This was going to be my year. At the beginning of 2020, I was newly married, I had a new job, and for the first time in a while, I had a solid exercise routine that didn’t zap all of my energy or leave me cursing the inventor of cardio. I had lofty goals for where I wanted to take my business, too, and I was optimistic. Most importantly, I was motivated.
Then, of course, the pandemic arrived. While I have been incredibly fortunate throughout these trying times, I’ve fallen short of what I hoped to accomplish. At first, I refused to give myself grace. I resorted to harsh self-criticism, and my biggest complaint was about motivation. Specifically, I had none, and I missed it.
But that was a mistake. It’s vital to give yourself grace, and it’s equally important to remember that motivation isn’t an elusive aspiration that is near impossible to get and even harder to sustain. Rather, motivation is all around you. It’s on your bookshelf, it’s in your past triumphs, and it’s in the relationships you have with friends and colleagues. To put it simply, motivation was waiting for me. It’s waiting for you, too.
Here are six tips for getting and staying motivated:
1. Establish mini-rewards for yourself.
This has been crucial for me. Whether you have a daunting project on your hands or a task that doesn’t excite you, creating your own reward system can be the push you need to keep at it and infuse your work with some energy and enthusiasm. For instance, when I scratch something off my to-do list, I let myself read a chapter of a book or listen to 10 minutes of a podcast I’ve been devouring. This will motivate you to take care of pressing tasks and maybe even get you excited about work you’d otherwise put off.
2. Take a break to work on a personal project.
You may have taken your time in quarantine to start a home improvement project, or pick up a new skill or hobby. If you’re feeling stuck or rudderless with your work, it could be beneficial to pause and divert your energy elsewhere. Take 30 minutes to paint, renovate or chip away at an ongoing passion project. This can give you the fuel you need for the rest of your day and provide you with something to look forward to.
3. Revisit one of your past successes and break down how you got there.
Maybe it’s the high-profile account you landed or the high-dollar sale you and your talents netted for the team. While it’s always good to be forward-thinking with your main or side hustles, it can be valuable to reminisce on your greatest achievements and remember how you obtained them. This will remind you that the impressive heights are worth the many tiny steps it takes to get there. Then, suddenly, you’ll be more motivated to take those steps again.
It’s hard enough for me to get motivated for exercise, so I rarely consider just how powerful a little cardio can be. But science doesn’t lie: A short jog will do wonders for your brain, and as long as you pace yourself, you’ll return to work with a clearer head and heightened focus. I’ll admit it—this one took some convincing from my better half. But once I acquiesced to a daily jog, I realized a monumental difference in productivity. Even more surprisingly, I started looking forward to these recurring runs.
This one took less convincing. I’ve always been a bookworm, and I don’t need any cajoling to crack open a mystery novel or, frankly, any well-written work that’ll keep me turning pages. Yet until recently, I didn’t realize how much reading motivates me. I recommend starting a book over the weekend because come Monday that same book will be top of mind. And if you’re still working from home, it will be subtly calling your name from its spot on the shelf or nightstand.
6. Reach out to a colleague.
We’re living in isolated times, but we still need connection. A conversation with a friend, family member or loved one is always beneficial, but next time you’re looking for some motivation, I recommend reaching out to someone with whom you don’t often connect. It could be a co-worker from a different team or a colleague in your field whose work you admire. Ask them about their work or bend their ear about a project you’ve been working on. The conversation will re-energize you, and best of all, it’ll remind you what you love about what you do.
Read next: 100 Simple Secrets of Productive People
Photo by @isr4el/Twenty20.com
Tyler Hicks is a writer based in Dallas. His work has been published in Texas Monthly, the Houston Chronicle, D Magazine and The Dallas Morning News, among other publications. When he's not writing, he enjoys reading mystery novels and watching old movies with his wife.