea of success and happiness on other people’s opinions and expectations.
- Those who insist on using and manipulating you. – What you allow is what will continue. Give as much as you can, but don’t allow yourself to be used. Listen to others closely, but don’t lose your own voice in the process. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Boundaries & Expectations” chapter of “1,000 Little Habits of Happy, Successful Relationships”.)
- Trying to impress everyone. – One of the most freeing things we learn in life is that we don’t have to like everyone, everyone doesn’t have to like us, and that’s perfectly OK. No matter how you live, someone will be disappointed. So just live your truth and be sure YOU aren’t the one who is disappointed in the end.
- All the fears holding you back. – Fear is a feeling, not a fact. The best way to gain strength and self-confidence is to do what you’re afraid to do. Dare to change and grow. In the end, there is only one thing that makes a dream completely impossible to achieve: Lack of action based on the fear of failure.
- Doubting and second-guessing yourself. – When in doubt just take the next small step. Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life.
- People who continuously dump on your dreams. – It’s better to be lonely than to allow negative people derail you from your sanity. Don’t let others crush your mood or dreams. Do just once what they say you can’t do, and you will never pay attention to their negativity again.
- Thinking the perfect time will come. – You can’t always wait for the perfect moment. Sometimes you must dare to do it because life is too short to wonder what could have been.
- Band-Aids and temporary fixes. – You can’t change what you refuse to confront. You can’t find peace by avoiding things. Deal with problems directly before they deal with your long-term happiness. Build sustainable habits that move your life forward. (Angel and I build small, life-changing daily habits with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy course. And we’d be truly honored to work with YOU.)
- Close-minded judgments. – Open your mind before you open your mouth. Don’t hate what you don’t know. The mind is like a parachute; it doesn’t work when it’s closed.
- Other people’s mistakes and oversights. – Today, be tolerant of people’s mistakes and oversights. Sometimes good people make bad choices. It doesn’t mean they’re bad; it simply means they are human.
- Resentment. – Kindness is not to be mistaken for weakness, nor forgiveness for acceptance. It’s about knowing that resentment is not on the path to happiness. Remember, you don’t forgive people because you’re weak. You forgive them because you’re strong enough to know that people make mistakes.
- Any hateful thoughts at all. – Set an example. Treat everyone with kindness and respect, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are. Make kindness a daily habit; it’s what makes life happier and more fulfilling in the long run.
- Regrets of any kind. – You don’t have to be defined by the things you once did or didn’t do. Don’t let yourself be controlled by regret. Maybe there’s something you could have done differently, or maybe not. Either way, it’s merely something that has already happened. Leave the unchangeable past behind you as you give yourself to the present moment.
- Every point in time other than right now. – Don’t cry over the past, it’s gone. Don’t stress too much about the future, it hasn’t arrived. Do your best to live NOW and make this moment worth living.
Now, it’s your turn…
Truth be told, the most important decision you will ever make is what you do with the time that is given to you. So let’s revisit the question I proposed in the intro:
What do you need to stop wasting time on?
Get motivated now, time goes tick/tock.
Earlier today, I was sitting on a park bench eating a sandwich for lunch when an elderly couple pulled their car up under a nearby oak tree.
They rolled down the windows and turned up some jazz music on the radio.
Then the man got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side, and opened the door for the woman.
He took her hand and helped her out of her seat, guided her about ten feet away from the car, and they slow danced for the next half hour under the oak tree.
It was a beautiful sight to see.
I could have watched them forever.
And as they wrapped things up and started making their way back to the car, I clapped my hands in admiration.
Perhaps doing so was obnoxious.
Perhaps I should have just appreciated being a silent witness.
But I was so caught up in the moment—so incredibly moved—that my hands came together before my conscious mind caught on.
And I’m sincerely grateful they did because what happened next inspired the words you’re reading now.
The elderly couple slowly walked over to me with smiles on their faces.
“Thank you for the applause,” the woman chuckled.
“Thank YOU,” I immediately replied.
“You two dancing gives me hope.”
They both smiled even wider as they looked at me.
“Us dancing gives me hope too,” the woman said as she grabbed the man’s hand.
“But what you probably don’t realize is that you just witnessed the power and beauty of second and third chances.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“My college sweetheart—my husband of 20 years—lost his life to cancer on my 40th birthday,” she explained.
