5 Ways to Get Motivated When You're Stuck in a Rut and Unable to Get Things in Gear

·5-min read

You know the type: he’s up at 5.45am, runs a quick 10K before making Instagram-worthy breakfasts for his kids, is working on launching another company and spends his evenings checking on the craft beers he’s brewing in the basement. And yet he’s the opposite of exhausted. Meanwhile, there are too many days when you’re stuck in a rut or unable to
get things in gear while watching other people speed by you, and you can’t quite work up the power to do whatever it is you really want to do. No matter where you think your drive is – or isn’t – right now, these simple steps can rev up your motivation.

01. Do Something – Anything!

Drive isn’t something that only lucky people have, like good hair or fast feet. In fact, anyone can develop drive (or motivation – experts use them interchangeably) if you know how to go about it. ‘People often think of motivation and drive as the big flame that happens if you take lighter fluid and spray it all over a grill,’ says Steve Magness, co-author of the book Peak Performance. ‘A better way to think about drive is that you get some coal, light the fire and let it slow burn. That allows us to sustain and cook whatever we’re trying to cook.’

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, writes that ‘one of the most surprising things about motivation is that it comes after starting a new behaviour, not before’. In other words, you don’t get motivated, then do something. You do something, and that gets you motivated. ‘Getting started, even in very small ways... naturally produces momentum,’ he writes. If starting out, even in a very small way, feels like anything from a minor sticking point to a monumental obstacle, he recommends making the first few steps so easy that you waste no energy thinking about doing them. So instead of waiting until you feel like it to overhaul your LinkedIn profile to get the job you want, block out 10 minutes to play around with the first entry. Instead of meaning to get back to your leanest, give yourself a head start by planning what you’ll have for breakfast most days and buying the ingredients.

02. Remove Barriers

Even pro athletes sometimes have a tough time getting started, says Magness, who’s worked with NBA players and Olympians. ‘What saves these athletes is that their environment is set up in a way that lowers the bar – there’s less activation energy that’s needed to get out the door.’ They have trainers devising their workouts and training partners depending on them to show up. Their systems are organised to minimise hurdles. You can do the same.

During a period when Magness says he was working too much and finding any excuse not to exercise, he added five minutes to his evening commute to get to a park where he liked to run. The easy choice would have been to take the faster way home. But by going a few minutes out of his way and seeing his running shoes on the passenger seat, he removed the barrier to taking that run. ‘It’s like your brain sees running as the easier decision now. Those cues are inviting you to take that action, and you don’t have to think about it,’ he says.

03. Don’t Be Afraid To Change Gear

‘The pandemic altered the lives of nearly everyone and led millions to re-evaluate and clarify what’s important, essential or meaningful in their lives – which may not be climbing the corporate ladder,’ says James Diefendorff, professor of industrial/organisational psychology at the University of Akron. What sets you on fire can be a moving target, since we become interested in different things and develop different values over the course of our lives, he adds. To understand what you care about, try thinking about what happens on your best days – what gives you energy and excitement. If you don’t want to switch jobs or goals to feel a sense of drive again, ‘try to structure your day to ensure that some of those “best day” activities can be experienced at least some of the time’, Professor Diefendorff says.

04. Create Micro Goals

David Zald has watched motivation die. He’s the director of the Center for Advanced Human Brain Imaging Research at Rutgers Brain Health Institute, and his research has found that it happens when your workload is too high or the rewards too far off. The obvious solution is to break that big goal into smaller tasks. ‘Below your goal are subgoals, each of which has its own subgoals, cascading all the way down to specific behaviours,’
says Professor Diefendorff. Goals closer to the top of the hierarchy explain why you’re doing what you’re doing and reflect your values, and goals further down the hierarchy explain how the goal will be met, he says. Subgoals give you tasks to succeed at along the way, which helps make long-term goals more manageable. Feeling like you’re making progress, by the way, also feeds your drive.

So below the top-level goal of ‘take all my annual leave this year’, subgoals might be: ‘narrow down Airbnbs to two,’ then ‘email options to friends’, and finally, ‘book it’. If you’re feeling unenthused about a 15-mile run, Dr Zald suggests promising yourself that you’ll run a mile, then take a break, and repeat that pattern until you’re finished.

Photo credit: BEN MOUNSEY
Photo credit: BEN MOUNSEY

5. Stop One Rep Short

If you’re driven, you’re always pushing yourself hard . . . right? Magness’s Peak Performance co-author, performance coach Brad Stulberg, wants to change your mind about that. In his new book, The Practice Of Groundedness, he makes the case that ‘anyone can crush themselves and do an Instagram-worthy workout or all-nighter. What’s hard is maintaining drive for longer.’ To keep it going, ‘Force yourself to stop the equivalent of one rep short, day in and day out. Doing that is all about going a little slower today so you can go faster tomorrow.’ Close the laptop at 6pm instead of 7pm. Sit down to eat lunch. Drive runs on sustainable energy. Feed it right.

You Might Also Like

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting