Motivation Series Part 1: Routine

Motivation is an elusive feeling, particularly when we need it most. When a long task list is looming and motivation is nowhere to be found, a lot of us get stuck before we even get the chance to start.

Fortunately, it’s a myth that we need to feel motivated before acting!

There are many alternative skills you can tap into when you need to get started but aren’t feeling inspired to act. Over the next few weeks, we’ll cover several approaches so that you can find which ones work best for you. This week’s motivational “bypasser” is


something that is performed as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason

Routine may be particularly helpful for you if you struggle with procrastination or  distraction.

For our purposes, you can also substitute in terms such as discipline, organization, planning, or habit. You do an action because it is part of the plan, even though it may not be the most exciting thing on your agenda. It’s important to think ahead to make sure that the specific time or strategy you select is going to work for you, so that when the time comes to act, you can get started right away.

Tips for creating routines:

> Schedule it. Use a planner or calendar app to block off a time for a specific task. For example, “From 1:00-1:30 I will walk my dog around the block.”

> Be consistent. Have a set time every day that is dedicated to the same task. Perhaps every day when you board the bus, you pull out your textbook and start reading.

> Pick a location. If there is a task that is perpetually on your to-do list, set aside a special place that is only for this task. That way, when you enter that space, your brain automatically clicks into the right mindset. For example, perhaps you only work at your desk (no phone-checking or internet scrolling!) or bed is only for self-care time (no work laptops here!).

> Use if-then statements. These statements will help you remember your to-dos. Pick something that you do consistently, then attach your new habit to that task. For example, “If I brush my teeth, then I’ll do 20 jumping jacks.”

> Set an alarm. Use your phone, post-it notes, a text from a reliable friend, or whatever you have available to remind you that it’s time to act. Pro tip: Do not turn the alarm off until you begin the activity. Seriously. If your alarm is reminding you it’s time to cook dinner from scratch, you carry it to the kitchen, beeping the whole way, and only turn it off once you’ve started pulling ingredients from the fridge.

> Make it tangible. Just as important as knowing when you’ll start is knowing when you’ll stop, especially for ambiguous tasks that can take a lot of time. Perhaps you commit to working on your research paper for one cycle of the washing machine, wash dishes for the length of two songs, or meditate for the 60 seconds it takes a second hand to tick around the clock.

> Still not feeling it? I get it, a plan is helpful, but what if the time comes and you still don’t want to? First, remind yourself that’s the whole point of the plan – you don’t have to be excited for it to work. Commit to at least doing the first step (e.g., if you’re considering backing on out your plan to shovel the driveway, start by putting on your boots and coat before deciding if you’ll skip your plan).

Now, make a commitment to yourself: What strategy will you try this week? Remember to be specific.

If you’d like to receive support in implementing these strategies, contact us to be connected with a therapist.

Written By: Jaime Ascencio, Ph.D., HTR

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