“And then my husband of 6 years died in a car accident when I was 52.”
As my mouth hung open, we all shared a quick moment of silence.
Then the man put his arm around her and said, “And I lost my wife of 33 years when I was 54.
So what you see here before you—these dancing partners—this incredible love—this marriage of only 3 years between two kindred souls in their late 60’s . . . all of this is what happens when you give yourself a second and third chance.”
Finding Peace Through Painful Experiences
I’ve spent the rest of the day thinking about that beautiful couple, about second and third chances, and about how human beings find the motivation to keep going . . . to keep loving . . . to keep living, despite the pain and grief and hopelessness we all inevitably experience along the way.
And this topic hits close to home too.
About a decade ago, in a relatively short time frame, Angel and I dealt with several significant, unexpected losses and life changes, back-to-back:
- Losing a sibling to suicide
- Losing a mutual best friend to cardiac arrest
- Financial unrest and loss of livelihood following a breadwinning job loss
- Breaking ties with a loved one who repeatedly betrayed us
- Family business failure (and reinvention)
Those experiences were brutal.
And enduring them in quick succession knocked us down and off course for a period of time.
For example, when Angel’s brother passed, facing this reality while supporting her grieving family was incredibly painful at times.
There were moments when we shut the world out and avoided our loved ones who were grieving alongside us.
We didn’t want to deal with the pain, so we coped by running away, by finding ways to numb ourselves with alcohol and unhealthy distractions. And consequently, we grew physically ill while the pain continued to fester inside us.
We felt terrible, for far too long.
And getting to the right state of mind—one that actually allowed us to physically and emotionally move forward again—required diligent practice.
Because you better believe our minds were buried deep in the gutter.
We had to learn to consciously free our minds, so we could think straight and open ourselves to the next step.
We learned that when you face struggles with an attitude of openness—open to the painful feelings and emotions you have—it’s not comfortable, but you can still be fine and you can still step forward.
Openness means you don’t instantly decide that you know this is only going to be a horrible experience—it means you admit that you don’t really know what the next step will be like, and you’d like to understand the whole truth of the matter.
It’s a learning stance, instead of one that assumes the worst.
The simplest way to initiate this mindset shift?
Proactive daily reminders…
Mantras for Finding Motivation in Hard Times
It’s all about keeping the right thoughts at the top of your mind, so they’re readily available when you need them most.
For us, that meant sitting down quietly with ourselves every morning (and on evenings sometimes too) and reflecting on precisely what we needed to remember.
We used short written reminders (now excerpts from our books) like the ones below to do just that. Sometimes we’d call them mantras, or affirmations, or prayers, or convictions, but in any case, these daily reflections kept us motivated and on track by keeping grounded, peaceful, productive thoughts at the top of our minds, even when life got utterly chaotic.
We ultimately discovered that peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard realities to deal with—peace means to be in the midst of all those things while remaining calm in your head and strong in your heart.
Challenge yourself to choose one of the bolded reminders below every morning (or evening), and then sit quietly for two minutes while repeating it silently in your mind like a mantra.
See how doing so gradually changes the way you navigate life’s twists and turns and hard times.
- Never assume that you are stuck with the way things are right now. Life changes every single second, and so can you. – When hard times hit there’s a tendency to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the same. For some strange reason, this doesn’t happen as much when things are going well. A laugh, a smile, and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth and then we let them go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclical, self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your future through that same dirty lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that is worn out and false.
- It is what it is. Accept it, learn from it, and grow from it. It doesn’t matter what’s been done; what truly matters is what you do from here. – Realize that most people make themselves miserable simply by finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now. Don’t be one of them. Let go of your fantasies. This letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about something or someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only thing you really have control over is yourself in this moment. Oftentimes letting go is simply changing the labels you place on a situation—it’s looking at the same situation with fresh eyes and an open mind, and then taking the next step.
- Use pain, frustration and inconvenience to motivate you rather than annoy you. You are in control of the way you look at life. – Instead of getting angry, find the lesson. In place of envy, feel admiration. In place of worry, take action. In place of doubt, have faith. Again, your response is always more powerful than your circumstance. A tiny part of your life is decided by completely uncontrollable circumstances, while the vast majority of your life is decided by your responses. Where you ultimately end up is heavily dependent on how you play the hands you’ve been dealt.
- The most effective way to move away from something you don’t want is to move toward something you do want, gradually and consistently. – The key is in building small daily rituals, and understanding that what you do in small steps on a daily basis changes everything over time. This concept might seem obvious, but when hard times hit we tend to yearn for instant gratification. We want things to get better, and we want it better now! And this yearning often tricks us into biting off more than we can chew. Angel and I have seen this transpire hundreds of times over the years—a course student wants to achieve a new milestone as fast as possible, and can’t choose just one or two small daily habits to focus on, so nothing worthwhile ever gets done. Let this be your reminder. Remind yourself that you can’t lift a thousand pounds all at once, yet you can easily lift one pound a thousand times. Small, repeated, incremental efforts will get you there. (Angel and I build small, life-changing rituals with our students in the “Goals & Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy Course.)
- The effort is never wasted, even when it leads to disappointing results. For it always makes you stronger, more educated, and more experienced. – So when the going gets tough, be patient and keep going. Just because you are struggling does not mean you are failing. Every great success requires some kind of struggle to get there. Again, it happens one day at a time, one step at a time. And the next step is always worth taking. Seriously, no matter what happens, no matter how far you seem to be away from where you want to be, never stop believing that you will make it. Have an unrelenting belief that things will work out, that the long road has a purpose, that the things you desire may not happen today, but they will happen. Practice patience. And remember that patience is not about waiting—it’s the ability to keep a good attitude while working diligently to make daily progress.
- Don’t lower your standards, but do remember that removing your expectations of others is the best way to avoid being derailed by them. – As you strive to make progress, you will inevitably encounter roadblocks in the form of difficult people. But realize that the greatest stress you go through when dealing with a difficult person is not fueled by the words or actions of this person—it is fueled by your mind that gives their words and actions importance. Inner peace and harmony begins the moment you take a deep breath and choose not to allow outside influences to dominate your thoughts, emotions, and actions. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of our “1,000 Little Things” book.)
- As you age, you’ll learn to value your time, genuine relationships, meaningful work, and peace of mind, much more. Little else will matter. – Remember this, especially when the going gets chaotic and tough. Focus on what matters in each moment and let go of what does not. Eliminate needless distractions. Realize that too often we focus our worried minds on how to do things quickly, when the vast majority of things we do quickly should not be done at all. We end up rushing out on another shopping trip, or hastily dressing ourselves up to impress, just to feel better. But these quick fixes don’t work. Stop investing so much of your energy into refining the wrong areas of your life. Ten years from now it won’t really matter what shoes you wore today, how your hair looked, or what brand of clothes you wore. What will matter is how you lived, how you loved, and what you learned along the way.
Afterthoughts… On Deep Loss & Renewal
Before we go I want to briefly address the biggest elephant in the room.
That elephant is losing someone you love.
The elderly couple in the opening story lived through this kind of loss.
Angel and I have lived through this kind of loss.
And although there are no words to make it easier, I want those who are presently coping with this kind of loss to know that the journey forward is worth it.
The end is always the beginning. There’s more beauty—a different kind of beauty—ahead.
You see, death is an ending, which is a necessary part of living.
And even though endings like these often seem ugly, they are necessary for beauty too—otherwise, it’s impossible to appreciate someone or something, because they are unlimited.
Limits illuminate beauty, and death is the definitive limit—a reminder that we need to be aware of this beautiful person, and appreciate this beautiful thing called life.
Death is also a beginning, because while we have lost someone special, this ending, like the loss of any wonderful life situation, is a moment of reinvention.
Although deeply sad, their passing forces us to reinvent our lives, and in this reinvention is an opportunity to experience beauty in new, unseen ways and places.
And finally, of course, death is an opportunity to celebrate a person’s life, and to be grateful for the beauty they showed us.
That’s just a small slice of what living through deep loss has taught us.
Just a short piece of a longer story that’s still being written . . .
A story of second and third chances, renewed hope, and heartfelt dances.
And the reminders above will get you there, one day at a time.
Before you go, let me ask you a quick question:
- Which point above resonates the most with you right now?
And how might reminding yourself of it, daily, change your life?
