TWAP087: How To Motivate Yourself (Even When You’re Feeling Dull)

5 Tips To Get You Going

how to motivate yourself

Even though I grew up in the Amazon rainforest, I don’t have a lot of outdoors survival skills.

When we’re feeling dull and uninspired, you may feel like I did when I tried to start a camping fire on many a camping trip.

I’d put all the kindling together, build a nice stick structure, and try to get the fire going.

But often, the wood was too wet, or there was too much wind, and after many unsuccessful attempts, I’d give up.

How To Motivate Yourself: Like Starting a Fire?

Maybe you’ve felt like I did with that campfire when trying to motivate yourself.

Here’s what one person in our Thriver’s community recently said.

“How do we stop ourselves from drifting aimlessly through life? I’m too good at too many different things, and I need to find some way to narrow down my direction in life. At this stage in life, most of my age peers are well established in their careers, etc, while I still find myself flitting from interest to interest. I’m interested in learning almost anything, and have proven adept in any area I choose to focus on, but then I lose motivation and get caught up (hyperfocused I guess) in some new exciting area. I’m realizing this has been my life pattern, and while I’m happy doing whatever I’m doing at the time, I wonder why I have so many diverse skills and am unable to make any significant contribution anywhere… I don’t know if I’m making myself clear here, but I just wish I were better able to set and persevere in some clear life goals…”

I appreciate this person sharing their struggles, and I could see from follow-up comments that this person was not alone!

Motivation is a huge topic, and today I want to discuss it more generally.

I’m going to talk about sticking with a goal once we’ve determined that it’s an important one for our lives.

You and I can learn to motivate ourselves to start and continue our progress toward our goals by following 5 tips which I’ll be sharing with you today.

Why Do Many Autistics Find Motivation Challenging?

In her post, ASD Findings: Aspergers, Samantha Craft, M.Ed., writes:

The individual with AS often lacks the ability to self-motivate in order to complete a task, when the job at hand is not of great interest or urgency. High levels of self-motivation often coincide with a strong interest, sense of gain (knowledge, proving an altruistic cause, financial), recent emotional upheaval, desire to be understood, a need to self-preserve through distraction, and the want to please and do a good job. An interest might be piqued by the unconscious tendency to mirror and take on another person’s (friend, colleague, family member) interests.

Autism and ADHD are not the same thing.  However, both autistics and those who have ADD seem to struggle with determining what is important, and then getting themselves to do the tasks needed for those goals after the initial interest has worn off. (see Secrets of Your ADHD Brain).

According to Dr. William Dodson,

” I see ADHD stemming from a nervous system that works perfectly well by its own set of rules. Unfortunately, it does not work by any of the rules or techniques taught and encouraged in a neurotypical world.”

ADHD people often are motivated only by that which they feel is of great interest or urgency.  If someone else tells them something is important (like their boss, or when they are in school, a teacher), but they don’t feel interested, it’s very hard to complete a task.

If you’re autistic, here’s how you can motivate yourself, even if you don’t feel interested, yet you know a goal or task is important.

5 Tips for Self Motivation

Tip #1: Harness Your Memory and Imagination

If you’re struggling with a task or goal you know is important, remember why you were excited about that goal in the first place. (That is, if this was a goal you were once interested in).

If you were never strongly interested in the goal, but you have to complete it, think about other tasks that you were able to do easily.  How did you “get in the zone” for those tasks?  Are there techniques you can use from those times to help yourself now?

Dr. Dodson talks a bit more about this example in the article, Secrets of the ADHD Brain:

I usually suggest that my patients carry around a notepad or a tape recorder for a month to write down or explain how they get in the zone.

Is it because they are intrigued? If so, what, specifically, in the task or situation intrigues them?

Is it because they feel competitive? If so, what in the “opponent” or situation brings up the competitive juices?

At the end of the month, most people have compiled 50 or 60 different techniques that they know work for them. When called on to perform and become engaged, they now understand how their nervous system works and which techniques are helpful.

Here’s an example of how you can use your imagination.

Dr. William Dodson tells the following story:

To access their full abilities, people with ADHD have to create interest where none exists naturally.  So he or she needs to look for novel ways to showcase his/her talent.  Example: a young man in medical school was flunking gross anatomy.  His add coach had him visualize being the ER doctor who treated Kennedy when President Kennedy was shot.  President Kennedy was this young man’s idol and inspiration for going to med school.  He had to know anatomy to save President Kennedy’s life.  With this imagined urgency, the student mastered anatomy and graduated second in his class!

Tip#2: Harness Your Specialized Interest For Your Particular Goal

This tip comes from Sue Larkey, who teaches autistic kids.

As I’ve said in the past, I love kids’ books because they often teach concepts to me more deeply than adult books do.

So with that in mind, here’s a resource she put together for using autistic kids’ interests when teaching.

In that spirit, here are some ways to harness your specialized interest/s as you work on a task or a goal.

Allow yourself access to your special interests.

Don’t try to ignore them or feel guilty if you are spending time on them.  Just don’t spend ALL your time on your interest.

Control your access to your special interest

For example, I use at 20-minute intervals to focus on getting my blog post done.

Once I’m done with that interval, I give myself 5-10 minutes to watch a YouTube video on one of my current interests, soccer or running.

Then I repeat the process until the blog post is done.

Tip #3:  The Just One Thing Technique

Cynthia Kim talks about this strategy in her post, Executive Function Strategies.

Read the post to get all her strategies.

I came up with this ‘just one thing’ technique after I read her tip about incremental planning.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the size of a project.

For example, when I prepared a talk on Anger Management for a church group earlier this year, I procrastinated and procrastinated.

Then I said to myself, “What’s the first action I can take on this project?”

Instead of thinking about how to complete the whole project, I just took 10 minutes to start writing an outline.

Once I completed  the outline, I asked myself, “What’s the next action after this?”

If I get stuck on what is the next action,  I’ll google the subject.  For example, “Action Steps to Prepare for a Presentation”.

Tip #4: Plan Rewarding Activities In Between Boring Activities

What are some rewarding activities you enjoy?

When I’m bored with tasks, I like to go talk to someone or go for a walk around the block, or go for a run, or play a mindless game on my phone or computer.

Make a list of your fun or rewarding activities, then plan to reward yourself after you get your ‘next action’ done.

Maybe you can challenge yourself to see if you can work for ever-longer periods of time on your task.

For example, I set the for 20 minutes to write my blog post.

Then I take a break.

Maybe the next time, I can set the timer for 30 minutes, and so on.  In this way, I build my perseverance muscles.

For more reading, check out Laurie Dupar’s article, “What’s My Motivation? (No, Seriously, I Need To Get Started.)”

Tip #5: Ask the Right Questions

Here are some questions Tony Robbins learned to ask himself when trying to solve business problems.

I believe the same questions can help us when we’re feeling dull and uninspired.

1. What can I learn from this?
2. What’s great about this problem?
3. What is not perfect yet?
4. What am I willing to do to make it the way I want it?
5. What am I willing not to do to make it the way I want it?
6. How can I enjoy the process?

And here are questions Ms. Laurie Dupar asks her clients to get help them get their motivational fire started:

  • What excites or reenergizes you? What recharges your batteries?
  • What old beliefs about what you “should” do might not be true?
  • Who else can do this task more easily than you?
  • Think about a time in your past when completing a similar type of task wasn’t so hard. What was different? Can you bring some of those elements into the situation now?
  • How can you break this task down into three pieces so it feels more manageable?
  • How will you reward yourself when you complete this task?
  • What would you need to let go of to allow someone else to take it over?
  • What needs to change to turn this “should” into a “want”?
  • What are you good at?
  • What self-talk do you notice that you can let go of?
  • What about this task is important or meaningful to you?
  • When is the best time for you to do this task?
  • What support do you have to get this task done?
  • What obstacles are preventing you from completing this task? Which of these can you eliminate now?
  • How can you make this task fun, interesting, or enjoyable?

source – What’s My Motivation? (No, Seriously, I Need To Get Started)

Starting Your Motivational Fire

So if you’re struggling with how to motivate yourself; if your dealing with with boredom, feeling dull, or feeling uninspired, try one of the 5 tips above.

And while you’re at it, check out this WikiHow.

I’ll work in another article on how to stay focused on your goals.

I hope that this article will help you work on the tasks you know need to be done.

Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

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 I'm Steve Borgman.  I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

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