April 12, 2024
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How to Get Motivated When You’re in a Slump

One of the most common complaints that I hear from my patients is how hard they find it to accomplish personal goals that they have set for themselves, and also how disappointed they feel when they fail at achieving them. I hear this from men and women of all ages and in reference to a wide variety of tasks varying from weight loss to beginning a new job search and everything in between. During these discussions, there are a few essential components to examine in assessing why each person is struggling to accomplish whatever goal they are choosing to bring up in therapy.

The first thing that needs to be explored is the person’s motivation to achieve this particular goal. Is it because a spouse or parent thinks that it is important or is this something that they themselves are hoping for? While we do sometimes have to do things for the sake our families or for those around us, even though we might not want to, setting a goal that we don’t care about at all, or that we might subconsciously be hoping to fail at, makes the challenge of completing it inevitably more difficult. If you don’t really want it, it’s very hard to achieve it.

The second step is to assess whether or not this goal is actually feasible and realistic. For example, I recently saw a 30-year-old woman who expressed her desire to get into better shape and to begin managing her anxiety through exercise. This sounded like a fantastic goal, but she came back each week expressing frustration over her lack of progress in this effort, and through discussion I came to learn that she had set a goal to work out at the gym seven days a week. Together, we were able to amend her goal and make it something more realistic for her to achieve. Her initial goal was only adding pressure and anxiety to her life, making it harder and harder to accomplish. Once she adjusted her objective to four days per week of exercise, she began to feel more motivated and in only a few short weeks was exceeding her targets on a regular basis. This success only made her feel even more motivated to move on to something else that she had been looking forward to doing. She enjoyed the feeling of achieving her own goals.

Prioritizing is another essential step in setting goals. Many people come into my office with long lists of objectives that they want to complete. We then sit together and explore each one in order to prioritize them. I’ll often recommend the ones that I think should make the top of the list, such as goals that affect the patient’s immediate health or the more pressing needs of their family, but ultimately the decisions are left to them. We then lay them out in a timeline and identify which ones are “short term,” “medium term” and “long term” goals. Once this task is complete, the overwhelming feeling that tends to cripple us from making any progress is lifted, allowing patients to move forward in achieving the tasks that they chose to complete first.

Once the reason for setting a particular goal has been examined and its feasibility has been addressed, I typically work with patients on self-motivating strategies that can help them follow through with any particular task. Take, for example, the young woman I described above. One of her biggest challenges was that she often lacked the desire to go out and exercise, something to which I am sure many of us can easily relate. It can feel impossible to get something done when we simply don’t feel like doing it, but what I find to be the most helpful technique in pushing forward is recalling the way you felt after you successfully completed that goal in the past. For example, if you remember feeling energized and proud of yourself after the last time you pushed yourself to complete a workout, focus on that feeling instead of on the workout itself. Reminding yourself of that incredible sense of accomplishment that you will feel after you do it again is the ultimate motivation, even if the idea of working out doesn’t in and of itself excite you.

One of the most satisfying parts of accomplishing a goal is the ripple effect that it can create. For example, the same patient who worked through the barriers that were getting in the way of a regular exercise routine felt so accomplished by her success that she began to make better food choices, applied for jobs that would improve her lifestyle and even started to think critically about the types of men she was dating and whether or not she was choosing partners that brought out the best in her. The idea is that as hard as it can be to self-motivate, using the strategies outlined here can help overcome the obstacle and will ultimately push you closer and closer to life objectives that you have set for yourself.

By Kira Batist-Wigod, LCSW, MPS-H

 Kira Batist-Wigod is a licensed clinical social worker practicing in New York City. She works at Montefiore Medical Group where she does clinical therapy with clients from all walks of life. Kira also sees clients in her private practice on the Upper West Side of NYC. Contact Kira by e-mail at [email protected].

 

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