In life, it’s normal to go through periods when you feel stuck on autopilot. This feeling can come from an unfulfilling job, relationship, or a general sense of fear that comes with starting something new. All of a sudden, it’s like you wake up one day and realize, “Wow, I’m just going through the motions,” and wonder where all the energy and excitement went. And even though you know you need to make a change, you lack the motivation to do it.
“Feeling ‘blah’ when it's time to set a goal often has to do with perfectionism,” Billy Roberts, LISW-S, states. “Noticing how high you are setting the bar is a helpful first step to powering through the blah feelings. Lowering the bar on a reasonable goal to be completed in a reasonable amount of time can help to improve motivation. If you're struggling to identify what is reasonable, checking goals past trusted and supportive friends can help ground you in reality.”
Also, it’s important to understand that motivation can be fleeting. It’s impossible to feel motivated 100% of the time.
“It’s completely normal to lose motivation once in a while,” says Jose Ramirez, Licensed Mental Health Counselor. “For times when you feel ‘blah,’ it can be really helpful to set goals for yourself. Think about what you need to achieve and what you want to achieve. The ‘needs’ are things that you must get done, they are the priorities. The ‘wants’ are things that you’d like to do, often it’s in achieving the ‘wants’ that motivation is reignited.”
Thankfully, getting out of a rut requires a simple mindset shift. It comes down to getting clear on your purpose and passion, and from there, setting the right goals happens naturally.
A step-by-step guide to find motivation to set goals and achieve them
Trouble achieving goals is usually two-fold, Roberts explains, but the first step is identifying which emotions are keeping you stuck.
Roberts recommends asking yourself: Is anxiety leading to avoidance? Is imposter syndrome leading to shame?
Once you can become an observer of your thoughts and feelings, and label your emotions, you can take your power back.
Visualizing what you want is the first step to making it a reality.
“Creating a mental picture or mental movie of a goal makes you feel more inspired and invested,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of medicine and host of the “How Can I Help?" podcast from iHeartRadio. “Play out exactly what it would look like and feel like for you to 'get there' and complete the goal. Then step back visualize each step you would need to complete to achieve that final goal.”
Carrot on the stick
This psychological trick is helpful for every type of goal: Health, finance, career and so on.
“Think about some sort of reward you will give yourself to incentivize, and reward yourself for completing each step on the path towards the completion of the goal, with a final bigger reward for reaching the goal,” Dr. Saltz explains.
Be sure that goals are measurable, attainable, and realistic
“This isn’t the place for dream goals or goals so big they would be nearly impossible to accomplish. Remember, we are working on improving motivation," Ramirez states. “If you set unrealistic goals, you will quickly lose your motivation.”
To prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed, be sure to do one thing at a time.
“Organize the items in terms of difficulty starting with the easiest ones first,” Ramirez explains
Measure your progress
Progress is what helps you build momentum and will motivate you to keep going.
“Check things off as you accomplish them working your way down the list in terms of difficulty,” says Ramirez.
Focus on what’s important
“Prioritize the important ‘needs’ but don’t neglect the more fun ‘wants’,” Ramirez states.
Remember that action precedes motivation
If at first you simply don’t feel like doing anything, don’t stress! “Try to push yourself to start checking things off your list,” Ramirez explains. “Motivation will increase as you begin to tackle some of the goals.”
Find an accountability buddy
Many people find it helpful to have accountability buddies who can keep them on track with their goals.
“By telling a friend or a loved one, it sort of ‘puts the goal out there,’ and has a motivating effect,” Roberts states.
If there’s one thing to take away, it’s this: even if you’re not feeling motivated right now, simply getting started will put you in the right headspace. You’ve got this!