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Motivation SOS

Oliver Burkeman tells us how to find an emergency flash of inspiration if we find ourselves hitting a slump at work

by Psychologies

The idea

Even if you love your job, there are times when the day-to-day is hard work.

Most tasks feel like wading through molasses and your efforts to ‘psych yourself up’ just make things worse. The answer is to stop trying to get motivated, and find ways to act without motivation. Soon, you’ll see the truth in the adage ‘motivation follows action’. Wait for the right mindset and you’ll wait forever; act and the mindset will come.

How to make it happen

Let yourself feel unmotivated

‘Feel your negative feelings without telling yourself a long story about them,’ says Buddhist teacher, Susan Piver. Most of our suffering does not come from our emotions – but from fighting them. Instead of telling yourself you ought to be brimming with ‘get up and go’, focus on the physical sensations of being bored, frustrated or even angry – and your suffering should relent.

Change your surroundings

If in doubt, go for a walk. Our environment influences our thoughts in countless ways, and we are not even aware of the shift most of the time. It’s widely known that even five minutes in a park can improve mental health, but even a walk to the office kitchen might help; any movement will jolt your attention away from the self-reinforcing spiral of negative thought.

Make your list of jobs ‘physical’

Every task can be rephrased as physical action; so ‘organise training event’ actually means ‘turn on computer; click on file; pick up phone; dial so-and-so’s number’ and so on. Usually, we do all that instinctively but, when you’re mired in demotivation, breaking things down into physical steps is a lifesaver. ‘Feel motivated’ might sound impossible to achieve but ‘turn on computer’ is doable.

Oliver Burkeman is author of ‘The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking’ (Canongate, £8.99)

Photograph: iStock