You sit down at your computer with every intention of working on your next project or task, then procrastination sets in. Two hours later, you realize you still haven’t begun the task in earnest. Why is it so easy to shrug something off, even when you know the job must get done?
Research shows that our brains are wired to have two types of motivation. We are either driven by internal (or intrinsic) motivation to achieve a goal, which is when we do something because it is personally rewarding. Or we are driven by external (or extrinsic) motivation, which is when we do something to earn a reward or avoid punishment.
Each type of motivation can be effective. Internal motivation is thought to work best in the long run, but external motivation can be a useful tool in some cases, such as prompting you to complete a task or assignment that doesn’t internally interest you.
The secret is knowing how to tap into both types of motivations to overcome procrastination and be more proactive. To help you do that, here are 5 brain hacks to boost motivation and stay productive, even when distractions abound.
1. Tap into your bigger purpose.
When you find your motivation is lacking, try focusing on the purpose behind what you are doing or on how it plays into the larger goal of what you want to accomplish.
Focusing on the bigger goal gives you the feeling of working on something greater and being part of something bigger than yourself. It gives deeper meaning to the objective you seek or the project you are putting long hours into.
For instance, try thinking about how what you’re doing is adding value to your customers and their lives, or about how your business is impacting the world (even in small ways). When you consider the larger effects of what you or your team is doing, you’ll feel more connected to the whole and will be more motivated to do your part.
2. Don’t over think it.
Overthinkers complicate an easy task by anticipating unlikely problems. When you over think a project you are working on, it creates more stress and pressure. Ultimately, it obstructs your motivation.
Research has shown that chronic stress and anxiety can actually shrink your brain. A relaxed mind is better able to focus and solve problems.
To counter a tendency to over think a problem, make sure to keep your goals simple and small. This will break your objectives into more manageable chunks. Focus on accomplishing each step. This in turn creates motivation, because you see yourself moving forward and accomplishing your goals.
3. Overcome mental blocks.
Nothing is quite as de-motivating as a mental block that feels like glue poured into your brain. Your creative process feels locked up and nothing seems to work right.
Becoming stuck is often a symptom you’re caught in a negative thought loop. You tell yourself: “What’s the answer to this problem? What should I do? I should know this!” Round and round you go, and the more pressure you put on yourself, the more stuck you become.
To unstick yourself, start by reasking the question or reframing it from a different perspective. Take a deep breath, relax and allow your subconscious to find the answer. This is your “ah-ha” moment.
4. Counter negative perceptions.
Observe how you feel as you begin a task. Are you dreading the assignment? Are you anticipating it will be tedious or difficult to accomplish? That mindset will stymie your motivation and sap your inspiration before you even start.
You can change negative perceptions, just as you can train your mind to detoxify bad memories. To weaken a pessimistic perception of something, think about the task and bring the memory of doing it into your mind.
Imagine the memory getting smaller and dimmer, like you’re watching a tiny black-and-white TV. Now add new details to the memory that change it. Make it fun. Make it silly. Make it seem less threatening. Imagine being engaged with and enjoying the work.
Do this five to 10 times and you’ll discover your perception has changed. The unpleasant memory no longer has the same sting.
5. Strengthen your good memories.
Another way to tap into your natural motivation is to strengthen those memories where you are succeeding and accomplishing your goals. By doing this, you can enhance and encourage your motivation and inspiration.
To do this, recall as vividly as you can a fulfilling memory of succeeding or accomplishing your goals. Imagine this memory as if it were being projected on a huge IMAX screen.
Make the memory bright and loud. Now increase the positive feelings that you experienced, just like turning up a dial.
Do this 5 or 10 times, and you’ll discover that what was once just a positive memory is now a driving motivation. The more you experience the memory, the more you’ll want to relive it and make it real again.