Get Off Your Butt: 16 Ways to Get Motivated When You’re in a Slump
By Leo Babauta
Even the most motivated of us — you, me, Tony Robbins — can feel unmotivated at times.
In fact, sometimes we get into such a slump that even thinking about making positive changes seems too difficult.
But it’s not hopeless: with some small steps, baby ones in fact, you can get started down the road to positive change.
Yes, I know, it seems impossible at times.
You don’t feel like doing anything.
I’ve been there, and in fact I still feel that way from time to time.
You’re not alone.
But I’ve learned a few ways to break out of a slump, and we’ll take a look at those today.
This post was inspired by reader Roy C. Carlson, who asked:
“I was wondering if you could do a piece on why it can be hard for someone to change direction and start taking control of their life. I have to say I’m in this boat and advice on getting out of my slump would be great.”
Roy is just one of many with a slump like that.
Again, I feel that way sometimes myself, and in fact sometimes I struggle to motivate myself to exercise — and I’ll use that as an example of how to break out of the slump.
When I fall out of exercise, due to illness or injury or disruption from things going on in my life, it’s hard to get started again.
I don’t even feel like thinking about it, sometimes. But I’ve always found a way to break out of that slump, and here are some things I’ve learned that have helped:
- One Goal. Whenever I’ve been in a slump, I’ve discovered that it’s often because I have too much going on in my life. I’m trying to do too much. And it saps my energy and motivation. It’s probably the most common mistake that people make: they try to take on too much, try to accomplish too many goals at once. You cannot maintain energy and focus (the two most important things in accomplishing a goal) if you are trying to do two or more goals at once. It’s not possible — I’ve tried it many times. You have to choose one goal, for now, and focus on it completely. I know, that’s hard. Still, I speak from experience. You can always do your other goals when you’ve accomplished your One Goal.
- Find inspiration. Inspiration, for me, comes from others who have achieved what I want to achieve, or who are currently doing it. I read other blogs, books, magazines. I Google my goal, and read success stories. Zen Habits is just one place for inspiration, not only from me but from many readers who have achieved amazing things.
- Get excited. This sounds obvious, but most people don’t think about it much: if you want to break out of a slump, get yourself excited about a goal. But how can you do that when you don’t feel motivated? Well, it starts with inspiration from others (see above), but you have to take that excitement and build on it. For me, I’ve learned that by talking to my wife about it, and to others, and reading as much about it as possible, and visualizing what it would be like to be successful (seeing the benefits of the goal in my head), I get excited about a goal. Once I’ve done that, it’s just a matter of carrying that energy forward and keeping it going.
- Build anticipation. This will sound hard, and many people will skip this tip. But it really works. It helped me quit smoking after many failed attempts. If you find inspiration and want to do a goal, don’t start right away. Many of us will get excited and want to start today. That’s a mistake. Set a date in the future — a week or two, or even a month — and make that your Start Date. Mark it on the calendar. Get excited about that date. Make it the most important date in your life. In the meantime, start writing out a plan. And do some of the steps below. Because by delaying your start, you are building anticipation, and increasing your focus and energy for your goal.
- Post your goal. Print out your goal in big words. Make your goal just a few words long, like a mantra (“Exercise 15 mins. Daily”), and post it up on your wall or refrigerator. Post it at home and work. Put it on your computer desktop. You want to have big reminders about your goal, to keep your focus and keep your excitement going. A picture of your goal (like a model with sexy abs, for example) also helps.
- Commit publicly. None of us likes to look bad in front of others. We will go the extra mile to do something we’ve said publicly. For example, when I wanted to run my first marathon, I started writing a column about it in my local daily newspaper. The entire island of Guam (pop. 160K) knew about my goal. I couldn’t back down, and even though my motivation came and went, I stuck with it and completed it. Now, you don’t have to commit to your goal in your daily newspaper, but you can do it with friends and family and co-workers, and you can do it on your blog if you have one. And hold yourself accountable — don’t just commit once, but commit to giving progress updates to everyone every week or so.
- Think about it daily. If you think about your goal every day, it is much more likely to become true. To this end, posting the goal on your wall or computer desktop (as mentioned above) helps a lot. Sending yourself daily reminders also helps. And if you can commit to doing one small thing to further your goal (even just 5 minutes) every single day, your goal will almost certainly come true.
- Get support. It’s hard to accomplish something alone. When I decided to run my marathon, I had the help of friends and family, and I had a great running community on Guam who encouraged me at 5K races and did long runs with me. When I decided to quit smoking, I joined an online forum and that helped tremendously. And of course, my wife Eva helped every step of the way. I couldn’t have done these goals without her, or without the others who supported me. Find your support network, either in the real world or online, or both.
- Realize that there’s an ebb and flow. Motivation is not a constant thing that is always there for you. It comes and goes, and comes and goes again, like the tide. But realize that while it may go away, it doesn’t do so permanently. It will come back. Just stick it out and wait for that motivation to come back. In the meantime, read about your goal (see below), ask for help (see below), and do some of the other things listed here until your motivation comes back.
- Stick with it. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Even if you aren’t feeling any motivation today, or this week, don’t give up. Again, that motivation will come back. Think of your goal as a long journey, and your slump is just a little bump in the road. You can’t give up with every little bump. Stay with it for the long term, ride out the ebbs and surf on the flows, and you’ll get there.
- Start small. Really small. If you are having a hard time getting started, it may be because you’re thinking too big. If you want to exercise, for example, you may be thinking that you have to do these intense workouts 5 days a week. No — instead, do small, tiny, baby steps. Just do 2 minutes of exercise. I know, that sounds wimpy. But it works. Commit to 2 minutes of exercise for one week. You may want to do more, but just stick to 2 minutes. It’s so easy, you can’t fail. Do it at the same time, every day. Just some crunches, 2 pushups, and some jogging in place. Once you’ve done 2 minutes a day for a week, increase it to 5, and stick with that for a week. In a month, you’ll be doing 15-20. Want to wake up early? Don’t think about waking at 5 a.m. Instead, think about waking 10 minutes earlier for a week. That’s all. Once you’ve done that, wake 10 minutes earlier than that. Baby steps.
- Build on small successes. Again, if you start small for a week, you’re going to be successful. You can’t fail if you start with something ridiculously easy. Who can’t exercise for 2 minutes? (If that’s you, I apologize.) And you’ll feel successful, and good about yourself. Take that successful feeling and build on it, with another baby step. Add 2-3 minutes to your exercise routine, for example. With each step (and each step should last about a week), you will feel even more successful. Make each step really, really small, and you won’t fail. After a couple of months, your tiny steps will add up to a lot of progress and a lot of success.
- Read about it daily. When I lose motivation, I just read a book or blog about my goal. It inspires me and reinvigorates me. For some reason, reading helps motivate and focus you on whatever you’re reading about. So read about your goal every day, if you can, especially when you’re not feeling motivated.
- Call for help when your motivation ebbs. Having trouble? Ask for help. Email me. Join an online forum. Get a partner to join you. Call your mom. It doesn’t matter who, just tell them your problems, and talking about it will help. Ask them for advice. Ask them to help you overcome your slump. It works.
- Think about the benefits, not the difficulties. One common problem is that we think about how hard something is. Exercise sounds so hard! Just thinking about it makes you tired. But instead of thinking about how hard something is, think about what you will get out of it. For example, instead of thinking about how tiring exercise can be, focus on how good you’ll feel when you’re done, and how you’ll be healthier and slimmer over the long run. The benefits of something will help energize you.
- Squash negative thoughts; replace them with positive ones. Along those lines, it’s important to start monitoring your thoughts. Recognize negative self-talk, which is really what’s causing your slump. Just spend a few days becoming aware of every negative thought. Then, after a few days, try squashing those negative thoughts like a bug, and then replacing them with a corresponding positive thought. Squash, “This is too hard!” and replace it with, “I can do this! If that wimp Leo can do it, so can I!” It sounds corny, but it works. Really.
Here are the best ways to stay motivated, no matter how much you feel like giving up:
- Simplify to focus your energy. ...
- Break down large goals into small steps. ...
- Manage your expectations. ...
- Surround yourself with supportive people. ...
- Ask for help — and offer it. ...
- Practice gratitude. ...
- Get enough rest. ...
- Celebrate achievements.
- Just get started. ...
- Make or rework your to-do list. ...
- Commit publicly. ...
- Change up your location. ...
