By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT
Like many people these days, I can feel overwhelmed by all that needs to be completed on my “to-do list.” I have multiple lists of things I would like to accomplish in the long-term and the short-term. Sometimes the biggest hurdle is finding the motivation to accomplish all these goals. There are many things that may block our ability to find motivation such as anxiety or depression or just feeling overwhelmed by all of the work that will need to go into accomplishing a task.
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. With intrinsic motivation, individuals find motivation within themselves to accomplish a goal or task. Extrinsic motivation occurs when people are motivated by factors outside of themselves, through things such as rewards and punishments. Many of us are able to access our intrinsic motivation when we are accomplishing tasks that are part of a goal we have set for ourselves, but sometimes it can be useful to use extrinsic motivation to get us through a task.
Here are five ways to find the extrinsic motivation to complete a task even when you’re feeling less driven.
1. Give yourself a reward after you complete a task can be useful in these moments. It can help us find ways to get through an undesired task and be more motivated to finish it.
2. Break a large goal into smaller goals. When a person is starting to work toward a goal, it may seem overwhelming because there are so many components in completing the goal. When we break a goal into smaller goals, we are able to only focus our attention on one thing at a time, which can also allow us to feel less overwhelmed. This can also reduce any anxiety we may have about working on a task to completion.
3. Structure tasks so that you are performing the least desired tasks first and most desired tasks last In doing this, you are getting the tasks you are dreading most out of the way and using the desired task as a way to motivate you. You may like one of the tasks, so you are motivated to finish the other task in order to be given the chance to work on the desired task. In a way, you are using one of your tasks as a reward while still accomplishing all the goals on your to-do list.
4. Notice things that are blocking your ability to accomplish a task, such as depression or anxiety. If you are highly anxious or depressed at the moment you are trying to work on a task, you may not have access to the tools in your brain that will help you accomplish that task at the moment. Anxiety and depression can shut down areas of the brain that allow us to complete the task, therefore making it even more difficult to accomplish our goals.
5. Practice mindfulness exercises, such as focusing on your breath to regain some control over these thoughts and feelings. You may also want to increase the number of breaks between tasks in order to give yourself moments to calm down. Once you are feeling calmer, try to approach the task again.
Incorporating these ideas into your life can make your ability to access motivation stronger and easier over time. Try to use these strategies regularly to further grow this skill.
Meier, J. D. (March 9, 2016). These Are the 7 Habits of Highly Motivated People. Retrieved