How to Stay Motivated When You're Deep in the Suck - Ponytails and Productivity


Lately, things have been challenging for me; I think a lot, if not most, of us are feeling this in one way or another.

We’ve got dreams, goals, and a vision. But we’ve also got stress, anxiety, and worry.

2020 is turning out to be an incredibly difficult year worldwide. On top of all of the concerns and life stresses we each had individually, now we’ve got a large threat that affects us all, just in different ways. Plans have been cut short or canceled, jobs have been lost, and the future is uncertain. We’re in a place that I like to call the suck.

 

What is “the suck”??

 

The suck is the place you get stuck in when everything just plain sucks. It’s not limited to a pandemic or a recession or a collective experience like the one we’re having now, but that definitely can get you in the suck.

It’s when everything seems awful and you just can’t stay positive.

You want to. You know it’s important. But it’s really, really hard, and things are dragging you down.

The suck can be depression, or it can be anxiety. But a lot of the time, it’s just regular suck, when you look at your life and your brain just goes, “ugh, everything sucks”. 

The suck is a temporary place, although it doesn’t feel that way at the time. It never lasts forever. Sometimes it’s just a day, or even a couple hours.

But the suck can, if you let it, derail your progress on your goals. It can convince you to give up. Under the suck, things seem harder than they actually are, and progress seems farther away than it actually is.

You know you don’t actually want to give up on your goals. So how do you stay motivated?

 

Motivation Tip #1: Have a North Star

You can just get up and walk around if you want, but if you already know where you want to go – you need a navigation tool to help you get there.

This is why I push for you to set one up in the beginning of your goal setting process. When people first set a goal, they’re already fired up! They’re excited about it, they’re ready to get to work and start making changes now. They don’t need another thing on their to-do list before they get going, they’re ready to start now.

But the North Star isn’t for you now, at the moment you’re excited and want to dive in. Setting up your North Star is about capturing some of that energy to draw on later. When you really need it.

Your North Star can be a vision board, or a dream life manifesto – two methods I personally use and love. It can be a mantra, or a set of affirmations. This is also why I strongly encourage you to write your goals down on paper. Even if you don’t follow through on setting up a north star, you still have those papers as a physical reminder of your abstract goal.

Keep something around that you can draw on for strength when you need it. I push for vision boards and manifestos because they’re powerful – a tool that you create yourself that cements your intention to move toward your dreams can be a saving grace in hard times. But it doesn’t even have to be that.

I have a friend who bought herself an expensive, beautiful scented candle when she was going through a really nasty breakup. It was beautiful and smelled amazing and she held on to it for a long time, telling herself she would light it when things settled down enough that she was able to move out of her parent’s house and have her own home again. She kept it on hand, and would smell and admire it when things got rough. It became a physical symbol of the things she was aiming for – freedom, independence, self-reliance. That one small token (although not small to her at the time) became a source of strength and motivation that she was able to draw on again and again, while going through one of the worst periods of her life. And when she did move into her own home and was celebrating her progress in moving forward and healing, she finally lit it. Quite a bit of symbolism there!

Your North Star can be anything you want it to be, as long as it serves this purpose for you. You want something that represents your goals and your intentions to move forward, that you can draw motivation from when you haven’t got any left in yourself. Whether that’s a vision board or a scented candle is a personal choice!

 

Motivation Tip #2: Hold on to Gratitude

Gratitude can be a tricky thing to harness when you’re in the suck. The suck has a way of pulling the gratitude out of you – if everything is crappy, what is there to be grateful for?

But trust me, there’s always something.

I try to remind myself frequently that while the life I’m living might not look like much to some, to others it’s a life they dream of.

What you focus on, you see more of, and that’s true regardless of whether you’re focused on the suck or on gratitude. If you’re only looking around yourself and going, “This really sucks”, what you’ll see when you shift your gaze is another thing that sucks. Your brain has a funny way of giving you what you want, only it’s not quite sure what you want, so it serves up whatever is related to what you’re thinking about.

Start trying to find the things you love (or even just like) about your life. Maybe it’s your family, maybe it’s your pillowcase. You can say, “I’m grateful for my health” or maybe you can only say, “I’m grateful that my hair isn’t on fire right now”. If that’s all you can muster, fine! It sounds silly but try taking a ten-second break every once in a while to remember the things you are grateful about – and really taking that moment to feel that gratitude. You’ll find that after a while, your brain starts coming up with things on it’s own. “Hey, the next time I take a gratitude break, I should remember that I have my favourite creamer in the fridge right now that makes my coffee awesome. That’s something I can be grateful about”.

Over time, this practice of gratitude becomes a habit, and it seeps into your mindset. As your mindset changes, you’ll find it easier and easier to battle the suck, and remember the things that are good and make you happy.

 

Motivation Tip #3:  Keep it Simple

We have a tendency to complicate things.

Especially when it comes to our own lives and obligations, we fill our to-do lists with a thousand things that we think we need to focus on all at once and then beat ourselves up when we don’t cross every thing off the list.

I see this pattern in myself: I over-schedule myself and tell myself that I’m going to level up my productivity. Then I spent two, maybe three or four days running flat-out, doing All The Things, and pretty much #killingit like a total boss. Then I crash and burn out and end up taking a day, or two, or three, off, because I just can’t face anymore. In the end, I get less done than I would have if I had paced myself from the start – but I didn’t try to pace myself, because there’s so much to do, so if I’m capable of doing it right now I should do it right now!

Yeah, what a mess. It took me a loooong time to break that habit, and I still fall into that trap sometimes.

When you’re in the suck you’re especially vulnerable to these kinds of destructive patterns.  Especially if you don’t recognize them in time to stop yourself from falling into them.

But when things get really rough, what we need isn’t MORE stuff to worry about. We need to worry about less.

We need to take it back to the basics.

What I’ve found is that when I get caught up in my own head and start entertaining destructive patterns, I can stop them in their tracks by refocusing on the very basic structure of self care.

The basics are things like:

  • Eating healthy and at appropriate times
  • Keeping a regular sleep pattern
  • Getting outside whenever possible
  • Sticking to a morning and evening routine
  • Balancing “work time” and “family time” and keeping them separate and focused
  • Staying hydrated
  • Getting some exercise
  • Spending a little time every day doing something that fuels your soul

 

Usually, when these fundamental things are in balance, everything else goes a lot more smoothly. And when things aren’t going smoothly at all, there’s almost always a correlation where these basics are suffering too.

If you’re deep in the suck and life feels too chaotic to handle right now, try simplifying down to the basics. Focus on regular eating, sleeping, and hygiene patterns, and spend some time even just walking around your neighbourhood. Preventative mental health care and preventative physical health care are essentially the same thing, after all.

 

Final Thoughts

Take it easy on yourself. If things are hard right now, you don’t have to be a superhero. When giving up starts looking like an attractive option, remember why you’re doing what you’re doing – whatever your goals are, they’re worth reaching for. Find gratitude everywhere possible, and just keep moving forward. You got this, and I fully believe you’re going to come out the other end okay.