- Listen to pump-up music. ...
- Meditate. ... or just watch nature
- Talk to a co-worker. ... or a motivated person.
- Eat an energy-boosting snack.
- Make your goals manageable. Setting unrealistic goals and taking on too much can lead to burnout. ...
- Don't expect yourself to be perfect. ...
- Use positive instead of negative self-talk. ...
- Create a plan of action. ...
- Use your strengths. ...
- Recognize your accomplishments along the way. ...
- Ask for help. ...
- Avoid distraction.
10 Things That Steal Our Motivation—and How to Get It Back
Motivation is central to creativity, productivity, and happiness.
Motivation is what causes us to act, and when we act, we create movement, growth, and change; we feel involved, masterful, and significant; we feel powerful through experiencing how we can change the world; and we create more of what we love in our lives.
And all of this gives our lives purpose and happiness.
Demotivation Is Like Snow
It’s said that Eskimos have multiple words for snow.
It's so familiar to them, they can appreciate the subtle differences between the varied types.
These distinctions let Eskimos respond differently to different types of snow, depending on the challenges and opportunities that each particular type of snow presents.
Most of us have just one conception of demotivation, which means that whenever you’re unmotivated, you’re likely to assume that you’re struggling with the same problem.
The truth: Demotivation is a category of problems, containing many variations.
When you have just one kind of demotivation, you’ll apply the same old strategies whenever you feel unmotivated.
For many people, those strategies look like this: set goals, push harder, create accountability checks that will push you, and run your life using to-do lists.
These strategies are ineffective with most types of demotivation, and in some instances they can even make you more unmotivated.
Demotivation is a category of problems, containing many variations.
At its essence, demotivation is about not fully committing to act, and there are many reasons why you might be in that position.
Having more ways to categorize your demotivation will help you identify the real reasons for your unwillingness move forward.
Then, you can pick the right tools and strategies to help you get motivated again.
Here are 10 types of demotivation and the strategies that will help you find your fire:
1. You're Demotivated by Fear
When you’re afraid, even if you’re entering territory that you’ve chosen to move into, a part of you is determined to avoid going forward.
Fear slows you down and makes you hesitant and careful, which can be beneficial to you, but sometimes your fears are based on your imagination rather than on an accurate assessment of the risks in your reality.
If your fear is big enough, even if you’re also excited to go forward, the part of you that wants to keep you safe can successfully prevent you from going forward into territory that’s both desirable and safe.
How to get motivated again: To get motivated, you need to deal with your fear.
Start by naming your fears so that they’re out in the open.
Remember to say a gentle “thank you” to your fears–they’re trying to protect you, after all. Then question your fears: “Why am I afraid of that happening?” “What are the chances that would really happen?”
Some of your fears will slip away now.
To get motivated, you need to deal with your fear.
Look at the fears that are left.
What are they telling you about the research you need to do, the gaps you need to fill, and the risk management strategies you need to put in place?
Honor that wisdom by building it into your plan.
Finally, consider breaking down the changes into smaller steps and focusing on just the next few small steps–this will calm your fears.
2. You're Demotivated by Setting the Wrong Goals
Martha Beck has a great model for understanding motivation.
She explains that we have an Essential Self and a Social Self.
Your Essential Self is the part of you that’s spontaneous and creative and playful, the part that knows what’s most important to you.
Your Social Self is the part of you that has been developing since the day you were born, learning the rules of the tribe and working hard to make sure that you’re safe by making you follow "the rules."
We’re all surrounded by so many messages that feed into our Social Selves and we’re keen to impress our tribes.
When you feel unmotivated, it’s because you’re setting goals based purely on what your Social Self wants and this is pulling you away from the direction your Essential Self wants you to take.
Your Essential Self uses demotivation to slow you down and to detach you from the toxic goals you’ve set.
Notice how your body responds as you think of each of the goals you’re trying to work on.
How to get motivated again: Take some time to review your goals.
Since your Essential Self is non-verbal, you can easily access your Essential Self through your body. Notice how your body responds as you think of each of the goals you’re trying to work on.
When your body (and particularly your breathing) shows signs of tightness and constriction, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re trying to follow toxic goals.
If you get a constricted reaction, scrap your current goals and question all your stories about what you “should” do with your life. Notice what makes you smile spontaneously or lose track of time, and set goals related to that stuff instead.
3. You're Demotivated by Lack of Clarity
When you haven’t consciously and clearly articulated what you want, your picture of your future will be vague. We like what’s familiar, so we resist what’s unfamiliar and vague and we stay with and re-create what’s familiar to us.
If you’re not clear about what you want to create, then it makes sense that you’ll lack motivation because you’d rather stay with your current familiar reality.
How to get motivated again: If you want to create something different from what you’ve been experiencing, it’s not enough to just know what you don’t want.
You need to know what you do want, and you need to articulate a clear and specific vision of what you want to create so that you can become familiar with that new outcome and feel comfortable moving toward it.
Take some time to articulate what you want and why you want it.
4. You're Demotivated by a Values Conflict
Your values are what’s important to you in life.
If you have a values conflict, it means that there are two or more values that are important to you but you believe that you can’t satisfy all of those values in a particular situation.
This situation causes you to feel conflicted and pulled in different directions as you try to find ways to get what’s important to you.
You might have brief spurts of motivation to work on something and then lose motivation and start working on something else, or your motivation might dry up altogether because the effort of dealing with internal conflict quickly tires you out and saps your energy.
How to get motivated again: You need to unpack your values conflict and play mediator.
You have to get the parts of you that are advocating for different values to play on the same team again. Start with acknowledging the internal conflict.
Grab a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle so that you have two columns.
Write about the two different directions you feel pulled in, one in each column, and summarize it with a statement of what each part wants.
Now, pick one column and chunk it up: “Why does this part want that?
What does it hope to get as a result of having that?”
Keep asking the questions and writing your answers until you feel that you’ve hit on the result that this part of you ultimately wants.
Now do the same for the other part, and notice when you get to the level where the answers in the two columns are the same.
Ultimately, all of the parts of you always want the same thing, because they’re all you.
Now that you know what you really want, you can evaluate the strategies that each part had been advocating for and decide which strategy would work best.
Ultimately, all of the parts of you always want the same thing, because they’re all you.
Often, once you’re clear on what you really want, you spot new strategies for getting it that you hadn’t noticed before.
Sometimes by doing this exercise you’ll find ways to satisfy all of your values, but sometimes that’s not possible.
If you’ve taken time to think through your values and you’ve consciously chosen to prioritize a particular value over your other values for a while, this clarity will ease the internal conflict and your motivation will return.
5. You're Demotivated by Lack of Autonomy
We thrive on autonomy.
We all have a decision-making center in our brains, and this part of us needs to be exercised.
Studies have found that this decision-making center in the brain is under-developed in people who have depression and that if you practice using this part of the brain and making decisions, depression often clears.
In his book Drive, Daniel Pink writes about the research that shows that when it comes to doing creative work, having some autonomy to decide what we do, when we do it, how we do it, and whom we do it with is core to igniting and sustaining motivation, creativity, and productivity.
We all have a decision-making center in our brains, and this part of us needs to be exercised.
How to get motivated again: Consider how much autonomy you have in relation to the goals you’ve been trying to pursue.
Are there areas where you feel constricted and controlled?
Consider how you could gradually introduce more autonomy in your task, time, technique, location, and team, and then, if you’re employed, have a discussion with your manager and ask for greater autonomy in a few specific areas of your work.
6. You're Demotivated by Lack of Challenge
When it comes to dealing with challenges, there’s a sweet spot.
Too great a challenge, and the fear becomes too great and saps our motivation (see point 1), and if the challenge is too small, we quickly get bored and struggle to stay motivated.
We’re designed to be living, growing creatures, and we need constant challenges and opportunities to master new skills.
Without challenges, our Essential Self steps in and demotivates us as a way of telling us that we’ve departed from the path that’s right for us.
If the challenge is too small, we quickly get bored and struggle to stay motivated.
How to get motivated again: Review your goals and the projects you’re working on.
Are they challenging you?
Are they going to require you to grow in order to achieve them, or are you treading water in your comfort zone, doing only the things you know you can do?
Try tweaking your goals to make them a bit more challenging, take on projects that will require you to grow, and find a new thing or two to learn to stimulate yourself.
7. You're Demotivated by Grief
At the beginning of any change, we go through a phase of wondering if we should or could hang on to the way things were and grieving what we’ll be losing if we make significant changes.
Confusion, self-doubt, mistrust of the world around us, and feeling lost are common symptoms, and the bigger the change, the more powerful these symptoms.
Sometimes we even go through a bit of depression and social withdrawal.
Martha Beck calls this phase the “Death and Rebirth” phase of change in her book Finding Your Own North Star.
With all the grieving and fearing and feeling lost that go on in this phase, it’s normal for your motivation to dry up.
How to get motivated again: If you’ve just experienced a trauma or loss, or you’re going through a major change and finding that there are days where you’re hit hard with Death and Rebirth symptoms, don’t try to make yourself motivated and proactive.
You can’t rush grieving or the undoing of your old life and ways of thinking, and you can’t skip the Death and Rebirth phase and go straight into Dreaming and Scheming.
Take it one day at a time and go easy on yourself.
You need to give yourself a lot of space for nurturing and reflection.
Look after your body with good food, rest, and exercise.
Express your grief, confusion, and fears with people who can listen lovingly.
Spend time in nature and with calm, loving people to center yourself.
Accept every feeling and thought you have–they’re all normal and safe.
Take one day at a time and go easy on yourself.
Confusion, forgetfulness, and clumsiness are all normal in this stage.
The grieving will end when it’s ready, and if you relax into it and express your grief, it’ll be sooner rather than later.
8. You're Demotivated by Loneliness
This is an especially important one for those of us who work alone from home.
You know those days when you feel a bit cabin-feverish, you just don’t feel like working, and you’d rather be out having a drink with a friend or playing a game of soccer?
Well, perhaps it’s because we’re designed to be social creatures and sometimes your Essential Self is just longing for some connection with other people.
Your Essential Self hijacks your work motivation so that you’ll take a break from work and go spend some time with other people.
How to get motivated again: Take a break and go spend some time with someone you enjoy.
You may be surprised at the motivating impact this has and find yourself much more clear and productive when you return to your work.
And then look for ways that you can begin to build more networking and joint venturing into your work.
9. You're Demotivated by Burnout
I attract overachieving Type A’s, and, as a recovering Type A myself, I know that sometimes we’re banging on about wanting to get more done even after we’ve exceeded the limit on what’s sustainable.
If you’re feeling tired all the time, you’ve lost your energy for socializing, and the idea of taking a snooze sounds more compelling than the stuff you’re usually interested in, then you’ve probably pushed yourself too long and hard and you may be burned out.
Your Essential Self will always work to motivate you to move toward what you most need.
So if you’re burned out and needing sleep, your Essential Self may even sap the motivation from the things that you’re usually really ignited about–just to get you to meet your core needs again.
Your Essential Self will always work to motivate you to move toward what you most need.
How to get motivated again: Sleep.
And then when you’re done sleeping and the quality of your thinking has been restored, check back in with your Essential Self about what’s most important to you.
Start building sustainable ways to do more of what’s important to you.
10. You're Demotivated By Fuzzy Next Steps
Your end-goal might be nice and clear, but if you haven’t taken time to chunk it down into smaller goals, you’ll get stuck, confused, and unmotivated when it’s time to take action.
Some projects are small and familiar enough that they don’t need a plan, but if you’re often worrying that you don’t know what to do next and you don’t have a clear plan, then this might be the source of your demotivation.
How to get motivated again: If you want to keep your motivation flowing steadily through all stages of your projects, take time to create clear project plans and to schedule your plans into your calendar.
Write down all of your “I-don’t-know-how-to” concerns and turn these into research questions.
Use your fears to point you to the potential risks you need to manage.
Write down all of your “I-don’t-know-how-to” concerns and turn these into research questions.
The first part of any planning stage is research, and you’ll find new research questions along the way, so realize that conducting research should be part of your action plan at every stage of your project.
Finally, ask yourself what smaller goals need to be achieved for you to achieve your end-goal, and schedule deadlines for yourself.
Goal-setting, planning, organizing, and accountability structures are often touted as the big solution to demotivation and the silver bullet that will get you creative and productive again.
The truth, as you've learned: It’s a useful strategy for dealing with only some types of demotivation.
Pinpoint your unique form of demotivation, and start to tackle it in a specific way.