I’m a psychologist and I am still discovering new things every day. I don’t have all the answers but I DO know what has worked for me and many of my therapy clients over the years. That also doesn’t mean that I am blazing a trail 24/7. Accept that life has ups and downs and when you are experiencing a ‘down’, you can happily rest there for a while without pressuring yourself to be out and about.
Many clients tell me how much guilt they feel when they take time off or spend an hour out of their work day to do something pleasurable. This is a big mistake — lean into your natural rhythms. Think of the ebbs and flows of life, the seasons, the tides of the sea, the moon and the sun. Downtime is just as essential as ‘up’ time, so make the most of your rest and relaxation and ignore the guilt. Think of it as tuning into nature and the wisdom of balance.
The steps below have worked for me and many clients too. You don’t have to follow them rigidly or perfectly but use what you need and cut yourself some slack. I am a perfectionist and have to constantly guard against trying to do everything perfectly, even when others won’t notice whether I do something or not.
A note of perfectionism
Many people have the wrong idea about perfectionism. You imagine a perfectionist as someone who has to hang the picture in just the right place at the right height (I couldn’t care less) or who stays late at the office every night (not me) or who won’t leave the house without makeup and well dressed (well, maybe a bit like me). The point is, that perfectionism isn’t that clear-cut.
My perfectionistic traits nearly caused me to completely burn out because I would attend to minor tasks that didn’t really need to be done. I felt that I had to complete every task each day rather than letting go of the less important stuff. That is one of the ways that perfectionism doesn’t work for me.
It’s a growing phenomenon and contributes to guilt when you take time for yourself. Give yourself permission to let go of tasks that don’t contribute to your end goals. Learn to differentiate between the icing and the cake. If you’d like to know more about perfectionism, check out this blog post: The rise of perfectionism
1. DO something — action over analysis
Instead of trying to think your way out of your malaise, do something. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering but do something. Go for a walk around the zoo, take a walk in nature, go shopping for clothes or something you are interested in, attend a talk or go on a short trip. Our brains are more likely to be inspired when we are DOING rather than THINKING.
Motivation comes from putting one foot in front of the other even when you don’t feel like it. You might never feel like it because our brains like to keep us safe. Getting out into the world and risking failure and rejection is scary. Your mind will fill you with self-doubt, negative thoughts and a myriad of reasons as to why you should just stay where you are.
Putting one foot in front of the other doesn’t mean you never get to rest. Intermittent rest along the way is essential to consolidate, assess and regroup. Managing your mind is essential through mindfulness, affirmations, and positive coping statements. Mindfulness means staying in the present moment, being aware of your thoughts and feelings and doing your best to dismiss the “what if” thoughts that will try to stop you in your tracks.
Mind over matter is useful too but when it comes to motivation it’s definitely a case of matter over mind. Get going to find the motivation and inspiration. Trust me on this.
2. Have a plan or structure
When you have a structure to your life, it helps to give you direction when you feel emotionally dejected. The structure for success involves long-term goals and a clear idea of what your values are to help you move forward. Structure gives you something to work with when you feel lost and directionless.
Long-term goals and values
Consider the following: What do you love doing? How feasible is it to make a living from what you love doing? if it’s not possible to turn to your favourite past-time full-time, think about including it as a hobby in your life. Perhaps a part-time pursuit that could eventually become full-time? These questions will generate answers towards building your general structure.
3. Know your strengths and weaknesses
Looking back on your life — when are you at your best? Think about your achievements and when you have excelled. What can you do well, or at least better? Play to your strengths and minimise your weaknesses. It’s no good to become a doctor if you relentlessly failed Biology (unless you weren’t really concentrating at school). Hopefully you will identify an overlap between a strength and something you love to do.
4. Take risks — stop being afraid
Self-limiting beliefs will lead you to live a small life and I doubt that you want to have regrets when you look back over your life. Do a risk assessment, of course, but accept that nothing in life is certain — whether you stay where you are or whether you try something new. What have you been too afraid to do?
Successful people regularly tell me that they were prepared to take calculated risks. They had a mindset that buffered them from failure and they kept going even in the face of adversity. Life is uncertain and we all have to tolerate distress. The best way to manage uncertainty is to invite more into your life — it teaches your brain to handle the unknowns.
5. Stay centred by looking inwards
Social media dilutes our focus and is the quickest way to feel inferior. Tune in to your own wisdom and stop being swayed by what you see online. When you trust your intuition and follow your gut instincts, you will absolutely achieve far more than if you listen to every Tom, Dick and Laura (ha — see what I did there. I won’t be accused of sexism).
Social media is NOT a true reflection of reality. Don’t buy into the perfect images and the tales of perfect lives — it’s nonsense. Everyone has trouble so don’t believe you are alone in life’s struggles. The mental health stigma continues because we are taught to act like we are in control. The reality is that 99% of us are doing the best we can whilst feeling bothered and lacking in confidence.
Self-belief is your greatest ally
No one else knows you as you know you. Self-belief is your greatest ally. Care less what others think. We are social creatures by nature so it’s natural to want to seek reassurance or the opinions of others but do this wisely.
Choose a select few individuals that you trust and respect and ask their opinion but ultimately — trust yourself above all. Other people’s perspectives are valid for adding differing perspectives and adding aspects you might not have considered. Once you have the additional information — make your choice. Incorporate and adjust according to the new info but keep that self-belief strong.
6. Rethink your beliefs about yourself and the world
Our beliefs make a huge difference to our levels of motivation. If you believe that failure is the most awful outcome and that you would never cope, you will be less likely to attempt new things. If you believe that failure shows that you are making your way in life and it’s helping you to learn you will be much more likely to take risks and be brave. I see failure as separate to me — it’s what I did that failed (the behaviour) but that doesn’t mean I am a failure. If that’s true then we all live in a world of failures because I have never met someone who has never failed at something. Adjust your views about failure and rejection to buffer yourself.
Notice thoughts that help and empower you and dismiss the negative thoughts — they are often inaccurate and based on our own fears and insecurities. In other words, they are subjective and NOT factual.
If you perceive others to be mean and the world to be unsafe, you will also be living a fearful life, unable to self-actualise. Learn to notice your thoughts (mindfulness) and question their validity. Just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s true. If you need help with this, consider cognitive behavioural therapy — an excellent therapy mode to help you adjust your thinking and be more aware of your confirmation biases.
So, take action and always ask yourself — what is the next right step for me? You don’t need to know everything at the start but you do need to take the first step to get the momentum going.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (I offer online therapy sessions)
Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash