How to Stay Motivated When Things Get Tough and Stressful
A five-step plan to rewire and rejuvenate your brain.
7 min read
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Leadership is tough. It’s natural to lose motivation. How often do you find yourself losing motivation at work? Once a month? Once a week? Every day? It’s especially hard to stay motivated when you’re stressed. You feel lethargic. You feel like you’re just going through the motions. There’s no joy in your work. Stress causes your motivation to decrease for a reason. Research has shown that our willpower is finite and ever-fleeting. It’s like a car that’s consuming gasoline. When the gasoline runs low, the car loses steam and comes to a stop. No matter how much the driver wants to go forward, the car is stuck. It needs refueling.
The good news is, you can refuel your motivation from anywhere, without traveling to a gas station or paying a penny. Fortunately, our brain is powerful. Stress impairs the neural synapses in our brain, but when we confront stress, we can literally rewire and rejuvenate our brain. Here are five steps that you can apply whenever you feel like your motivation has taken a nosedive.
1. Identify which kind of stress you’re experiencing
Stress comes in four primary flavors. It’s important to identify and understand which one you are feeling. First, there’s time stress. Time stress occurs when you worry about time or a lack of time. Impending deadlines often cause time stress. As a time-strapped leader, you’re no stranger to this type of stress, also called anticipatory stress. When you are concerned about an upcoming presentation or board meeting, you’re suffering from anticipatory stress. Remember Murphy’s Law? If anything can go wrong, it will.
The third type of stress, called situational stress, occurs when you feel you aren’t in control. As a leader, you may experience situational stress when your status drops or you suffer reputational damage. The final type of stress is called encounter stress. It occurs when your interactions with others cause you to feel uneasy. When you interact with a toxic co-worker, you may experience encounter stress.
It’s also important to understand whether you’re suffering from burnout or stress. Burnout occurs when stress continues for a long time. When you’re suffering from burnout, you feel tired and drained. Your immune system is affected, and you are more likely to get sick. You also feel helpless and lose motivation. Stress is less extensive. When you experience stress, you feel that too much is being demanded of you and you may experience physical effects like muscle tension and headaches, but you don’t feel empty and detached like you do when you’re experiencing burnout.
As you wave away stress, your second finger is your emotional finger. You can learn about this when you engage me to conduct a stress workshop for you and your team.
2. Find a partner
It’s easier to tackle stress as a team. Try to find someone to help recharge your motivation. If you’ve lost motivation for a project, you can try discussing your deliverables with a colleague or friend. If you’ve lost motivation to learn a new skill, you can try sharing your learnings and experiences with a coworker. Try to give each other encouragement. Discussing your experiences with someone else can help reignite your interest and motivation. Having a partner also keeps you accountable, and it’s much more fulfilling to have a cheerleader on the sidelines.
3. Track your progress
So many leaders confuse action with progress. Just because you’re moving doesn’t mean you’re progressing. When you don’t know where you are going or how far you’ve gone, it’s only natural to lose motivation. You can set yourself up for success by setting progress goals for stress-busters. When you have a guiding light, it’s much easier to stay motivated. In terms of a work project, you should use key performance indicators and benchmarks to track and monitor your success, and you should always include stress in the assessment. While stress can be a nebulous concept, it is surprisingly easy to assess if you know what you’re looking for. This is because stress is so commonly associated with cognitive, emotional, interpersonal, physical and spiritual symptoms. Your progress check-ins should assess which and how many stress symptoms you’ve experienced, the extent and how often. Have you experienced a loss of motivation? Muscle tension? A loss of appetite or increased eating? Frequent colds? Social withdrawal? Impulsive or repetitive behaviors? It’s important to keep a record of your progress and build in rewards. Remember to give yourself a pat on the back, even for small wins. Any progress is good progress. When you’ve reached critical milestones, why not treat yourself to a reward and celebrate your success? You deserve it. Plus, it will help you stay engaged and motivated.
4. Say no
Your stress levels increase when you bite off more than you can chew. It’s important to avoid the tendency to say yes to everything. When you’re asked to do something, pause before responding. It’s important to take the time to consider whether you have the time, skillset and resources to take on the task. It’s okay if you don’t. It’s okay to say no. As a leader, you should recognize that saying no isn’t selfish. It just means you’re honoring your commitments. You shouldn’t feel guilty. You should feel proud of yourself. When you learn to confidently say no, you’ll have more time and motivation for the work that demands your attention. I cover four ways to say no in my book, Stress-Less Leadership.
5. Follow your passion
Every so often, take a step back and reflect on how passionate you are about your current job. Are you passionate about the industry? Are you passionate about the people you work with? Are you passionate about your role? Your passions change as you progress in your career. You should check in with yourself at least once a year. You spend a lot of time — at least 50 percent of your waking hours — at work. If you’re not doing something you’re passionate about, your motivation will deteriorate. Research has shown that when we’re passionate about something, we experience more joy and feel more fulfilled. The blood flow in our brains increases and we’re more focused. This increases the neurotransmitters responsible for establishing new connections in our brain, and we’re better able to focus on the present, avoid mental traps and resist getting tangled in emotions. When you’re motivated, there’s a ripple effect. You’re more engaged, less stressed and more productive. All this positive energy rubs off on your entire team.
Motivation is contagious, so take these five steps to supercharge your motivation and spread it to others and the world. You can enable change. Most importantly, take good care of yourself.